10 Factors to Consider When Rewarding Staff

David has been working hard to deliver exceptional service. His manager, Sarah, is pleased and wants to recognise his efforts, so she nominates him for an ‘Employee of the Month’ award. David then starts to slack off. He puts in less effort and seems less engaged by the work. Sarah feels frustrated. What did she do wrong?

It seems to be a good idea to reward people when they do a good job. But it can often decrease motivation. Rewarding people is more complicated than you might think. Here are 10 factors to consider when giving a reward:

  1. Are rewards allocated in a way that seems fair to recipients?
  2. Do they occur soon after the desired behaviour?
  3. Do they tend to focus on clear performance standards. i.e Do I know what to do to get the reward?
  4. Are the rewards matched to the individual? Different people find different things rewarding. Extroverts love a public announcement at a meeting, introverts don’t.
  5. Most people find the following experiences rewarding: autonomy, respect, connection & belonging.
  6. Do the rewards feel controlling? This is subtle. For rewards to feel fair, I need clear performance standards but if I feel like I am being rewarded for complying with instructions I will tend to be de-motivated. We value freedom and autonomy highly. A ‘reward’ that is about compliance can make me feel less autonomous. For example, ‘Thank you so much for getting that board paper to me today, I appreciate that you had to stay back last night to get it done‘ is probably rewarding unless the evening before you told me, ‘You have to stay back tonight to finish that board paper’.
  7. Don’t use extra money to reward behaviours that the person would do anyway because they find the activity enjoyable or because doing it is in some way linked to their values.
  8. Do help people to make the link between what they need to do and who they want to be i.e. their values.
  9. Do reward behaviours that will help the person to learn something challenging. When we are just starting to gain a complex skill it is often hard and we need some external encouragement. Once we can do it well then we start to enjoy it for it’s own sake and we no longer need the rewards (in fact they can be counter-productive).
  10. The best rewards are ‘natural’  – a smile; a thank you; an authentic expression of the impact of what the person did. (Again think: autonomy, respect, belonging and connection).

So what went wrong with David? He had been giving excellent customer service for the joy of it. The award changed that for him. He felt controlled by it. Sarah presented the award at the monthly team meeting and David is an introvert and felt embarrassed. David knew that Connie had been giving a similar level of service but she didn’t get a mention. He didn’t feel that Sarah had been fair and he now felt awkward around Connie. It had decreased his respect for Sarah and his feelings of connection to the rest of the team.

So, give others lots of respect and as much autonomy as you can. Build feelings of connection and belonging. But think carefully when you use bonuses and awards – they are risky!

Sources for this post:

Judy Cameron, Katherine M. Banko, and W; David Pierce Pervasive Negative Effects of Rewards on Intrinsic Motivation: The Myth Continues. The Behavior Analyst 2001, 24, 1-44 No. 1 (Spring)

Edward L. Deci, Richard Koestner, Richard M. Ryan  A Meta-Analytic Review of Experiments Examining the Effects of Extrinsic Rewards on Intrinsic Motivation. Psychological Bulletin 1999, Vol. 125, No. 6, 627-6

and a thought provoking post to the ACT listserv by Dr Paul Atkins

How Promising Managers Sometimes Derail Their Careers…and How to Prevent It

According to The Centre for Creative Leadership almost 1 in 2 of the managers who have the makings of success fail to reach their potential. They ‘derail’ and are either demoted, fired, plateau or opt for early retirement (William A Gentry).

There seem to be some key problems that cause this derailment:

  • Failing to build effective interpersonal relationships
  • Showing poor team leadership
  • Having problems adapting to changes in the environment
  • Lacking growth and development in the face of the changing demands of their role
  • Failing to meet business objectives (due to either failing to follow through or being overambitious )
  • Maintaining a narrow focus, so that they aren’t able to supervise outside of their area of functional expertise

What seems to happen is that these managers are defensive in the face of challenging feedback, don’t learn from their mistakes and don’t identify and address their weaknesses.

Why do they do that?

I suspect that they lack self-compassion. Self-compassion makes it easier to be open to difficult feedback; learn from mistakes and admit failings. Self compassion can probably be increased*.

These managers also need to get better at noticing when their approach is ineffective and then quickly adjusting their behaviour. A starting point here may be to learn to become more mindful and psychologically flexible.

So, if you are a beginning manager, it might be good to focus on becoming more mindful, flexible and compassionate.

* For readers based in Brisbane, I am running a low cost public workshop on self-compassion on Sunday 6th May 2012.

