A Workplace Truism to Remember: You Get What You Reward

One HR blogger I enjoy reading is Mike Haberman. He recently boiled down the entire discussion of employee rewards to this salient point:

The whole concept of reward is to perpetuate behaviors that are desirable to the organization. This is the whole concept of motivation in all its numerous guises. The most recent version is Pink’s Motivation 2.0. Regardless of how you dress it up, behavior occurs because it is rewarded, whether it is some external reward or some internal reward. The bottom line is you get what you reward.”

In just four sentences, Mike simplifies what many try to make so complicated – you do things you get rewarded for.

Not a grab for more rewards

Please note, those of you who immediately thought of Gen Y/Millennials and their (false) reputation for wanting recognition and rewards at every turn, this isn’t a grab for more rewards. Indeed, Mike makes that clear. These rewards can be intrinsic as well as extrinsic.

  • You do things because you reward yourself. – This is the mark of truly intrinsic rewards. You’re self-motivated to achieve whatever task you have set before you, whether it’s a work related task or something personal like losing weight or exercising more. You engage in the activity and give it your best because of the personal reward you will give yourself in the form of self-satisfaction at a job well done.
  • You do things because others reward you. – This sounds harsh, but it really isn’t. We all do things because we want others to notice us, see our good work praise us for it. The “reward” can be in the form of simple acknowledgement and recognition of your achievement or it can be tangible in many different forms. The point is, for extrinsic rewards of this stripe, you’re likely giving it your all for the accolades you anticipate from others.

A powerful way to communicate to employees

We need to stop thinking of extrinsic rewards in negative terms. Strategic employee recognition and rewards are largely extrinsic, but designed to reinforce the positive behaviors and outcomes you’ve codified in your company’s core values and strategic objectives.

When giving extrinsic praise, recognition and – yes – rewards, you’re powerfully communicating to employees, “What you just did there – and how you did it – that was great! Keep doing more of that!”

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And that’s a good thing.

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.

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3 Comments on “A Workplace Truism to Remember: You Get What You Reward

  1. This is a great post and really highlights how important rewards are in the workplace. Rewards aren’t all about flashy perks or cash bonuses. Indeed, some of the best rewards are merely feedback, growth opportunity, and appreciation. As a bonus, if you develop good rewards and mention these in the interview, whether in person or through online video, you’re also more likely to attract the kind of employees your company needs.

  2. Derek, you sum up Mike’s point nicely. Behaviors absolutely continue if they are rewarded…but the key here, is for those behaviors to be rewarded appropriately. Not everyone is motivated by the same thing…to some verbal praise is enough to encourage similar future behavior, for others it’s a monetary incentive. In order to ensure a desired behavior continues, you have to full understand what motivates your employees, and reward them accordingly. I share more in my blog post: http://pastfive.typepad.com/pastfive/2012/03/four-ways-to-retain-employees.html

  3. Another great post, Derek. Recognition, especially when it’s social, has multiple benefits. First, the employee feels good about their performance. Next, if the recognition is highlighted in an enterprise system or through a company platform, other employees see what can happen if they also perform well, lighting a fire and creating a healthy competition.

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