Saturday, March 20, 2010

We all love rewards

When you complete a task, you want to be legitimately rewarded, right? For most people, this takes the form of a fat paycheck that you sell you soul and time for. For others, they want the acceptance of their boss (fat chance). Still others simply take their reward from the virtue of their work.

The concept of rewards and positive reinforcement shares a two-way street with proper coaching and goal-setting. How can you be rewarded for not accomplishing a measurable outcome for your organization? This is where things can get hairy, because this dynamic is where that "corporate lemming" atmosphere can be inadvertently constructed.

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If you set a number of menial goals for your desk slaves to accomplish, they will simply jump through various organizational hoops toward the inevitable goal of suicide. These kinds of goals are called "performance outcome goals." You simply set some stupid bar like "sales numbers," or, "customer retention," and your employees become frustrated and disengaged, because they aren't being challenged in a meaningful or even enjoyable way. What works better are what Chapter 9 in our book calls, "learning goals." These goals encourage an employee to be creative, attack an interesting problem, and work toward developing new skills for future projects to achieve positive outcomes. If we get challenged in this way, we enjoy our jobs a lot more, and on average, get a lot less stabby with each other. Nobody likes explaining why they're stabby to their kids.

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There's a process to all this. This process is my focus today. An organization that wants a less stabtastic workforce wants to set good goals which the employees will at least tolerate.

First, you need to set goals. The book says that goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, and time bound). That's a good point. It's important to lay out goals in a way that makes things simple. Employees need to know what the goals are, what the metrics for success are, how they are attained, what the results of those goals are, and the time frame in which to accomplish them.

Second, an organization needs to sell these goals to the workforce. The best laid plans can quickly unravel without support. The book calls this "Promoting Goal Commitment." According to the book, it's important to do a number of things during this stage in the brain-washing. You need to explain why these goals have been set, what the goals are and how personal goals in the company come into play, get employees to develop personal action plans, get teams and units together to participate in goal-setting sessions, give employees control, and make sure there's an adequate reward. Oh yeah, and don't threaten them with these goals. They get stabby that way.

The last part of this whole equation is very important. There needs to be a system of feedback in place. People like knowing how they're doing. We get mid-term grades in college so we know if we're drinking too much (or not enough). The same can be said about the workplace (not the drinking part, the other part). Letting employees know how they are doing helps to foster a sense of community, and that management has an interest in an employee's contribution rather than the end result.

And now, a real-world example:

My father is a wine maker, and we have a number of goals, most of which involve doing specific things on specific dates within specified amounts of time. Wine is a temperamental beverage that can turn into garbage REALLY quickly. We need to pick grapes, stem and crush them, punch them down in large barrels, press them into juice, add yeast (and sometimes wood chips for flavor), and put the resulting juice into oak casks for two years to ferment. I am personally involved in every aspect of this process. We rack the wine on a consistent time table by moving the wine out of the barrel and cleaning the newly empty cask, then replacing the wine with topping wine from kegs and carboys. Mismanaging this step can leave you with wine full of sediment that ruins the overall product. I don't know how many of you out there are winos like us, but sediment in your wine makes it undrinkable. Imagine getting a mouthful of sand in a sip of beer. Same thing.

We set time-based goals with all those involved, making sure that everyone gives their input and gets on board with the process. We also make sure everyone knows what their job is and what their hourly goals are. We also have a system of rewards for good participation and effort in the form of free bottles of wine (it's like giving away $50 to everyone). My father and the other wine partner, Jay, keeps an eye on everyone, rewarding stellar effort with free wine and other rewards. We make sure that those who work hard toward their specific task get recognized by the group and duly rewarded.

When we're bottling wine every fall, this process of management by objectives is palpable in the air. We bottle about 80 cases of wine in one day. In our GARAGE. Yes, we make award-winning hooch in our garage.

All attendees get together and are given jobs, which rotate over the course of the day. We let everyone know that the primary goal is 80 cases over the course of the day (that's 960 bottles), but there are goals for individual jobs, like corking a certain number of bottles in an hour, or cleaning a certain amount of bottles in a batch. Those that perform well in their present task are rewarded with glasses of wine, and in some cases, bottles. We set goals for every task as well as organizational goals. When those goals are accomplished, we make sure everyone knows how well they are doing and how well others are doing. Goals change on the fly with changing conditions, and the managers (my father and Jay) constantly check on everyone to give them feedback on their performance. Because I've been involved in this process since birth, I can say that my one superpower is my ability to cork bottles. Sometimes, my buddies and I race each other to see who can cork the most bottles with flush corks in 5 minutes. I have never lost to anyone. Ever. I get rewarded with magnums of wine. I love October.

This is an actual picture of my garage. Yes, those are kegs filled with wine. Try a keg stand with one of those.

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