Getting Some Distance From Your Thoughts – Even If It Is Only Half an Inch

Most of us live in a culture that gives the message that our thoughts control our actions. This assumption seems benign but it actually creates a problem for us. The problem is, if we treat this assumption as true, then, if we want to be successful, we have to first get our thoughts ‘right’ (‘I am capable of being a great team leader’; ‘I will do a good job of giving this feedback’; ‘I am going to write a really good blogpost’) and that is actually really hard. I tell myself ‘I am capable of being a great team leader’ and my mind says ‘Yes, but what about the time you...’

A more useful approach is to build our capacity to observe our thoughts and then choose which thoughts to act on and which ones to just let play in the background. To get some space between ourselves and the endless stream of thoughts our minds come up with.

The more skilful we can become at observing rather than acting on our thoughts, the more freedom we have to take actions that create the outcomes that are important to us.

Gilbert sharing some interesting view on creat...
Elizabeth Gilbert (Image via Wikipedia)

In this beautiful TED talk, Elizabeth Gilbert, (author of Eat, Pray, Love‘)  explores the strategies she used to get some distance from thoughts that were plaguing her that her ‘greatest creative success was behind her’ and ‘creativity is inherently linked to anguish’.

As she explores these idea’s, she uses the gorgeous phrase:

‘You look at it even from half an inch away’.

It is in that space. The space between you and your thoughts, even if it is only half an inch, that freedom can be found*.

When that space is available to you during your next feedback conversation, you can be present with the other person. You can really notice their responses. You can observe your own behaviour and shift it from moment to moment as you see what is and isn’t working. And in the background your mind is gabbling away –  ‘She is going to hate me’; ‘This is going terribly’; ‘I hope I can get out of here soon’; ‘What if she puts in a bullying complaint against me’ and having those thoughts is okay because it is just your mind doing what minds do and you don’t have to pay it a lot of attention.

(*For any ACT experts out there – this is a quote from someone but I can’t remember who! Let me know so that I can credit them!)

How Can We Build Others Motivation to Change their Behaviour?

At work, we often need to encourage others to change their behaviour. It might be the co-worker who repeatedly misses deadlines; the direct report who is irritable with stakeholders, or, our boss who isn’t delegating well to us.

Our instinct is to try asking (or telling!) the person to change. Explaining to them why we want them to change. If we are really good at ‘selling change’ then we might even explain to them the benefits of changing.

A therapeutic technique called Motivational Interviewing suggests a different approach.

William Miller came up with this approach when he discovered that some therapists do a much better job at helping their clients to change compared to others. He then studied the differences between the effective and ineffective therapists and found that the highly effective therapists:

  • Were good at empathic listening and were genuinely interested in understanding the client’s perspective
  • Coached their client’s to explore the pros and cons of change and helped them to make their own decision about whether they wanted to change
  • When the client resisted the idea of change, the effective therapists ‘rolled with that resistance’ rather than arguing with the client
  • Had a respectful stance
    • Honoring the client’s autonomy – the client gets to choose whether they change or not, and as adults, they take responsibility for the consequences of their choice
    • Viewing the client as the expert in their own life. They didn’t talk down to the client but took a collaborative approach where they worked together to figure out what to do next

Miller found that in the sessions that had the best outcomes, it was the clients who were describing the benefits of the change rather than the therapist.  The clients came to their own decision that they wanted to change. It was only at this point (when the client started to say ‘I want to change..’ or ‘I am going to change..’) that effective therapists started to help the person to make a plan for how they would go about changing.

I know that when I apply this to my own life, I am much more likely to commit to change if the other person takes this approach with me – but perhaps I am just a contrary Derbyshire lass!

The collaborative, respectful approach used in motivational interviewing fits well with the approach taken by a good ACT practitioner.

An ACT practitioner helps clients choose their own values rather than values that society or significant others might want the individual to adopt.

ACT practitioners have the stance that we are all dealing with our own difficulties – the ACT practitioner isn’t the expert who has it all sorted.

An ACT practitioner works to help the client see the reality of their situation and then make decisions taking this information into account.

Both ACT and Motivational Interviewing are empirically supported approaches shown to help people make important and often challenging changes in their lives (from giving up drugs to losing weight) and they seem to be saying similar things about the best stance for the practitioner to take.

Perhaps there is something for all of us to learn here?

Perhaps, next time we want some else to change their behaviour, it might be helpful to start by being genuinely interested in their viewpoint. What if we were really curious about understanding how the current approach both is and isn’t working for them? What if we respectfully explored whether the person sees any benefits in changing their behaviour? Perhaps we might discover that they are less likely to dig their heels in and resist us? They might even be more inclined to work collaboratively with us to create a better outcome that meets both of our needs.