The book (II): Rewards ahead?

Last week had the opportunity to confirm by myself the positive effects of a well managed reward.

In our organisations we’ve been through so many experiences, in both sides of the game, where the reward system was a crap: Performance appraissals linked to bonuses, promises based on achieving specific outcomes, or even worse, specific outputs, expected promotions, tracking systems to make sure i´ll pay you just for whatever you achieve, etc.

In all these models there’s been always one key problem: The expectation! Once someone communicates to us a reward proposal our brain is anticipating the reward itself. We have already earned those extra $1000s! So we have already enjoyed that trip in an all-included resort in Bali. It was awesome! and of course you have shared it with all your friends… anyway, let me share with you a related but complete different story.

Jana, my younger daughter, is collaborating in a not-for-profit initiative. She is illustrating one book written by Marina Sigaeva. This is a very special book. A book for kids illustrated by a kid. Loved the idea from the very first moment i knew about this. And as a parent, was so proud of Jana willing to help Marina when she knew she was struggling looking for someone to help her and her initiative to move forward.

They both met couple of times before and during the school holidays. Marina had to share with Jana all her ideas and drafts, and Jana had to understand the purpose and the soul of the book. Jana was working, almost daily, creating new drafts and proposals. Looking her so engaged mesmerised me. If you want to know more about her own Agile journey into the illustration process you’d like reading the previous part of the story.

The point was that, one afternoon, Marina called me because she had something for Jana. I though it would be a bunch of new drafts and chapters of the book for Jana to continue their work so there we meet midway from her workplace and mine.

When i arrived there Marina was waiting with a big box. It was a big painting box for Jana!

Jana is working so hard i felt that i wanted to thanks all her effort giving her this.

WoW, i was really impressed! That evening when i arrived home i left the box in Jana´s bedroom and when she saw the box from Marina she almost breaks into tears (the unboxing was a magic moment) She was so thankful and confused at the same time for not understanding why Marina gave it to her. I love my girl, but this is another story…

i reckon Marina didn’t make it consciously but she followed the most important principles of Great Rewarding systems:

Don’t promise rewards in advance. Reward behaviours, not outcomes. And rewards can come in any type of appreciation act, not only money.

Sociology and Psychology have shown us with facts that each one of our assumptions on how rewards work are completely wrong. Well, it´s even worse. Science has shown us that these old-school approaches were creating the opposite effect on our people. Demotivating and pursuing wrong goals instead of Motivating and helping to achieve the expected ones.

The whole list of tips to take into account includes:

  1. Don’t promise rewards in advance. Give rewards at unexpected moments, so that people don’t change their intentions and focus on the reward. When acknowledgement of good work comes as a surprise research says intrinsic motivation will not be undermined.
  2. Keep anticipated rewards small. Sometimes you cannot prevent people anticipating a potential reward. In such cases, according to research, big rewards are likely to decrease the performance of people. This might be because the stress of anticipation will interfere with people’s working memory.
  3. Reward continuously, not once. Do not look just once per month or once per year for something to celebrate. Every day can be a day to celebrate something. When people do useful work every day, every day is an opportunity for a reward [McCrimmon, “Celebrating Success”].
  4. Reward publicly, not privately. Everyone should understand what is rewarded and why. The goal of giving rewards is to acknowledge good work, and have people enjoy it too. To achieve this, a regular public reminder works better than an annual private one.
  5. Reward behavior, not outcome. Outcomes can often be achieved through shortcuts, while behavior is about decent work and effort. When you focus on good behavior, people learn how to behave. When you focus on desired outcomes, people may learn how to cheat [Fleming].
  6. Reward peers, not subordinates. Rewards should not come just from managers. Find a way for people to reward each other, because peers usually know better than managers which of their colleagues deserve a compliment.

Jurgen Appelo created this 6-rules list in which i´d like to add one extra ball:

7. Money is not the best reward. Tangible rewards are our modern and artificial way to say Thanks You so much! so you should be able to think out of the (economical) box to decide best way for you and your people to be Thank’ed.

I will not say Jana is more engaged with the project after receiving this unexpected reward, it would be physically and emotionally impossible, hahaha… But, of course, keeping a healthy open and fair reward system in your organisation should make the different between succeeding or failing. between enjoying the work or just warming chairs and waiting for 5pm to catch the train to go back home.

Does it make sense?

Hope you find the appreciation and acknowledgement alternative that better suits you and your organisation.

Advertisement: Salary models and Reward systems are part of our Management 3.0 workshops. You can check next in Jakarta and Sydney. Visit the workshop website for more details and don´t hesitate to contact me for any additional request or proposal.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *