In any labor market, companies compete to find and keep the best employees, using pay, benefits, promotions, and training. But these well-intentioned efforts often miss the mark. The front-line manager is the key to attracting and retaining talented employees. No matter how generous the pay or how renowned the training, employee survey research shows the company that lacks great front-line managers will suffer.
The best managers select an employee for talent rather than for skills or experience, setting expectations for him or her, defining the right outcomes rather than the right steps. The best managers motivate people, building on each person’s unique strengths rather than trying to fix their weaknesses. And, great managers develop people, finding the right fit for each person, not necessarily the next rung on the ladder.
Essential to this process is the employment of an appropriate measuring stick, which successfully links customer data with employee productivity, customer loyalty, and profitability.
Given the importance of the front-line managers, any effective employee incentive program must begin with incentives specific to the supervisor level. Clearly, the factors that motivate supervisors are often different from the factors that motivate the general employee population. Through the root cause analyses, underlying psychological factors that motivate supervisors within a particular business environment are identified, and appropriate incentives are designed to address those factors. NBRI employee survey research has shown that these factors may be related to one or more of the following categories:
- Career advancement
- Public recognition
It is not always the case, then, that employee incentives, particularly at the supervisor level, require extraordinary expenditures by management in order to increase employee performance. While most employee incentive programs include a combination of the categories above, NBRI research has clearly shown that recognition, above all, is the most powerful motivator.
A major Healthcare Provider was faced with low employee morale, high turnover, and interdepartmental power struggles when they turned to NBRI for assistance. A standard NBRI employee survey instrument was deployed, the data collected, and the root cause analyses conducted. Weaknesses (defined as normative scores below the National Average) included below average employee perceptions of compensation, communications, equipment, teamwork, and overall employee performance. Management could easily spend several years and huge sums of money to address each of these weaknesses, one at a time. However, the root cause analyses identified “My supervisor appreciates my input” as the primary, underlying psychological factor affecting the employee population, which if corrected, would increase scores in over 60% of the issues addressed by the employee survey. NBRI proposed several corrective actions, one of which was the following:
Strategy: “Great Ideas” Program
- Employees submit ideas on how to make the company more efficient, cut costs, or increase revenue.
- Can be done by paper, email, or via the company’s intranet. Intranet is recommended, as it provides a documentation of the person and time the idea is submitted, eliminating potential conflicts.
- All ideas will be evaluated.
- There will be no limit to the number of ideas selected for merit.
- An idea is selected for merit if, in management’s sole opinion, it should be implemented.
- All employees who submit ideas of merit that are implemented will receive company-wide recognition and a bonus related to the financial impact of the idea on the company.
Again, based on their employee survey data, several strategies were recommended, but this strategy alone accomplished several goals. First, the root cause was addressed by encouraging feedback and upward communication across the entire organization. Secondly, this strategy became the cornerstone of a recognition program that, while open to all, is awarded only to those who earn it. And thirdly, the company’s investment in the program – the bonus – is derived from additional monies that the program itself generates.
In support of, and perhaps even more important than the total employee population strategy above, a secondary strategy was implemented for supervisors only. Prestige and recognition is afforded to those supervisors who encourage and develop their employees to ‘think like management thinks,’ in concert with the Great Ideas Program. This takes time, patience, and respect for all ideas on the part of the supervisors, to discuss the ideas submitted by their subordinates in order to train them in seeing the company-wide implications of their ideas. These supervisors, and ultimately, the employees reporting to them, have also attained career advancement, as they have since demonstrated their ability to translate the critical perceptions and attitudes of management into everyday behaviors of subordinates at all levels of the organization.
This client is in its fifth year with NBRI, and has moved from a poor performer to near best in class.
In summary, most organizations immediately think of tangible items in relation to employee incentive programs for increasing employee performance. Prizes, trips, money, and other tangible rewards can certainly play a part in an effective employee incentive program, and recognition, alone, can often be seen as nothing more than hollow words.
However, by conducting employee surveys, NBRI research has proven that it is often the case that the incentive most motivating to employees or supervisors is primarily psychological in nature, and whether it stems from a desire to play a greater role in the future development of the enterprise (as above), or a desire to improve one’s work-life balance, or a desire to see policies executed with fairness throughout the organization, and so forth, it is of utmost importance for employers to first identify the motivational factors that will work best with their human resources, through valid research, and then leverage that information by applying interventions – employee incentive programs – that strike strategically at that root cause.
Recommended Books on How to Increase Employee Performance:
- Employee Engagement 2.0: How to Motivate Your Team for High Performance (A Real-World Guide for Busy Managers)
- Harvard Business Essentials: Performance Management: Measure and Improve the Effectiveness of Your Employees
- 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees: A Manager’s Guide to Addressing Performance, Conduct, and Discipline Challenges
- Solving Employee Performance Problems: How to Spot Problems Early, Take Appropriate Action, and Bring Out the Best in Everyone
- 101 Sample Write-Ups for Documenting Employee Performance Problems: A Guide to Progressive Discipline & Termination
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