Real Incentives

Trying to develop an effective incentive plan for employees can feel like an insurmountable challenge.  Most workers today have complex tasks to complete involving integration with multiple departments, management of different parts of the service delivery process, and coordination of a variety of elements. Because of this complexity most managers end up resorting to the tried but untrue one-size-fits-all approach to incentives and end up being frustrated that once again the incentive plan didn’t seem to provide the intended level of motivation.

Research and experience show that incentive motivation is short lived, burning intensely bright and flaming out quickly; it simply doesn’t work long term. Just ask anyone who’s ever received something from their employer like a turkey for Thanksgiving. After receiving a 12 lb. turkey last year, anything less this year seems like a slap in the face. Today’s incentive is tomorrow’s expectation.

The same is true for recognition and rewards. Blanket organizational programs don’t work long term because recognition is an individual preference. People like what they like, and all don’t necessarily like the same thing. One person loves to be appreciated with a group luncheon in front of the entire department, while another person would prefer a gift certificate to a local restaurant so that they could choose who they take with them. Recognition is not a one-size-fits-all process.

In addition, innovative financial compensation plans often struggle to find the mark in driving the appropriate behavior. If they are specific enough to do that, they are very challenging to track and use, and as incentive are short lived.

The fact is that motivation is unique to the individual; a benefit to one person is a burden to another. The most effective method of motivation can be derived through one on one conversations between the manager and the specific employee. If given some ideas and guidelines, managers can learn what would be most interesting and valuable to each individual employee and build incentives and rewards based on that information. There are many ways to show appreciation that aren’t financial. Some specific non-financial ideas:

  • A greater choice in work shift
  • Time off with pay, in small increments
  • Leaving a shift early, with pay
  • Opportunities to coach others in a process or tactic which they do well
  • Receiving free training on products from vendors
  • Participating in cross training with other departments
  • Gift certificates for the company’s product or service

While these individual motivation efforts are useful, research shows that the real incentive for the majority of employees is to feel they are making progress on meaningful work. Managers can provide this incentive by reducing obstacles to progress, providing the proper tools and supplies, and creating a better working environment. Managers can make work meaningful by helping employees to understand a greater purpose, recognize the impact they have on their customers’ lives and see how they influence the success of the organization. This clarity of impact and purpose can generate a long lasting fire in the belly of employees. When motivation comes from within each employee, as opposed to being something “we do to them,” it makes a huge difference in organizational performance.

 

Obstacles and Purpose

Here are some steps you can take to reduce obstacles and define the purpose of work so employees remain engaged:

Reducing obstacles:

  • Provide appropriate training so they have the skills to complete the task
  • Provide a better working space to insure proper lighting and comfort
  • Check in on employees occasionally and offer support and encouragement
  • Provide incremental feedback so they know if they are on track
  • Monitor how the team is collaborating and take action on detrimental behavior

Defining purpose:

  • Link the task to a very specific customer benefit
  • Connect the objective to a greater organizational or societal purpose
  • Reinforce the importance of the task to the team and goal

Try these steps in the next two weeks to help your people make progress on meaningful work.

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