Want to Know What Motivates Your People? Ask Them!

Guess what? You’re not getting the best from your people. Seventy percent of US employees do not work to their full potential. You know how they say, “It’s not you; it’s me.” Well, it’s not. It’s you. If you don’t have a strategy for re-engaging your workforce, everything – profits, morale, retention, reputation, recruitment – suffers. Rewards and recognition systems are critical, and less complicated than you think.

The Power of Recognition

What do you do to recognize employees for a job well done, a project completed under budget, a major client win, or a challenge successfully overcome? Research shows that while financial rewards (cash, pay raise, stock options) provide a short-term boot in productivity and engagement, three non-financial motivators can be equally or even more effective:

To see the results you need, you have to implement some kind of framework to deliver these rewards. Some managers recognize individuals based on their own criteria, but an organization-wide initiative helps create a cohesive culture – one that demonstrates that it values its people.

Even more important, though, is finding out what motivates your employees. Ask them. What a concept! “How do you like to be rewarded? How do you prefer to be recognized?” A gregarious employee might love a standing ovation at the next company-wide event. A more introverted individual might call in “sick” if they thought they’d have to go through that. Eliminate the confusion or risk: ask.

Ask Your People How They Want to Be Recognized

If you used a motivator assessment as part of the benchmark system, it will tell you what the best reward or recognition for a particular job is likely to be. Salespeople, for instance, typically enjoy rewards that allow them to manage their own time, set their own agenda, and make as much money as they can. But what else would your specific employees like? Maybe some time off, coaching, training, a “Thank You” from an immediate supervisor?

I don’t know why companies think this is such a big mystery. Some people respond to money, some to flex hours, some to having the chance to choose their own projects. They will tell you if you ask.

Additionally, Some companies get hung up on this type of thinking: “If I do something for Joe, I have to do it for Jill.” That’s not necessarily the case. You should be rewarding the top performers. If Jill’s a slacker, no, she doesn’t earn a day off or a bonus. You need to be getting rid of the dead weight, not rewarding it.

When Should You Ask about Reward Preferences?

Sometimes, this information comes out organically in interviews. In the course of a conversation with a hiring manager, for instance, a candidate might say, “I really liked it when my boss gave me kudos for a job well done.” Hint, hint!

If it does not come out, guess what I’m going to suggest? Ask. If you’re the manager, meet with your people each week (which you should be doing anyway!). “Has anything changed? Are there other ways you want to be recognized or rewarded?”

They may want to leave an hour early, without docked pay, so they can cheer their child on at a soccer game. Maybe come holiday season, they want to focus on a financial incentive to earn gift money. Whatever it is, rewards have to change because your people change.

Figure out what your guidelines are and how best to reward people. The simplest way to do this: ask them. You don’t need to build them onsite pools or cater 5-star lunches. Sometimes, the most simple rewards – a sincere and specific “Thank You,” leaving early for the afternoon, or having company time to volunteer – are the most effective.

Seventy percent of employees are not giving you their best work. It’s time to change that.