What moves you? When $$$ just ain’t enough.

….and yes, I said “ain’t”.

How many times have we heard or even said ourselves, “If they paid me more, I’d work harder.”  Truth is, that harder work only lasts about a moment, as that extra money was spent before we even got it and now we want another raise.  The checks are cashed, and we fall right back into the same old mediocre work routines from before.

If I asked 10 low-performing employees “What motivates you?”, probably more than half of them would say “Well money! Duh!”  Being the sarcastic person that I am, I would reply with “Well, you’re being paid now…so why aren’t you performing?”  I would then get blank stares, excuses and a couple of under-the-breath expletives.  But money is the easy, uncreative answer.  Throwing incentives and extra money at someone in hopes that they will become loyal and efficient only yields temporary results and disappointment. In a week, you’ll have to come up with another gimmick to get your team revved up again.  It does not change the way your employees feel about you as a leader, what they think of the company or how they see their role in it.

Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards, states rewards may actually damage quality and productivity, and cause employees to lose interest in their jobs. Why?

  • Rewards control behavior through seduction. They’re a way for people in power to manipulate those with less power.
  • Rewards ruin relationships. They emphasize the difference in power between the person handing out the reward and the person receiving it.
  • Rewards create competitiveness among employees, undermining collaboration and teamwork.
  • Rewards reduce risk taking, creativity and innovation. People will be less likely to pursue hunches, fearing such out-of-the-box thinking may jeopardize their chances for a reward.
  • Rewards ignore reasons. A commission system, for example, may lead a manager to blame the salesmen when they don’t meet quotas, when the real problem may be packaging or pricing.

In “Are you listening to your body”, we talked about asking the right questions and actually using the responses that we get from our employees to help build relationships. Spending quality one-on-one and developmental time with the people you work with will uncover all kinds of truths about why they do what they do, and how you can help them do it better.

Ever notice your employees reading schoolbooks during breaks? They may be working toward a degree in a field that they are passionate about.  Is there any function of their current position that can give them any related experience to help realize that dream? If they are studying management or business, they may be interested in peer-to-peer coaching.  Now two employees are reaping the rewards and learning from one another.

Did Jimmy’s eyes light up when you took the time to say, “Good job on that presentation.”? Did he sit up higher in his chair during the staff meeting when his coworkers heard the compliment? Recognizing someone’s accomplishments goes a long way, as that type of validation can help build that employee’s confidence and motivate him or her to focus on quality.  When we do well, we want people to notice (some more than others), it’s natural and it’s ok.  An occasional (but appropriate) pat on the back is free and only takes a second, and is extremely impactful if said sincerely.

Is there an employee that asks a lot of (but really good) questions about processes and how you do what you do? Instead of just calling them annoying to your peers, harnessing that excitement and delegating projects that challenge them and give them more responsibility…and possibly lightening up management’s workload…so more time can be spent with other, less vocal employees?  It’s ok to be a Manager AND mentor at the same time, especially if you are good at what you do!

Are there employees tripping over one another to get to you and share a new idea or a possible new process? Most times the best processes come from the people that have to perform that function all day. Managers can be so removed from the implementation process that a practical viewpoint is needed to ensure it’s being done effectively.  That “I’m am an asset” feeling is second to none, and when an employee is shown that they are more than just an employee but a contributor, that contagious positive feeling is communicated and caught by others.

Like no two fingerprints are alike, members of work teams have different work ethics, personalities and motivators.  Treating everyone equally and fairly doesn’t mean that one must speak and interact the exact same way with every employee.  Listening, observing and responding in a timely manner are critical to reaching that employee. If they won’t say what motivates them, ask! If they won’t tell you, watch! If one can’t pick up on anything, just try something new and different (and try often) and measure how effective it was!  While the employees are finding a sense of purpose and fulfillment, managers will also gain satisfaction by seeing how helping others to grow and learn ultimately help in meeting management goals.

-Alfie Kahn excerpt from “Pros & Cons of Pay for Performance” by Scott Hays, Workforce, February 1999, Vol. 78, No. 2, pp. 68-73.

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