Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tailor rewards to individual workers for best results

Just how are you supposed to motivate employees? They're your most important assets, and you need them to be dedicated brand advocates, provide excellent customer service, help build business and convert customers into fans.
But the debate over what motivates them has never been more confusing, especially in a multi-generational work force.

Baby boomers, the first of whom are nearing 65, respond differently from their younger colleagues. Generation Y members, or Millennials, born between 1981 and 2001, are known for lack of patience, the desire for independence in their jobs and rapid movement in their work lives.

Gen Xers, born from the early 1960s to 1980, are entering their middle years and are beginning to see their careers differently. While not focusing on retirement planning, they're questioning their career choices while also looking for advancement, responsibility and authority that boomers often are reluctant to give up.

A new issue in the motivation debate is how effective financial incentives are in motivating people at work.

Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us , believes this approach is out of sync with workers today. He believes that incentives that reward good work with pay, benefits or promotions may even be counterproductive.

Say what? Let Pink explain. He says traditional employee incentive systems are flawed. He feels they may foster short-term thinking, with the incentive taking precedence over the long-term best interests of the business; or they may extinguish motivation and diminish performance. If goals required to win rewards seem unachievable, the incentives may have a reverse effect.

Or perhaps a hyperactive focus on performance crushes creativity. The focus becomes performance, leaving little time or energy for workplace improvement.

At their worst, incentives sometimes encourage cheating; when the reward is significant, shortcuts and unethical behavior may seem worth the risk to an employee.

Or incentives become addictive with people waiting for the next sales contest and sandbagging orders until the next quarter as they learn to play the game.

Support for performance pay

On the other side of the coin, The Economist cited four research reviews that showed pay-for-performance plans can increase productivity dramatically.

One columnist wrote that linking pay to performance is motivating, can help retain talented employees and can eliminate what he called "sluggish dullards."

So what do you make of these polar opposite opinions? My observation is that employees, much like customers, cannot be lumped into broad groups. Saying all salespeople are alike is just as ludicrous as saying that all women ages 18 to 34 are the same.

That means you as a manager have an additional burden. You have to study the employees you have, understand them as individuals and then design reward systems that fit their personalities and psyches.

Remember: Nobody said running a business was going to be easy.

David Bohan founded BOHAN Advertising|Marketing, a Nashville agency with clients in travel, hospitality, health care and consumer products, in 1990. He has worked in marketing and advertising since earning a degree at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 1970.

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