Between carrots and sticks, raises, reprimands and more, how do you know what works when it comes to improving work performance? How do leaders know what work performance goals to use and how to coach for improved performance? In a leadership class I taught last week, the topic of rewards, consequences, and performance goals kept coming up. We discussed the use of rewards, how some rewards are actually consequences, and then we talked in detail about examples of how to use both to improve work performance among employees. Just how DO you improve work performance with simple rewards and consequences? Do you have to break the bank to get employees to do what you want them to do? In short, the answer is no, but here’s what you also need to know.
When it comes to human behavior and work performance, in the absence of compelling rewards or significant consequences people will do whatever is EASIEST. Some of the rewards you think you’re delivering might actually be consequences, such as:
• Giving them more work to do when they finish their existing work early
• Rewarding them publicly in front of the team when they’d really prefer a one on one with you
• Leaving them alone, thinking “no news is good news” when they crave your attention and input
Delivering real rewards requires that you know what they need, which requires more than a quick read of an employee’s behavior. Dig deeper. Ask more questions. Find out what really lights them up and reward them with those things. Much as upset customers often need less of the “farm” then we try to give them to keep them happy, most employees need much less money and expensive tangible items than you might think, to feel valued, special, or rewarded.
Take each of the rewards I’ve mentioned and flip them around. If someone is an extroverted person who loves center stage, rewarding them privately and keeping their success a secret is a significant consequence and will motivate a downward change in their work performance. In contrast, giving them a write up or threatening termination when you and they both know that you don’t have that kind of leverage or that nothing will happen as a result is not a significant consequence. Find things that cause pain, figuratively of course. People run from pain more than they run toward pleasure so when you want to improve work performance or stop them from doing something that is slowing down work flow, find a way that keeps them from going in that direction. Also, examine your goals for them. Are they creating pain or providing hope for the pleasure of successful achievement. “Stretch goals” need to motivate not deflate. Creating a scenario of “no hope in heck of meeting those goals” is not an approach that motivates employees to work harder.
Improving work performance whether done through micro-management, coaching, setting performance goals, letting them fail, or helping them sail, can be tedious. However, when you stay consciously aware of what you’re doing and how their performance is improving, as well as use consistent efforts, you’ll see results. Managing employee performance levels is not a knee jerk, nor something shiny, exercise. In fact, not being consistent gets you accused of employing “campaigns of the week” and causes employees to stop listening. In other words, your inconsistent leadership of their development and higher levels of performance sends them the message that it’s not important for them to put forth consistent effort.
Rewards and consequences, as I’m fond of saying, can be low cost, low fat, legal, cheap and easy and for a woman who wrote Make Difficult People Disappear (WITHOUT going to jail!) that’s saying something! Ha! Remember, money is only a short term motivator of performance and yet, it’s much easier to ask for then for you to pay more attention to what they’re doing. They won’t always directly tell you what they need in the way of rewards and consequences and you may have to figure it out, but once you do, the results will speak for themselves.
I’m Monica Wofford and of course stay contagious!