There's plenty of evidence that recognition is more motivating than cash, once a basic level of fairness and adequacy has been reached. My Café colleague Derek Irvine has posted extensively on this topic and his numerous blog posts on recognition have been a guiding light in this field.
Recognition works because people are inherently social and competitive. We care what others think of us and where we stand in the pecking order. We want others to like us, respect us, and perhaps even be a bit jealous of our perfect seeming digital lives. We’re wired that way because it helps us form communities and stave off immediate death.
With that incisive summary of human psychology in mind let’s look at this principle in action.
My husband shared an entertaining conversation he had with a colleague last week about the challenges of raising five children. To keep their impressive brood in line they started with a punishment scheme but it didn’t reliably deter the undesired behaviors. They transitioned to a reward scheme but this suffered from ‘inevitable inflation, with ever larger rewards required for ever smaller doings.’
(An elegant way of describing entitlement, I thought.)
They finally settled on something that works brilliantly: They write down all misbehavior on a list that is hung where all can see it. There. Are. No. Other. Consequences.
Think about it: Punishment didn’t work very well. Rewards worked for a while and then stopped working. But public exposure with no other consequences succeeded where other measures fell short.
OK, it's not very scientific but there are plenty of studies out there that demonstrate the effect of public recognition on human behavior. Is there an application for rewards here? Absolutely. I’m not suggesting failure be published on a list in the break room – in fact, please don’t do that, it’s a really bad idea.
The takeaway is that public acknowledgement is highly motivating.
Public exposure of failure is motivating in a negative way, i.e., discouraging certain behaviors, which may lead to a reluctance to take chances and other things you probably don’t want in a competitive business setting. Conversely, public acknowledgement of success creates a desire to be more successful.
You may recall my post about the company where the reward for successful patents is a foam brain in a jar with your name on it. I’m still not completely bowled over by foam brains as a reward per se but the principle of publicly recognising achievement is sound.
Why don’t all managers formally recognize individual achievements? There are many reasons, ranging from not realising it’s important to feeling threatened by high performing team members. Managers are people too and unless a company has a strong leadership program focused from the top down on developing individuals, recognition can get lost in translation.
The good news is, recognition has gone viral with new social networking and collaboration tools embedded into business applications. Thanks to social networking platforms anyone can give instant feedback – positive or negative – on individuals, products and companies.
Companies that embrace social feedback from employees will benefit from a far more complete and unbiased picture of individual contribution than was ever before possible. I’m just putting it out there but I bet if you compared your current list of critical employees with a new list based on broader social data points you’d get a few surprises.
So, where’s your list?
Laura Schroeder is a global talent specialist at Workday, headquartered in Pleasanton, CA. She has nearly fifteen years of experience envisioning, designing, developing, implementing and evangelizing global Human Capital Management (HCM) solutions and holds a certificate in Strategic Human Resources Practices from Cornell University. Her articles and interviews on HCM topics have been published in the US, Europe and Asia. She lives in Munich, Germany and enjoys cooking, reading, writing, kick boxing (well, kicking things) and spending time with friends and family. If you want to read more from Laura, check out her talent management blog Working Girl or follow her on Twitter @WorkGal.
Picture courtesy of balintataw.