Designing A Good Rewards System – Zig Zag Principle #62

February 16th, 2012 by Rich Christiansen

Keep Your System Simple

It’s important to not overcomplicate your system of goals and rewards.  In one of my early ventures, I created a chart that had eighteen different targets to hit and a simple “REWARD” written across the top.   My employees were unclear as to what the priorities were and what the reward would be.  I have found it’s best to have three or four target goals to hit, with a very specific reward at the end.  The goals we typically fail to achieve are the ones that are complex and unclear.

Employees should also feel free to devise their own systems (within reason, of course).  My son and his friends came up with their own motivating reward.  They had a Burger King crown they kept in the office.  They were all highly competitive, and they would have contests to see which one could create the most web links on a given day.  The winner then got to wear the crown.  The reward didn’t cost me anything, and it was fun to see these seventeen-year-old boys engage in an all-out push to optimize their web sites, just for the reward of wearing a paper crown. 

One of the benefits of having a team set its own goals and rewards is that the members learn to govern their own behavior.  That way I don’t have to micromanage my teams.  

Avoid the Entitlement Mentality

When I was managing Mitsubishi Electric, I was still young and not completely financially stable myself.  I had an awesome killer team that was also young and hungry.  I began the practice of taking them out to lunch every Friday.  I would pay for their lunch myself because I didn’t feel the company should have that expense.  This was my personal way of showing my appreciation.  A few months into this, I ended up in a tough stretch where I was traveling almost nonstop.  As a result, there were a few Fridays where we didn’t make it to lunch.  Soon, there was muttering and complaining.  Morale dropped.  These employees had become so accustomed to going to lunch each Friday that they felt they were entitled to this perk.  What started as a good intention led to my being the bad guy because I did not consistently provide them with their expected lunch.

I had a similar experience with my crew of teenagers.  I would stock the fridge with food and soda pops so they could grab something to eat after they finished school and before they started to work.  A few times we got so busy I failed to replenish the quickly consumed food items.  Almost immediately, some of the boys started murmuring, “I can’t believe it, there aren’t any burritos or Hot Pockets in the fridge.”  If I have erred, it is because sometimes I have rewarded too quickly or too often.

Allow For Some Flexibility

Situations change, and sometimes you need to change with them.  I’ve lived through shifts in markets where even though my team gave an incredible effort, they fell a bit short of the original goal.  In those situations I still gave the reward so the team didn’t lose steam.  However, be careful not to reward when the reward is not merited.

I employ a group of mothers who work for me from their homes.  They are motivated and hard working.  I told them once that if they had ten consecutive days of making $500 in profit, I would give each of them a large bonus.  These women worked their hearts out.  At the end of the period, I saw that while they were only clearing $300 to $400 on the weekdays, on the weekend their profits were $800 to $1,000.  Even though they did not have the ten consecutive days, on an average they were well over the target I had set.  I told them that in this instance, average really does count for something, and they earned their reward.

 

 

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