When You Reward, Make It About the Employee – Not the Employer

© Scott Hancock - Fotolia.com© Scott Hancock - Fotolia.com

If you have ever had occasion to reward talent there is one question you must ask before you can begin to answer the question of how to reward high performers:

What motivates the employee you’re looking to reward?”

Different things motivate different people

Is the person you’re rewarding an hourly employee? Salaried? Commission based?

If it’s a money-motivated type, cash is typically king.

Do you think that acknowledgement at a company wide function, newsletter, or some other public display (“talent on parade”) is enough, or even what they care about? Maybe it’s cash, paid time off, airline tickets and hotel to someplace they want to go, etc. Be creative.

What do THEY want?

You probably already have an idea of how much money you’re going to spend to reward the individual, so ask.

If you want to reward someone, give something they desire. This not only makes them happy, but also will help you retain them because you’ve made the effort to make the reward about them.

I worked for a search firm for nine years. Every year there was a quota club trip for employees achieving at least 100 percent of quota.

The two principals always decided where we would go. It was typically within a 3 – 4 hour flight from New York and it was five days and four nights. It was typically a beach-side resort. The company paid for our flights, hotel room, and 1 company dinner.

Make it about YOU and suffer the consequences

It was always a very expensive resort where the employees paid for each and every meal, except the one “company” dinner. This would usually add up to several hundred dollars in meals/drinks. It always irked me that they’d fly us to some expensive resort and expect us to pay for everything outside of our flight and hotel room. To me, this was no “reward.”

I did enough traveling on my own that I didn’t really care about these trips. I usually only joined the trip every other year because the locations were often to places I had no interest in visiting.

Being an avid scuba diver I only had interest in going on a trip if there was excellent diving. If I went someplace I wasn’t interested in I’d just spend my time on the beach tanning and drinking, and I only have so much interest in that.

The president of my company used to get upset when I decided not to go. His opinion was that this was a gift and a bonding activity for the achievers. Did it ever occured to either of the two partners that some of their employees might not care about “bonding?” Did they care that those of us who wanted to have relationships with our work associates already did?

A reward that’s not all that rewarding

These questions are rhetorical because they were really only concerned about what they wanted. They figured they were giving us a flight and hotel at a nice place and that was all they had to do.

The other thing that chapped my rear was that they would only pay for a guest if you were married, or if they determined, arbitrarily, if you were in a “significant” relationship. Really?! That set me sideways for the entire time I was with them. I mean, who were they to decide if my relationships were significant enough? In my world you either pay for every employee’s “date” or pay for none of them.

Over the years, the president would periodically ask me what would motivate me. I’d always say, “money.” Give me money instead of a trip so I can use it how I want. Give me more than 50 percent of my bookings. He’d always answer that they didn’t do it that way — which showed that it was all about him, not his employees.

I quit after nine years with them — probably 2-3 years later than I should have — but that’s water under the bridge. I didn’t think they were bringing me enough value to warrant them keeping 50 percent of my bookings, so I left and made 100 percent.

I might have stayed had they brought me to 75 or 80 percent. After all, isn’t 25 percent of something better than 50 percent of nothing? Now, all their employees have gone and they are pretty much out of business. It’s just the two partners trying to make a living for themselves with no help from any employees.

Make a case

You may be thinking that your company does things in a particular way and you have no control over it. Do NOT be a victim of your circumstances.

Do be a private eye and a consultant. Reach out to your performers on the QT if you have to. Ask them what motivates them. Ask them if the “right” reward would encourage them to stay with your company.

Ask them what ever makes sense to you given the situation. Then, go to your management and make a case. Use dollars and sense to make your case that a company that retains its performers makes more money in the end.

Moral of the story

Make the reward about the employee, not the employer. You will find that this will be enough to keep some of your best people, which will keep your revenues up and your replacement expenses down.