After a strong summer, manufacturing is down again. U.S. manufacturing shrunk to a three-year low in November as the Institute for Supply Management’s index showed industry wide contraction.

Canadian producers didn’t fare much better. Manufacturing growth slowed for the fifth consecutive month, reaching its lowest point since October of 2010, Reuters reported. All signs point to a troubling close to 2012.

Seeing statistics like that has to be frustrating for floor managers and their workers; few industries have taken a more severe beating than manufacturing. This time, the bad news comes just months after U.S. production increases promised long-needed relief.

And yet, while the workload is lighter, North American factories still have orders to fill, goods to assemble and deliveries to make. How to handle it all at a high level of productivity amid such dour conditions? A well-designed recognition program may be the answer.

Here are five tips for increasing your odds of creating a recognition program that encourages high performance:

  1. Make it personal. Your floor workers aren’t widgets. Get to know them. Do they seek public praise or are they shy? What types of rewards motivate them? Use your findings to structure a recognition program most befitting of the way your team works. Only then can you hope to enjoy higher productivity and profits.
  2. Be consistent. Customized doesn’t mean chaotic. Set a schedule for checking in with your workers. Find out what’s working and what isn’t and then set aside time to highlight and reward successes after you’ve corrected any glaring mistakes. In doing so, you’ll help workers to see that great performance gets noticed.
  3. Go for the surprise. Don’t just hand out gift cards or cash bonuses. Give an extra day off for the worker who likes to take his family on fishing trips. Arrange a visit and autograph signing for the high achievers who can’t stop talking about the local sports team. Surprise leads to delight, and delight leads to engagement and high performance.
  4. Work in tiers. Do better than recognizing single events. Keep tabs of an entire body of work and reward along the way. Increase the volume of praise and value of rewards as achievers reach new highs. Always give top performers something to shoot for.
  5. Make it a cultural imperative. SHRM’s research found that, of the 77% of companies that use a recognition program, half tied it to stated organizational values. The goal? Encourage performance that directly results in higher profits, lower turnover and satisfied customers. Communicate what you want as a company first and then reward accordingly.

And don’t go into the process blind. Get to know your workers. Be creative yet consistent in recognizing their best work. Scale up rewards to encourage ever-higher levels of performance. Keep your team working towards stated, tangible business goals.

You might just end up enjoying higher profits and productivity in a sector that’s found such gains elusive recently.

John Mills is executive vice president of Business Development at Rideau Recognition Solutions, a global leader in employee rewards and recognition programs designed to motivate and increase engagement and productivity across the workforce.