Home Executing Human Resources Break the Golden Rule: Rewarding Top Performers
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Break the Golden Rule: Rewarding Top Performers Print
It seems so simple, doesn't it? "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
The Golden Rule seems so universal that it would be a panacea for all human relations. Simply treat everyone the way you would like to be treated and everything will flow smooth as silk, right?

 But wait... something's wrong...

Unfortunately, that sage advice is heeded by men who buy their wives a vacuum cleaner as an anniversary present. Being a guy, I understand - power tools are cool. If a guy were to receive a power tool as a gift from the woman in their life, whether it's a router, a chainsaw, laptop, etc. as long as it's something the guy in question actually uses, he would probably like it. Now maybe it wouldn't have all the correct attachments, or be perfect in every way. But it's a gift, so we'd like it, and we'd use it. And every time we used it, we'd think of how wonderful she was.

Now, imagine the poor woman who is given a vacuum cleaner for their anniversary present... It shouldn't be difficult to figure out how that will work out. One word sums it up - BADLY! If the relationship survives the experience, and the vacuum isn't returned posthaste, every time she uses it, she most certainly will think of him - probably picturing it being applied vigorously to the side of his head.

All relationships are built from the same raw materials

I find marital metaphors particularly effective when discussing workplace relationship strategies. The perspective of the relationship with a loved one provides a meaningful and lasting context against which nearly all situations and variables can be tested, before applying them on an unsuspecting teammate or subordinate.

Now, consider two people who were significant contributors to a critical project. Maybe you have year-end bonuses or your organization is thoughtful and profitable enough to budget for project-based incentives. Furthermore, let's say you decide to invest $2,000 in each of those top performers as a reward for their efforts. But, how to best invest that money? What should you do to show those top performers that they're appreciated, and increase the chance that they'll be there for you in when you need them again?

What's the best way to reward your staff?

You could pay them cold hard cash. First, if the effort involved overtime and the reward divided by the amount of overtime is less than minimum wage, simply reconsider this alternative. It may unintentionally be interpreted as an insult. Additionally, some professions and mentalities may consider this offensive for reasons other than size. Regardless, after the taxman gets his share, the impact of this money can be far less than it costs to pay it out.

You could pay for extra training. But, this could appear to the person that you found them lacking in their performance, and they need further training to be worthy. Perhaps they are concerned that they needed to exert so much effort to meet the deadline. Maybe they felt like they were struggling along. Offering them training in this situation could indicate that this was obvious to you.

You could pay for additional holiday or vacation time. However, if you are offering this to someone who is completely immersed in their occupation or has little social interaction outside of the workplace, they may not know what to do with themselves during this free time.

You could give them stock options. Although this may seem like a decent idea, most employees are gun-shy of the stock market since the dot com fiasco. If your company is public, employees know that the future value of stock options may end up being less than the strike price. If your company is not yet public, some employees might feel that you're giving them a wad of lottery tickets.

Just as there are many ways to reward your employees, this is but one of the many situations in which the Golden Rule can deceptively lead one astray. It's easy to be tempted to offer all of your high performers the same reward. It's especially easy to offer them what you would want.

Do unto others as they would have done unto them.

All of this leads to a very simple concept: communication. Simply, ask the your top performers what they really want. What is it that will allow them to truly feel appreciated?
· Do they want cash?
· Do they want time off?
· Would they prefer more mentoring?
· Do they simply want to be acknowledged at a company function?

The answer can vary significantly for each person, depending upon their long-term goals, how their needs are currently being met within Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and the current stressors in their life.

Image So, instead of attempting to reward your people the way you would like to be rewarded, break The Golden Rule, and spend the time to actually learn their needs and wants. You will find that you've created a work environment that has made them happier than they've ever been. They will work hard for you and realize that, ultimately, they will receive meaningful rewards. You may even earn their respect and allegiance for a lifetime.

2004 © Daiv Russell, Envision Software. All rights reserved. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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