Today as I was flipping through my twitter feed I came across a gem of an article on the likelihood of incentive programs to backfire by Dan and Chip Heath.  It reminded me of the old law of unintended consequences.  As a manager when you act, things happen.  Some of them are things you wanted – outcomes you anticipated.  Others are unexpected – sometimes good, sometimes not so much.

When you’re designing an incentive program one of your best sources of information is sitting right outside your office door.  If you want to know what makes your team members tick, try asking them!

In Daniel Pink’s great book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he talks extensively about the effectiveness of various types of incentives based on the type of work that’s being done.  There’s a lot more to getting people to work faster or better than a straight quid pro quo.  In fact every person has their own unique set of motivations and the real key to getting the best out of your team members is learning what motivates each of them individually.  Rather than a one size fits all approach, some of the best managers I have ever worked for took the radical step of being deeply interested in the individual success of each member on the team.

As Steve Keating recently said in his brilliant post Managing is Not the Same as Leading,

If you’re doing something for your business it’s managing, if you’re doing something for your people it’s leading.

Like many great leadership thoughts, it’s beautiful because it’s simple.  When you focus on the success of each individual, the whole organization benefits.  If you want your team to do their best work, you need to take the time to understand why they work in the first place.


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