Are you rewarding the right behaviours?

by External20 Jul 2016
We all know that offering perks and financial incentives for high achievement can motivate employees, build a culture of healthy competition between peers and boost productivity – but is there a downside to this approach?

Matthew Beard, moral philosopher,  says there is. “It only takes one person who  feels entitled to their bonus – to winning – to undermine the moral authority of an entire organisation,” he told HC Online.

He  suggested  that  a  salesperson   who commits fraud, deceives a client or ignores industry safeguards may be driven to do so by incentives offered for exemplary performance. “Although these might seem appealing to both employees and employers, they can have some unanticipated, harmful side effects.” Where winning is due to performance, not luck, winners develop a sense of entitlement that justifies acting dishonestly later on, he said.

“Incentives build a culture of competition,” Beard said, citing research from Ben-Gurion University and the University of Jerusalem. “People who win competitions based on their own skill can develop a sense of entitlement: they start to believe they deserved to win even when they didn’t. They might bend or break the rules to assure themselves victory, all because they won a competition in the past.”

The end does not justify the means
Of course, this does not apply to everyone, or all corporate incentive and recognition plans.

Alan Heyward, executive manager at Accumulate, says rewarding outcomes is  still OK, but not at the expense of building   a strong underlying culture that makes sustained success – for individuals, teams and the organisation – far more likely.

Most progressive organisations left the concept of ‘the end justifies the means’ behind long ago, Heyward says. “Every organisation has short-term commercial imperatives, but the cultural leaders recognise that a more holistic, longer-term view of their workforce and business is required. They seek to create an underlying culture in which expectations are aligned and understood, and one in which employees feel engaged, empowered and inspired, and have a clear sense of purpose.

“Some organisations allow the wrong behaviours to be encouraged, particularly where the underlying message becomes ‘thanks for turning up and doing the job you’re employed to do’.”

This approach can lead to a culture in which people don’t feel empowered or don’t understand why they are recognising others; it becomes more of a compliance task or a distraction, and can lead to a more negative sentiment, as the program ‘isn’t as advertised’.

An effective way to avoid this scenario, or re-educate your workforce if it does occur, is to use key influencers or advocates to endorse and role-model desired behaviours. Alternatively, non-monetary incentives like the opportunity to work on a passion project, greater autonomy in decision-making, or simple recognition of achievement are cultural inputs that aren’t dependent on an employee’s particular work over a given time. This builds a culture of collective achievement because there is less emphasis on competitive schemes that pit employees against each other.

“If managed correctly, your workforce can become empowered to learn from each other what constitutes outstanding behaviour that creates a vibrant, sustainable culture driving powerful, positive behavioural change,” says Heyward.

What’s your motivation?
An effective EVP should strike the right balance in driving both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

Remuneration and financial bonuses and incentives are of course ever-present, but frequent recognition, non-cash rewards, benefits/perks (lifestyle offers, merchandise discounts, etc), work-life balance, community and environmental focus, health and wellbeing/corporate wellness activities, are increasingly important.

Frequent recognition of achievement is a critical motivator, and at a very basic level costs nothing. Greater autonomy or empowerment, the opportunity to work on a ‘passion project’, and having greater purpose are all things that “get the majority of people out of bed in the morning”, Heyward says.

“And  they all tie in strongly to the idea  of carefully fostering and leveraging the inherent strength of workplace communities to collaborate and connect employees with geographically disparate, motivated and like- minded colleagues.”

A culture of recognition
How does one create the ripple effect of ‘collective achievement’ referred to by Beard? Building a culture of recognition, or a ‘culture of collective achievement’, is about ensuring that everyone in the organisation has a common understanding of business purpose and objectives, and cultural expectations.

“It’s about each employee feeling empowered to make decisions, challenge accepted thinking and having the ability to shape the environment around them, which is where the all-important ‘ripple effect’ kicks in,” says Heyward. “And it’s ultimately about employees feeling they’re part of a strong community or communities, based on both professional goals and personal interests.”

Accumulate: Employee Loyalty Specialists
Talk to us about how we can help you create a more vibrant, sustainable workplace culture to inspire positive behavioural change.
accumulate.com.au