How to reward your highest achievers?

It is hard to find somebody today who doesn’t understand that extrinsic rewards such as money and fame don’t always lead to the results you expected. Despite this, it is still the favoured reward mechanism of today in all walks of life.

As people will know from Dan Pink’s book, he talks about the intrinsic motivators of autonomy, mastery and purpose. Though in a recent blog we challenged Dan Pink to look beyond the individual and consider social motivation, I pretty much agree with his philosophy.

We have found that when you then ask how to reward, even with the knowledge of Dan Pink, people struggle to give an answer. The most common answers are praise and money! Both extrinsic motivators. Like little reward charts we use on children or the gifts of ice cream to bribe them.

The answer may be a little surprising, but we should reward them with harder problems.

Highest achievers are solving company problems, so we give them more, harder, hairier, wicked problems. Making sure they lead to meaningful contribution to the company.

Companies have struggled to keep up with this concept. They place people in boxes, with job titles, and limit their contribution. You may rise in an organisation, but there always seems to be only one at the top. Everybody else is constrained.

People don’t want jobs, they want support to fulfil their dreams. They want to contribute where they feel they add the most value. R&D organisations like the one inside IBM and Google have realised this, encouraging their highest achievers with time and money to go achieve. They encourage risk taking as opposed to CFO control.

As we continue to become a knowledge economy, those that cannot generate valuable knowledge will wither on the vine and to be very clear, knowledge comes from the collective capability of your people. Are you the sort of company that supports people in solving any problem they want, or one that gives them a job title and constrains their access in different ways (money, time, information), even your highest achievers?

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