Advice for When You Apply These Ideas

Remember this advice when rewarding your direct reports: rewards complement intrinsic motivation, but response might vary for employees.

Countless management books and articles take the position that your employees are waiting to be “motivated.” That they are passive entities, sitting around, doing nothing of any value, until you as their manager come by with a program or a bonus plan or a speech or something that will get them to jump up, shout out an “OOO-RAH” and get to work. It’s a popular, but deeply flawed, way of thinking about motivation.

Rewards are means by which we tell our employees “that was good, do more of it.” It’s an extrinsic mechanism at heart, but we can often use it as a way to help encourage the growth of an employee’s intrinsic motivation to succeed. (Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s a way of signaling to the employee that the intrinsic motivation is welcomed and encouraged—most employees already have that intrinsic motivation, they just need to know it’s safe to let it out.)

Most of all, when looking at rewards for your team, keep two thoughts in mind. The first is “listen”: assuming you’re doing a regular cadence of 1:1s, your employees will tell you what sorts of things matter to them and what sorts of things will be welcome rewards. By taking careful note of what they say (and don’t say), you can have a “leg up” on understanding what kinds of rewards will be most meaningful to your employee. The second is to “experiment”: what happens if you decide to spontaneously hold a team social the day after everyone stays up late to push out a release on time? Does the team react well? Try it again another time. Do they instead seem tired and listless? Maybe they’d prefer having an unofficial day to themselves rather than a team social. By trying different things, and honestly assessing the results, you can find the things that the team finds rewarding, as well as the things each individual finds rewarding (because those are not always the same things!), and really show your team that you “get it” when giving them the encouragement and rewards that their hard work and efforts deserve.

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