Peer Motivation: It’s a Brainy Approach to Strategic Recognition

© redrex -
© redrex -

My fellow Compensation Café blogger, Laura Schroeder, recently posted a brilliant account of motivation through brains in glass jars.

Let me explain. In a New York Times “Corner Office” interview, Andrew M. Thompson, co-founder and C.E.O. of Proteus, explained a motivation technique in which he keeps his workers’ “brains” in glass jars in the office foyer. For every successful patent filed, the employee gets a small foam brain added to the jar under his or her name.

Brains in jars is certainly one of the oddest motivation techniques I’ve ever come across. Laura’s post goes on to explain, however, the powerful culture of recognition Mr. Thompson has built at Proteus.

In The New York Times article itself, Mr. Thompson says:

Culture in our company is a really big deal, and we have a values system built around quality, teamwork and leadership. One of the activities around that cultural framework is the idea that employees can recognize each other — groups or teams can recognize or be recognized by other employees for doing things that specifically demonstrate those values. … It really promotes what I’m going to call mutuality.

People spend a lot of time in organizations being focused on hierarchy. The best, strongest and most functional organizations are ones where the horizontal relationships are really powerful and where people trust each other, work with each other, support each other, help each other, hold each other’s hands and move forward together.”

In short order, Mr. Thompson has covered three critical points of Strategic Recognition:

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  1. Base recognition on your core values: If you want to proactively manage your company culture, reinforce regularly precisely what is most important to you – your core values. Doing so helps employees understand exactly what your values look like in their daily work. Strategic recognition lets you then chart recognition of those values by individual, team, department and organization-wide to keep your finger on the pulse of your culture.
  2. Encourage peer-to-peer recognition: Like I’ve said before, nobody knows who’s doing the best job like the people doing the job. Giving all employees the responsibility for recognition encourages everyone to look up from their work and notice the exceptional efforts and behaviors happening around them every day.
  3. Build stronger horizontal relationships:These relationships are how the work really gets done in an organization. People work harder for those they know and trust – and for those who appreciate them. Build those relationships and you also increase productivity.

What’s the most unusual motivational technique you’ve heard of? Did it work?

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


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