Boost Results With Effective Incentives

for Solutions Magazine

Mark called me last month with one of the hard questions. "How can I get better rewards for less? I know from your workshops that I can get more results from rewards. What do I do?" We have less money for rewards. We want the rewards to lead directly to more performance. Is there a better answer you can give?

In this article, we will look at five levels of reward and show you a working model. It is a model that focuses employees on the work to be done instead of on the financial value of the reward. You could use the model to do what Mark did and set up a hierarchy of rewards, or just to give out a single reward.

The Principle

Mark is a second level manager. Nine tenths of his people have been in the job less than a year. Most of them have one career manager but report to at least two different people for their day to day work. In structuring his reward program, we used all of these as advantages.

Mark changed the normal emphasis on money as a reward to an empha sis on motivators. Specifically, we re-created Maslow's hierarchy of human needs in words that his managers would use day to day. This hierarchy defines the order in which he gives rewards. Level five rewards are the most meaningful to both the employee and to the company.

   We decided that it was important to tie rewards prospectively to work. In other words, instead of rewarding in a way that relies on recognition to work, we are rewarding with tools that get more work done.

Levels One and Two - Basic Requirements

Level one of Mark's hierarchy of needs is to provide basic physical living requirements like food and shelter. Level two is to provide stability and security for the employee and his or her family. These are issues in Mark's department. The intensity of work causes his people to miss time at home and with their families. Although money and dinners are common rewards in most organizations, Mark quickly determined that these reward at no higher than level two. To Mark, this barely meets minimum requirements.

Level Three - Being With Peers

Level three of this hierarchy is to be with people. It recognizes that people are motivated to join, just to be with others. With his people reporting to other departments for day to day direction and help, he is able to take advantage of this for his reward structure.

Mark wants his managers to focus rewards on the future job to be done. So they are structuring interaction with more and more field people to be a reward, not a duty. Entry level for Mark's employees includes little field interaction. As the employee grows in the job, the manager increases the interaction.

Both the employee and the company gain from this. The employee identifies more and more fully with that group. This improves their feelings about the work, at the same time it is a reward that will improve results for the company.

Level Four - Peer Recognition

Level four, peer recognition, is a powerful motivator. Most managers look here for rewards.

Early on Mark and his managers improved their definition of peers. Peers are not just other people at the same level. Managers are also peers, but never more than peers.

Mark is carefully planning recognition. Now, when an employee does an outstanding job, he or she is recognized in front of the peers who got the most benefit. If the peers are salespeople in Boston, the employee flies to Boston and the highest manager available recognizes the employee in front of that employee's customer.

To go with the recognition, Mark's team will hand out something visible. He wants it to show up and stay visible, so he is planning to use an inexpensive engraved small brass cube. Small because there is only so much room in a cubicle. Brass because it is very visible. Any employee can win one, and they can win as many as they want. A desk with six cubes would imply an employee collecting great peer recognition.

The advantage comes from recognition among as many peers as possible, and in such a way that work benefits as well. When his or her customers applaud the results, the employee wants to work harder for them.

The Fifth Level - More Success Through Self Recognition

Maslow refers to self-actualization, but Mark tends to think in terms of the benefits that accrue when an employee recognizes him or herself.    Self recognition is a wonderful reward. Nothing stays with an employee longer than how he or she feels about him or herself. This reward needn't cost much, and needn't take much time from the manager. It does take a valuable executive skill - the ability to ask a question you know the answer to, and let someone else answer it.

For example: At peer recognition events the presenter does more than applaud. The presenter also asks the employee how they actually did the task that earned the reward. When the employee responds, they are recognizing their own actions. It is a form of self reward. An extra bonus is that their peers are learning at the same time.

This is something you can try yourself the next time you thank someone. Ask them, in front of you or in front of a group, what they did to make that event occur. Watch the employee glow.

The next step is to connect the reward to the work. For example, when the self recognition occurs, and there are several new tasks coming up. Mark will let the employee bid on one of them. The way to get the opportunity to choose the next project is to attain peer and self recognition from the current one.

There is no reason that you cannot allow the employee to bid on a tool or a project or a customer (internal or external instead of a task). Do you have any new tools coming to the lab? Why not give it to a person who will excel with it. It helps him or her. It helps the company.

What you open to bid for this depends on two things. One is what you need to keep the company moving forward. The second is what the employee will see as a way to get more self recognition. When you do both, the reward becomes prospective at the same time it recognizes the past.

Eventually your best employees start to work more and more for themselves. They do it for a reward program that adds little cost to your budget, and delivers more enthusiasm and skill to the work at hand.

Mark's managers use this as their hierarchy of needs. They choose rewards based on how far up the pyramid they go. A reward, such as cash or dinner out, may only get two levels off the bottom. Another reward, involving self respect, may get to the top.

This article is similar to the one that appeared in Solutions Magazine. It is copr 1995 by the Meyer Group, all rights reserved.