What are the ingredients to build an adaptive reward and recognition system?

I’ve been writing about rewards and recognition lately. So far, we’ve explored how the motivation and the form factors of the rewards differ for the generations. Then I dived deeper and looked at how those motivations and form factors play out in the current debate about going back to the office versus working remotely. We have established that having only one reward and recognition system doesn’t work. In the recent Leadership Memo, I urged us to be creative, keep the incentives fresh, and tailor the incentives to the teams. Remember, all incentives drive behaviour. Today, we’re going to figure out how we can successfully make these changes in a department or an organisation. We are also going to explore a common trap that people fall into when thinking about rewards and recognition.

So, how can we successfully make these changes? First, don’t try to change the entire department or an organisation all at once. Try it with one team first. Always try small before going big. You can refer to an example of how I tried small in “How to make reward and recognition fun and relevant”. When that kind of incentive proved to be successful, then we levelled up. Read about it in “How to level up your reward and recognition system”.

Then, you need to gain the trust of the people at the level above where you want to effect change or whomever holds the purse strings. Otherwise, you will face roadblocks.

So, how do you gain this trust? You need to understand the perspective of the people at the level above where you want to effect change. That’s the level which can support you in this change. It’s about understanding their challenges first, not yours. When you show empathy to their situation and help them solve their challenges or lessen their pain, you build credibility. They are then more willing to hear about the change that you would like to implement. When the changes have proven to work in multiple teams, then it’s time to take it up a level to an entire department or an organisation. Again, you’ll need to build trust with the people at the level above where you want to effect change. You can refer to the tips that I provided in an article on how to make a case to senior management.

To conclude the series on rewards and recognition, let me caution you of a common trap that people fall into. People normally view things from the place they are accustomed to, based on their experience, their background, etc. However, we don’t all have the same experience, we don’t all have the same background, so it’s important to include as many contexts as possible, e.g. generations, culture, gender, levels, etc.

Let’s take having different generations in the workplace as an example. Think about how people at work immediately attribute problems to the generation gap. It’s very condescending to blame generations with phrases like, “It’s a Millennial thing” or, “Ok, Boomer.” No one actually makes an effort to understand each generation’s context. People make assumptions that impede teaming and business agility when it comes to collaborating with each other. We immediately blame. We need to realise that in the end, we all want the same thing.

This applies not only to reward and recognition. It applies to how we interact with people on a daily basis. For example, how do you talk to people who are 1- 2 generations younger than you, or vice versa? It’s the same principle.

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