Workplace Motivation Technique: Break the Golden Rule

It looks deceptively simple, eh? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Golden Rule seems so all-inclusive that it would be a remedy for all human relations. Just handle everybody the same way you would prefer to be handled and all will flow easily, correct?

Just a second… There something off…

Would your twenty-five year old top gun sales guy want the same things out of their work that your forty-something billing clerk wants? Is your technical staff aiming for similar goals and rewards as your secretary?

Apparently, their desires are quite unique, though too many bosses use a universal method when rewarding their key staff. When a large contract is finished, everybody receives the same reward, whether you buy them breakfast or a gas card. Providing the same thing to each person is what’s fair, right? But is it truly fair for your company’s top people?

Hold On to Your Best Performers

Surprisingly few business owners know that the 80/20 rule applied to their people means that 20% of their people produce the bulk of your entire business’ income. In addition, nearly every management book refers to studies comparing the productivity of the top team members to the not so competent (yet still useful) team members. The difference between the best and worst have been reported as much as one hundred to 1. The closest these ratios ever seem to get to one another is at best 4:1. But how much more does this extraordinary difference in value end up costing?

Assuming that your yearly cost for the company’s least competent employee is $30,000, how much does it cost for your top staff? Since a fair bit of the costs for an employee don’t change, those costs don’t go up in relation to base pay. For the purposes of this examination, let’s use some worst-case , $60k. Assuming that your $30k person delivers $30k of value (otherwise they’d be gone, right?). If your top employee is a measly four times as productive as the worst, they deliver far more value for how much more they cost.

If your business invests in more classes for your low-end people, costs immediately go up, but without any guarantee that productivity will likewise go up. Think about how much of your salary is factored into the “cost” of this moderately competent employee? Probably none. Management costs are usually invisible, factored away as overhead. It certainly feels like you’re being productive – trying your hardest to bring along the strugglers, hoping that they eventually rise above their shortcomings. Consider how much of your time is spent with either of these employees:

  • The self-managing dynamo who, with speed of a bullet train, handles customer complaints, delivers defect-free results, and even cleans up after himself in the break room
  • The newbie who has a few interpersonal problems, occasional product defects, problems following instructions, and shows up late on Mondays due to an occasional hangover

Apparently your top performers are worth the effort. As such, it’s crucial for every entrepreneur to keep their winners, as this handful of hotshots represents 80% of your team’s value. Their experience with your unique processes together with their talents and ability to get the job done in a pinch makes them just about priceless.

So, what’s the best way to reward your top people? How do you prove to those high performers that they’re appreciated, and boost the likelihood that they’ll stay with you?

What’s the best method for motivating your best people?

Coat their palms with silver. If your $30k worker puts in 80-hour weeks during the home stretch of a key initiative, most exclusively cash rewards would come in at a rate far below minimum wage. Just reconsider this choice. This can be quite offensive, seen, instead, as a half-hearted attempt to buy them off and ease your guilty conscience. Regardless, once the IRS gets his piece of the action, the ultimate value of this money may end up being a lot less than it costs to give it out.

Send them to extra training. Some folks might be thrilled to get a chance to attend a class in a place with the company picking up the check. They may even ask to spend the weekend before or after, on their own, in order to really benefit from a opportunity to rest up. Be careful though, this could come off to your top performer that you thought their efforts less than desirable. They might wrongly assume that they must take further classes to be deserving of the ultimate reward that they’ll eventually get. If your worker is thin-skinned, they could be upset that their effort they went through was a red flag to you that they were struggling along. Proposing an instructive reward in this situation could be interpreted that this difficulty was obvious to you, and you are now taking remedial action.

Offer a promotion. Though the glamour of a notable designation or tangible benefits accompanying a promotion may motivate some, more and more workers have come to realize the risks of the Peter Principle. They’re worried that their work lives will change a great deal should they become team lead. Your turbocharged talent probably enjoy what they’re doing right now. That’s why they’re so incredibly skilled at it. Before considering a promotional reward, be sure that the new job actually uses the skills and capabilities exhibited by these high achievers, or you may end up losing them. If you take this chance, ensure your hotshot knows that it’s alright to switch back if it doesn’t work out with the newly promoted position.

Provide additional vacation time. Everyone needs time off, right? However, if you give this bonus to a very dedicated person who is so totally committed to their career that they do little else outside of work, they may not know what to do with themselves during this spare time.

Do unto others as they would have done unto them.

You can see that there are many mechanisms to reward your top. It’s dangerously simplistic to give each of your staff the same award. It’s especially tempting to give them an award you would be happy to get.

These examples take us to a very simple concept: communication. Simply put, ask your hotshots what they really want. What is it that will allow them to actually understand that they are loved? The experiences that leads someone to turn into an excellent account rep is quite different than the path of a great office manager. You may be amazed by the replies you hear. If truth be told, your staff may be shocked, as well, to learn that you are really giving them a say to determine the award for their hard work.

  • Do they want more money?
  • Do they want more challenging assignments?
  • Do they want some time away from work to appreciate their children?
  • Would they prefer more mentoring?
  • Do they merely want to be recognized at a company get-together?
  • What have they received in the past that really made them feel appreciated?

The answers can fluctuate notably for each person, depending upon their long-term objectives, how their desires are currently being fulfilled within Maslows Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid, and the current challenges in their life. Don’t make the blunder of taking for granted that the answer you get now will hold true throughout your top performer’s career.

Ultimately, instead of hoping to reward your staff the way you would prefer to be rewarded, break The Golden Rule, and invest your time actually understanding their needs and wants. By involving them in decisions that affect their lives so directly, you might coincidentally benefit from the Hawthorne Effect, and motivate your staff by proving you care. You will probably notice that you’ve created a work setting that makes your best people happier than they’ve ever been. Accordingly, they will uncover methods to push themselves to new levels of productivity, appreciating that their hard work will result in rewards that are actually significant to them. You may even earn their admiration and commitment for a lifetime.