Be careful what you reward for…


There is a movement afoot to increase the amount of positive recognition that takes place within organizations. While I fully support this effort, I believe we have to be careful about what it is that gets rewarded or recognized.

The other day I was chatting with a few managers who were telling me that they had just launched a perfect attendance recognition program because they were having trouble getting people to show up for their shifts. They said it was typically when it was raining (the job is outside) or when the employees had to work late one night and be back early the next morning.

Hmmm… So we’ve got some data, let’s look at that more closely.

The question that has to be asked and answered is why. Why are they choosing to call out when it’s raining?  My guess is that they know the job still needs to be done, so we can rule out that they don’t think there would be anything to do. Maybe they don’t understand how important their job is (even in the rain) and feel that it’s not worth it to them to endure some slightly adverse conditions to do that job.

And why would that be?

Maybe as a leadership team we haven’t explained (or better yet, shown) them how valuable they are and what an impact it is to the team and the company when they are not there.

If this is the case, is a perfect attendance reward going to change this behavior? Likely not, but you might just get exactly what you are rewarding for: people showing up just to show up, bringing their poor attitude with them.

The other issue mentioned was the working-late-coming-in-early scenario. We’ve all been there from time to time. But if an employee doesn’t see the value they bring, they certainly won’t go out of their way to help when asked.

So we go back to the question of why.  Why do we need to be scheduling people for late shifts and early shifts back-to-back (especially if it’s a consistent thing)?  Are we short staffed? Do we not have enough people with the right availability?  Are either of these situations solved with an incentive program? I’ll let you answer that.

By asking why enough times we can get to the root cause of the problem, and by doing that we can actually solve the right problem rather than spinning our wheels.  (Some of you may have heard of a problem solving technique called the 5 Whys.  Above, I demonstrated how that could work by asking why until you get to the real cause of the problem.  If you would like to know more about the 5 Whys, click here.)

Similarly, we need to be rewarding for the right things. You want great guest service? Recognize that. You want high productivity? Recognize that. Be specific and explicit about what you are looking for, and the reasons behind why you are looking for it.

Then you’ll be happy to get the behavior you are rewarding for.

Until next time – stay optimistic!

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