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How to properly offer incentives


Offering incentives is a big part of a manager's job. Whether you're managing "regular" employees, other managers, whole buildings of both, etc., the truth holds: incentives are known to spur a company's workers forward, give them extra energy, increase their loyalty to the company, and so forth. But there are proper and improper ways of offering incentives. Let's look at the improper ways first.

Improper ways of offering incentives, number one.


You never want to offer an incentive in a spirit of condescension, as if you're tossing scraps to your dogs. Even if they're delicious scraps, even if they're more than scraps, but big juicy ham hocks, for example, your employees aren't dogs-and they'll resent being treated as dogs. Sure, they'll take the incentive, because they have to survive in a difficult world; but they'll remember their impressions of what you think of them. Don't, therefore, offer incentives in the spirit of Moses descending from Mt. Sinai with the stone tablets in his hands. Simply announce the incentive; be as dry and straightforward as possible.

Improper ways of offering incentives, number two.

You never want to offer an incentive in a spirit of chumminess. You see, some leaders make the mistake of going too far in the other direction. Not wanting to be Moses, they become Jo-Jo the Amazing Monkey instead. They seek to entertain their employees, and to say: "See? We're not so different; I'll joke around with you; I'll give you a few laughs; don't be offended by my offering this incentive, because pull my finger." BAD. No, what a leader wants to do is chart a middle course between these two disastrous attitudes. It's important that you remain on a friendly basis with your employees; that they feel that you care about them, and that their lives and the lives of their families come before profits. On the other hand, if you're too much like the guy at the bar, they'll gradually lose respect for you, consciously or not; and they'll come to expect incentives whether they deserve them or not. My suggestion is that you read about the lives of great leaders in the past, business and otherwise-how did they maintain that steady walk between "It is I, your superhuman leader" and "It's me, your sucking noodles up your nostrils expert."

Proper ways of offering incentives, number one.

We've already actually discussed many of the proper way to offer incentives in our first two negative examples. But let's look at proper ways of offering incentives a little closer. First of all, what is an incentive? An incentive is something you use to encourage people to perform a certain task, usually a difficult one. When you were young, and wanted to play outside, but your mother had an extra difficult chore for you to finish, perhaps she said: "Sally, I know that you want to play outside, and furthermore I know that your chores are extra hard today; if you finish them, therefore, I'll not only let you stay out two hours later to play night games, I'll buy ice cream cones for you and your friends." The extra hours of play, the ice cream cones, are incentives. And your mother handled the incentive properly, too. She said if this-that, and held to it. Therefore, if you an offer an incentive to your employees, and they do their end of the deal, you'd better be prepared to do your end, too. But don't be so weak that if they merely come close to finishing their chores you run in with ice cream cones and night game ideas.

Proper ways of offering incentives, number two.

Make sure that the incentive is equal to the task it's dependent on. In other words, don't make the incentive outrageously huge for a small task, and don't make it outrageously small for a large task. Try to fit the incentive with the task. In other words, if the goal of your company is to raise sales by ten percent, and your employees put forth a Herculean effort and do just that, and you hand them a box of Skittles apiece, prepare for some angry, unbelieving looks. On the other hand, if the goal of your company is that people use less hand towels in the restrooms, and your employees put forth a Lilliputian effort and do just that, and you hand them a box of designer pencil/pen sets apiece, it's going to be that much harder to offer sane incentives in the future.

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