Rewards to Motivate Performance

When you do a good job, you like to feel appreciated and as a leader, rewarding good performance is one of the key ways to keep your team motivated. However, there is a significant difference in the way many businesses try to use rewards to motivate people and what scientific studies suggest are effective motivators.

The ‘carrot and stick’ approach has been shown to be largely ineffective. This is hardly new; Henry Gantt was advocating rewards over punishment as the most effective motivator as early as 1912. What is interesting though, is that providing transactional bonuses as the reward has also been shown to be largely ineffective. Simply providing a reward of ‘1’ if a person achieved 1X, and ‘2’ if they achieve 2X has little effect on motivation, particularly if the reward is money. If you don’t believe this watch Dan Pink’s TED presentation on the surprising science of motivation at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/dan_pink_on_motivation.html or look up Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory, wages are a hygiene factor, not a motivator.

What modern research has shown is the type of rewards that are effective. We all have a deep need for autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives, mastery, the urge to get better at doing our work and to feel successful, and purpose, the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

If your leadership provides your team with these elements, you are likely to have satisfied and motivated people working together. Some of the key elements to integrate into your leadership include allowing team members the freedom to define their work within appropriate boundaries*, providing opportunities to develop new skills and linking their work to the objectives of the organisation and where possible benefits to society at large. Your job is to ‘join the dots’ and make the linkages: If we create a more efficient process, consumption will be reduced and there will be a benefit in the reduction of our organisation’s carbon footprint.

Rewards do not need to be large, but it helps if you can create a series of short, medium and long term aims to allow successes to be recognized regularly. Then provide rapid, frequent and clear feedback linked to graduated and scaled rewards for appropriate effort. The rewards themselves should reinforce the three elements above. Rewards that offer more autonomy or more control over a person’s work, or the opportunity to learn something new or polish an existing skill are far more likely to be effective than a transactional payment such as time off work. This is particularly true if the group as a whole can join in to celebrate the success.

So where can you start? One simple thing to try is the next time you need to direct a person to do a job, rather then telling them what to do and when it has to be finished, ask them how they can best achieve the objective of the task and how quickly do they think they can accomplish it. You may be surprised at the positive reaction.

* for more on bounded initiative see: https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/2010/07/30/command-or-control

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