Successful Supervisor 73 Incentives

April 14, 2018

Is it ever a good practice for supervisor to bribe her employees? I recently asked that question in an online leadership class. We got into a very interesting discussion that highlighted the difference between four words that are sometimes confused by supervisors. Those words are bribe, incentive, reward, and reinforcement. The world will not come to an end if these words are mixed, but since they represent different concepts in motivation theory, it would be wise to use them correctly.

Before or After

All four of these words have the connotation of influencing people to do the things you would like to have them do. The distinction is that two words typically apply before an action is taken while the other two words usually apply after the action.

1. Bribes

The word bribe is a well-known and loaded word. In common usage, it means we are offering people something they want in pre-payment if they will do something that they would not normally do.

For example, in some cultures it is expected that airline passengers going through customs will give the customs officer some kind of “tip” in order to process their bags without hassle. That is a bribe, although we would never use the word in front of the customs officer.

We have all heard stories of individuals arguing with a policeman about a potential speeding ticket and trying to offer some kind of bribe to have the ticket waived. These individuals often find a bribe is not only unsuccessful, it can lead to jail time.

2. Incentives

The second type of pre-agreed payment is called an incentive. This is where a supervisor will challenge people to do more than expected, and they are promised a specific payment if they do it. For a supervisor, an incentive for her crew may sound like this: “If you beat the standard rate of production each day this week, I will give you a pizza party on Friday.”

Usually with incentives, there is no stigma associated with doing something wrong; it is merely an encouragement to do more of what is right.

Often the incentives are built into a compensation plan, such that they really don’t appear as separate incentives, but certainly have that same feel.

For example, commissions paid for certain levels of sales are types of incentives. They are a promise made ahead of time to pay a certain amount based on the employees performing at a certain level.

3. Rewards

When employees perform better than expected, for any number of reasons, but without a precondition agreement, supervisors may give them extra compensation after the fact. These payments are called rewards.

Often, the compensation is a token amount in recognition of the actions by the employees and are not intended to fully pay for the extra effort. Instead, they are a kind of “thank you” for going the extra mile.

The area of rewards can be a minefield, and there are numerous books on the potential mistakes when trying to reward people. For example, if a supervisor rewards an individual for a job well done, often other people feel slighted because they expended as much effort or provided more benefit to the organization than the person being rewarded.

There are numerous other problems that can be devastating. It is not uncommon for well intentioned supervisors to create ill will by applying rewards poorly or non-uniformly.

4. Reinforcement

A final category is called reinforcement. Like rewards, reinforcement is something that is usually applied after actions have been taken. Reinforcement is more general than rewards. It seeks to make people feel appreciated and thanked for the things they have been doing.

Usually reinforcement takes the form of verbal or written praise as opposed to tangible gifts or direct compensation. Reinforcement takes hundreds of different forms and can be as simple as a “thank you” or as complex as a group-wide celebration.

The words discussed in this article are sometimes used inappropriately by supervisors. One might refer to what was intended as an incentive to be some kind of bribe. Or someone might think of a form of reward as being simple reinforcement.

It is instructive to realize there is a difference in behavior modification between promising an incentive ahead of the act versus providing a reward after the act has been completed.

To be an accurate communicator, it is important to use the right words for each application. If one of the four words described above is used in the wrong context, it can send mixed signals about a supervisor’s intent. That action will cause a lowering of trust within the organization, and it will eventually show up on the bottom line.

Be careful when using these words to use them accurately. The concepts involved in behavior modification are critical to having people experience higher motivation as a result of incentives offered by leaders. These tools are powerful concepts, but they can be easily misused and end up causing damage.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Mistakes in Motivation

August 22, 2016

How many times a week do you hear, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” This is usually followed by an idea or two to try to entice people to be more productive.

Seeking to motivate employees is a thought pattern leaders use every day, so what’s wrong with it?

Trying to motivate workers shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved. Leaders who think this way rarely get the increased motivation they seek.

Reason: Motivation is an intrinsic phenomenon rather than something to be impressed upon people. Motivation is not something managers “do to” the workers.

The only person who can motivate you is you. The role of leaders is not to motivate workers, rather it is to create the kind of culture and environment where workers are inspired and choose to motivate themselves.

An example is when a leader sets a vision and goals, then allows people to use their initiative to get the job done as they see fit.

Why do many leaders try to motivate people by using either incentives (like bonuses) or threats (like penalties)?

1. Poor understanding of motivation

The notion that by adding perks to the workplace we somehow make people more motivated is flawed.

Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors” is a good way to reduce dissatisfaction in the workplace, but a poor way to increase motivation.

Why? – because goodies like picnics, pizza parties, hat days, bonuses, new furniture, etc. often help people become happier at work, but they do little to impact the underlying reasons they are motivated to do their best work.

