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How NOT To Motivate And Reward Employees

Originally posted January 21, 2015 by Bernard Marr on LinkedIn Pulse.

When a newspaper company had to cut costs it made their entertainment writers redundant. To fill the entertainment review columns it came up with what it thought to be a novel way to both deliver reviews and motivate the remaining employees. The newspaper offered free tickets to staff for theatre, music and cultural events, but with the condition that they write reviews. The writer of the best review each month would be rewarded with a bonus of $100.

Not only did the staff immediately see that this was a way for the company to cheaply replace what it had chosen to forgo, through redundancy, by asking the remaining staff to carry out extra work essentially for free. The artists and organizers connected of the events also soon realised they were being short-changed. As the tickets are generally offered free to media outlets, on the understanding their artistic endeavors will receive professional coverage in return, they were often a little surprised to see the newspaper’s advertising sales rep, or office manager, turning up to “review” their play, concert or exhibition.

Needless to say, this “motivational measure” was widely ignored by the paper’s staff, adding to the growing sense of disconnect between staff and management during already turbulent times.

If you are thinking about how to best motivate your employees, to ensure they know their efforts are appreciated, here are a few mistakes to avoid, if you don’t want it to backfire.

Don’t just reward results

Effort is often just as important – while a select few may be responsible for a winning “result” (a big sale, or a major project for a client completed on time), don’t let those working behind the scenes feel underappreciated. Big projects may take a long time to come to fruition and it is important that you keep employees engaged and feeling appreciated for the duration.

Do not promote a “superstar” culture

Motivating and incentivizing should be carefully balanced so individual success does not appear more beneficial to the business than the work of the team as a whole. If staff feels that one “superstar” employee is constantly rewarded for the performance of the group, then motivation will suffer. Success can be recognized at individual, departmental and company-wide level – and it should always be recognized at all three.

Don’t directly and permanently link KPIs to reward

While this may be a great tactic for a one-off or short-term campaign, for example to increase sales in a certain sector which is flagging, it can lead to box-ticking behavior if implemented in a heavy-handed way, and even encourage attempts to “game the system”. KPIs should be there to check that the company is moving in the right direction, not to incentivize (or de-incentivize) staff.

Don’t delay rewards or praise

Studies show there is a direct relationship between how quickly someone is praised or rewarded for their efforts, and how appreciated they feel. It’s easy to think that you will get round to sending out congratulatory emails (or gifts) at some point in the near future, but every second you delay is another second that someone (or your whole team) may be feeling unappreciated.

Don’t become predictable

Vary the rewards and incentives you offer your staff from time to time. Familiarity breeds contempt, and once something becomes routine, it is an expectation and no longer a great pleasure. Put some time and imagination into coming up with ways to make your team feel valued.