Motivate for discretionary effort…not milestones

Motivate for discretionary effort…not milestones

Mention incentives to old-school managers and they’ll roll their eyes to communicate their distaste for rewarding folks who are “just doing their job.” Having been in the marketing and motivation business for over 25 years, I can’t say I find fault with the attitudes of these crusty supervisors. After all, incentives to improve safety performance have all too often been ineffective, or worse, acted as a de-motivator.

Well-intentioned management has traditionally believed that employees can be motivated to perform at a higher level if they have a group goal — a milestone the entire team can be proud of achieving. Management can also justify the incentive payout to bean counters who take note of accomplishments such as no lost time for over one year or the lowest OSHA recordable rate since 1947.

There are, however, two primary problems with this outlook:

1) None of us wants to disappoint the team and risk being ostracized. That’s why milestone awards usually have the opposite effect from what’s intended. For instance, if someone has an injury close to the end date of the milestone period, he “ruins” it for everyone else. The likely scenario is that the injury goes unreported and the hazard is not addressed.

2) In the contest-oriented reward systems used in most incentive programs, “losers” outnumber “winners.” This is toxic for morale because it creates a false competition that pits employees against one another instead of developing a culture that binds them to the common purpose of enhanced safety. Instead of advancing best practices, this approach advances only best temporary results with little regard for sustainable system improvements and employee development.


3 comments (Add your own)

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