2. Taking the easy way out

Many leaders believe that by heaping nice things on top of people, it will feel like a better culture. The most direct way to improve the culture is to build trust.

By focusing on a better environment, managers enable people to motivate themselves.

3. Using the wrong approach

It is difficult to motivate another person. You can scare a person into compliance, but that’s not motivation; it is fear.

You can bribe a person into feeling happy, but that’s not motivation; it is temporary euphoria that is quickly replaced by a “what have you done for me lately” mentality.

4. Focusing on perks

Individuals are willing to accept any kind of treat the boss is willing to dish up, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, not the size of the carrot.

A better approach to create motivation is to work on the culture to build trust first. Improving the motivating factors, such as authority, reinforcement, growth, and responsibility creates the right environment for motivation to grow within people.

How can we tell when a leader has the wrong understanding about motivation?

A clear signal is when the word “motivate” is used as a verb – for example, “Let’s see if we can motivate the team by offering a bonus.”

If we seek to change other people’s attitude about work with perks, we are going to be disappointed frequently.

Using the word “motivation” as a noun usually shows a better understanding – “Let’s increase the motivation in our workforce by giving the team the ability to choose their own methods to achieve the goal.”

For an organization, “culture” means how people interact, what they believe, and how they create. If you could peel off the roof of an organization, you would see the manifestations of the culture in the physical world.

The actual culture is more esoteric because it resides in the hearts and minds of the society. It is the impetus for observable behaviors.

Achieving a state where all people are fully motivated is a large undertaking. It requires tremendous focus and leadership to achieve. It cannot be something you do on Tuesday afternoons or when you have special meetings.

It is not generated by giving out turkeys at Thanksgiving. Describe motivation as a new way of life rather than a program or event. You should see evidence of motivation based on trust in every nook and cranny of the organization.

Focus on improving the culture rather than using carrots or sticks to create true motivation.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Motivation Mistakes

February 4, 2012

How many times a week do you hear, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” This is usually followed by an idea or two to try to entice people to be more productive. Seeking to motivate employees is a thought pattern leaders use every day, so what’s wrong with it?

Trying to motivate workers shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved. Leaders who think this way rarely get the increased motivation they seek. Reason: Motivation is an intrinsic phenomenon rather than something to be impressed upon people.

The only person who can motivate you is you. The role of leaders is not to motivate workers, rather it is to create the kind of culture and environment where workers are inspired and choose to motivate themselves. An example is when a leader sets a vision and goals, then allows people to use their initiative to get the job done as they see fit.

Why do many leaders try to motivate people by using either incentives (like bonuses) or threats (like penalties)?

1. Poor understanding of motivation – The notion that by adding perks to the workplace we somehow make people more motivated is flawed. Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors” is a good way to reduce dissatisfaction in the workplace, but a poor way to increase motivation. Why? – because goodies like picnics, pizza parties, hat days, bonuses, new furniture, etc. often help people become happier at work, but they do little to impact the underlying reasons they are motivated to do their best work.

2. Taking the easy way out – Many leaders believe that by heaping nice things on top of people, it will feel like a better culture. The most direct way to improve the culture is to build trust. By focusing on a better environment, managers enable people to motivate themselves.

3. Using the wrong approach – It is difficult to motivate another person. You can scare a person into compliance, but that’s not motivation; it is fear. You can bribe a person into feeling happy, but that’s not motivation; it is temporary euphoria that is quickly replaced by a “what have you done for me lately” mentality.

4. Focusing on perks – Individuals are willing to accept any kind of treat the boss is willing to dish up, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, not the size of the carrot.

A better approach to create motivation is to work on the culture to build trust first. Improving the motivating factors, such as authority, reinforcement, growth, and responsibility creates the right environment for motivation to grow within people.

How can we tell when a leader has the wrong understanding about motivation? A clear signal is when the word “motivate” is used as a verb – for example, “Let’s see if we can motivate the team by offering a bonus.” If we seek to change other people’s attitude about work with perks, we are going to be disappointed frequently. Using the word “motivation” as a noun usually shows a better understanding – “Let’s increase the motivation in our workforce by giving the team the ability to choose their own methods to achieve the goal.”

For an organization, “culture” means how people interact, what they believe, and how they create. If you could peel off the roof of an organization, you would see the manifestations of the culture in the physical world. The actual culture is more esoteric because it resides in the hearts and minds of the society. It is the impetus for observable behaviors.

Achieving a state where all people are fully motivated is a large undertaking. It requires tremendous focus and leadership to achieve. It cannot be something you do on Tuesday afternoons or when you have special meetings. It is not generated by giving out turkeys at Thanksgiving. Describe motivation as a new way of life rather than a program or event. You should see evidence of motivation based on trust in every nook and cranny of the organization. Focus on improving the culture rather than using carrots or sticks to create true motivation.