Rewards Yet Again….

September 8th, 2008
[ Office Gossip ]

At Business of Software I had a great discussion with Zakir from iLoveRewards about, of all things, rewards in the workplace. As well, Mark and Razor have had some chats lately.

First, I’m going to be an ass. Some names, Jeffrey Pfeffer, Douglas McGregor, Abraham Maslow, Joe Scanlon, Alfie Kohn and John Taylor Gatto. If you don’t know of, and have read, at least three of these guys then start there. Why? If you don’t even know those names then we’re going to spend all our time on the basics like incentives in modern schooling, hierachy of needs, theory x versus theory y, etc and fail to get into the fun stuff.

So technically no, I’m not all that into extrinsic rewards in general, however, the stuff iLoveRewards is up to is still light years ahead of the average companies compensation policies. They’ve managed to fix a lot of the caveman policies like centrally controlled distribution. In the end though, it’s built on the flawed premise that you can motivate people over the long term. As my friend John asked a college teacher who’d offered the reward of beer for submitting an assignment, “I have a fridge full of beer at home so I can skip this one?” I do, however, believe greatly in the rewards a business can produce as a whole and focusing everyone in your company on achieving those rewards. Most companies don’t even have a common goal little on actually ensuring everyone in the company understands it.

Here’s my pitch for a rewards plan….Get at least the executives together. Possibly some investors, clients, maybe your entire company? The more open and transparent you can be with all steps, the better. Spend an afternoon choosing a milestone that would excite you all as a business if you hit it in a few months time. Take some time and talk this through, dig deep and keep working until you hit a clear, meaningful milestone. Something like “We have 1000 users signed up” or “We’re earning x in revenue which covers our current burn”.

Now pick a reward. This is tricky because you can only pick one and it’s the same reward for everyone. If you think you can pull it off, get everyone involved in this so your people choose the reward. Some examples that come to mind, Aeron chairs, spa days, gym memberships, better computers.

After that it’s simple. Spend a day with your team where you talk through the goal. Find out what tools and information your team needs to deliver on this goal and let them loose. The ‘executives’ job should be primarily to support by providing those tools and information required not making decisions and plotting course.

While it’s not perfect, this approach work towards a culture of interdependence by uniting your team on a common goal instead of forcing them to compete against each other for a bag of treats. Can you eventually work your way off the reward part? Yes and you should, Scanlon was doing it over 50 years ago so you have little excuses.