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Boost staff performance by rewarding them with what they REALLY value…

The basic human drivers for reward show four groups of factors the give people pleasure at work – understanding these can boost people performance.

It’s a common misconception that the way to get your staff to perform better is to incentivise them with financial rewards – pay rises, bonuses, etc. Ask your staff and many of them will confirm this.

Here’s the show stopper – that’s because they often don’t know themselves what drives their desire and passion to work.

We were recently working with a company who had a specific problem leading to a high complaint rate for one of their services. The management team had designed a high tech solution which required a new computer system, networks and training estimated at around £15k. The staff who would be using the system weren’t keen on the solution, and with a little head-scratching, solved the problem for a mere £5 – with a solution they preferred. I’ve not gone in to the detail (that’s the subject of one of my other blogs – I’ll add a link at the bottom of the page if you’re interested!) because it’s what happened next that really made the difference.

Whenever one of the team walked past the new £5 solution, they smirked to themselves, and in their mind you could see them smugly (but in jest) flicking the good 2-fingers at the MD”s office. There was no malice, but it was their way of saying “WE owned that problem, WEsolved that problem, and WE just saved the company the £15k you were going to spend on the solution”.

What’s even better is that the “buzz” generated from that thought alone gave them the drive to want to solve more problems in the business. Those who weren’t involved in the generation of the first solution wanted to be a part of the “buzz” and get involved with their own areas. Where there wasn’t a problem, the staff looked for ways to make things better. Soon the business became a self-improving entity.

The management team knew what was happening and loved it. “The staff are beginning to think for themselves” one told me. Another said “They used to ignore us or come to us with problems – now they improve things with their own initiative or come to us to ask about support for new ideas”.

So what is this “buzz”? When we look into the detail, it isn’t actually that surprising. If we consider the basic human drivers for reward, we find that there are four groups of factors the give people pleasure at work. These are:

  1. Financial rewards – extra money including pay rises, bonuses, share options or other rewards which can be assigned a financial value – extra holidays, a weekend break, etc.
  2. Recognition from peers – some people seek a simple “thank-you” or “well done”. These people tend to do that little bit extra in the hope that it gets seen and acknowledged by their colleagues and management team
  3. Achievement – for many individuals (especially the technically minded) achieving an outcome or solving a problem is satisfaction in itself. It’s the proverbial “putting the last piece in the jigsaw” feeling which gives them a glow of fulfilment.
  4. Moral reward – the final factor is the self-acknowledgement that you’re dome something good for a greater cause. You’ve helped your colleagues to do their job better, or you’ve made your business a better place to work or able to achieve more.

Most people don’t recognise that these factors are so influential in driving their happiness and engagement within the workplace. Many would deny the strength of these drivers until they had actually experienced them, as this case study has shown.

The moral of this blog is that money can’t always buy you happiness. I suppose the other moral is that the management team don’t always have the best ideas, and you overlook the collective knowledge, experience and creativity within your workforce at your peril!

Richard Harrison