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The Biggest Mistake I Made Trying to Reward Peak Performers

Photo by Tina Lawson

Photo by Tina Lawson

Several years ago, I was sitting in my VP’s office after my team spent a grueling year implementing a doomed-to-failure-from-the-start software project.  Over the course of time and two divorces. it had been reduced and re-reduced into something achievable, and we were discussing how to reward the team for less than $100.

Unless we stuck to the $1 Value menu, the team dinner was definitely out.  My VP mentioned T-shirts.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that the tangible things we could provide would be more de-motivating than helpful.  And, like most burned out managers, we sent a nice email to the team thanking them and let it go at that.

I went a step farther and gave my staff two extra vacation days.  Considering they’d given more than that in uncompensated overtime, there was very little of an ethical dilemma for me (again, a mismatch of values).

Most people would love a few extra days off, so why was this such a big mistake?

I missed an opportunity to individualize the perk and create a better relationship with my direct reports.  Sure, vacation time was valued by some, but some didn’t take it.  (I did this so much better the next time around.)

As I coach my management and small business clients, the question of motivating their employees when there isn’t any money often comes up.  My clients are the experts on what will work for them and their companies, and we usually have fun getting the creative juices flowing and brainstorming together.  Here are some of the rewards we’ve come up with:

  • Telecommuting.  Instead of making this a policy, one of my clients used this as a reward for a top performer who expressed an interest.  When implemented as a perk, it has the added benefit of letting the employee know that they are trusted as well as valued.
  • Flex-time.
  • Time off for Volunteer Work.
  • Extra training.
  • More time with the boss.  This is one of my favorites.  Managers often spend most of their time with under performers.  By spending time developing your high-potentials, you get the added benefit of building that leadership pipeline and building the confidence and performance of your team.
  • High profile assignment.  Done with an eye for their success, you give your stars a chance to shine.
  • How about that heartfelt thank you?  For many people, recognition of a job well done is just what motivates them to repeat their success.

I’d love to hear some of the creative ways you’ve provided added benefits to your staff without incurring much additional cost.   Please post a comment below.

Peace and Prosperity,


p.s. – If you’re interested in a more “hands-on” approach to becoming a better leader, we are launching a group program soon.  Stay tuned for more details, and if you’d like to be on the email list to learn more about it, please contact us today.

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