I love your work …

by 30 Oct 2008

Business leaders constantly search for the X-factor incentives that will motivate their people to be enthusiastic and productive. But what really works?

Traditional incentives such as bonuses, dinners, weekends away and tickets to shows are perennial treats. Newer rewards such as personalised number plates or home cleaning services for three months aim to make a difference in employees’lives. But even these goodies won’t keep ambitious skilled people engaged for long.

The real X-factor is something so simple that many of us have overlooked it in our search for ways to say “thank you” and keep staff happy. What really seems to work is meeting the human need to belong and feel appreciated. This can produce gold in terms of worker satisfaction.

Alan Chapman– CEO of the managed IT services business TLC IT Group and a member of The CEO Institute – is a believer in incentives that tap emotional wellsprings. In the past 12 months, he has not lost a single member of his 45-person team. That is a remarkable achievement in an industry which is chronically short of skilled staff.

Chapman doesn’t discount the importance of monetary bonuses. “Everybody gets performance bonuses and a share of the profits. But that won’t make them stay,” he said.

Chapman attributes TLC IT’s high retention rate to its tribal culture. “People have a real sense of belonging and a clear idea of where they can go,” he said. For example, a 20-year-old who earns $40,000 on the service desk can do training sessions and exams and be working as a systems engineer within two years.

If they spend another year or two specialising in systems or security architecture, they will earn a minimum of $95,000.

“Our guys could earn a lot more at a big company such as IBM,” Chapman said. “But there they would be a small cog in a big machine. Here, we take their views very seriously and let them know how much they are appreciated.”

Warren Hart chairs three of The CEO Institute’s business-mentoring syndicates and is an experienced business leader. He believes that frequent and genuine expressions of interest and thanks are literally priceless ways of empowering and motivating employees.

Hart recalls a business whose big blue-collar workforce had been starved of appreciation. The workplace was a dangerous one that required 30 OHS committees.

Management decided to acknowledge the thankless work of heading each committee by putting on a barbecue and giving each person a Myer gift card. “

The response was overwhelming,” said Hart. “People made comments such as ‘I have never been given recognition for anything in my life’. I found this both sad and uplifting.”

Of course, a barbecue and gift card won’t satisfy everyone. Rewards and bonuses should be tailored to the organisational culture and the career phase of the staff member.

Young people in corporate settings love to be invited to work on a high-profile project with senior people. They want to be heard and they want to have a sense of direction.

Hart knows of one company where a small group of young employees are invited to have lunch with the CEO once a quarter. He said: “They get to tell the CEO what is wrong and how to fix it.”

At The CEO Institute’s sessions, leaders spend a surprising amount of time discussing strategies for motivating, rewarding and retaining their staff. Hart reckons that about 25 per cent of peer group meetings are devoted to the subject.

But many CEOs seem so busy running their organisations that they forget how much they personally can influence staff. How can you make a difference? Here are Hart’s top tips for rewarding staff:

1. Provide sincere and regular recognition and feedback for good work.

2. Personalise rewards by finding out what is meaningful to the staff member.

3. Make targets attainable so that staff stay motivated.

4. Give the reward as soon as possible.

5. Tailor rewards to fit the organisation’s culture. For example, mechanics or car salespeople might love the chance to roar around a racetrack behind the wheel of a grunt machine.

6. Consider public recognition of success if appropriate.

7. Give different rewards to different generations.