Archive for November, 2007

You Get the Results You Reward

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

It is a first principle of Change Management that people will act in what they perceive as being their best interests. This principle is simple to grasp but hard to apply because each individual has a different concept of what is in his / her best interests:-

  • Are they more focussed on Long Term or Short Term gains?
  • What is their financial situation? Clearly if they are having problems paying the mortgage then money will be more important to them than if they are more comfortably off
  • What are their personal circumstances? Do they have young children in which case time off may be highly valued; or by the same token foreign trips may be seen as a burden and not a reward

All this to say that as an organisation you need to first be clear what behaviours / performance you wish to encourage, and then find ways to align your employees to these. By and large, you will get what you measure, talk about and reward. However the problem comes when you take for granted certain elements of the behaviour / performance set. For example, the phone directory company The Number (of 118 118 TV commercial fame) allegedly decided that it could maximise its revenues by getting calls completed within 40 seconds. You may feel this seems perfectly reasonable, and so it is but there is an underlying (and unrewarded!) assumption that they do this by providing accurate information. Some bright sparks soon discovered that it was much easier to meet targets if you just fobbed the caller off with any old number, in fact if they had a wrong number they would have to call back!

People will pay attention to what YOU pay attention to. If all you focus on is the result, then they will (rightly) assume that you are not very interested in the means they use to achieve them. If you measure volume, don’t be surprised if quality suffers; the same with price v profit. The art of managing a business is to give balanced signals and rewards that ensure that equal attention is paid to everything that is crucial to your business.

“There are two things people want more than sex and money … recognition and praise.” Mary Kay Ash

Think about it, what would a restaurant be like if the chefs got paid based on their customers rating of their food, or salesmen got rewarded for customer satisfaction as well as sales; what would it be like to deal with that kind of company?

It is essential that your reward system focuses people on a set of behaviours that support both the company’s strategy and values. If you need people to show initiative, you have to reward them when they show it. This may not involve any cash, often trust is a much more valuable coin; back their idea and let them learn from it, and reap the glory if it works!

You need a broad, imaginative portfolio of rewards, with multiple options, that enable you to pick the right ‘stroke’ for each of your ‘folk’. These will span the spectrum for informal recognition, through more formal things like employee of the month right up to promotion.

People have a sense of what is the ‘norm’ in both your company and your industry and their expectations will be benchmarked by these environmental factors. So do not ignore the value of being able to surprise people with something unexpected. It is important not to underestimate the value of a sincere “Thank you”, but if your reward is a personal one (such as this) it must be sincere. Take the necessary time to make sure that you really show the fact that you are grateful.

However gratitude is a currency too, and as we accrue ‘brownie points’ we expect that, over time, these will count towards how we are treated in terms of promotion and pay. You can only hand out so many ‘tokens’ before people will want to ‘cash them in’, so don’t abuse this system.

There is a complex set of theories about the tension between reward schemes and the power of intrinsic motivation (doing things because they make us feel good). These are certainly worth exploring, but remember even if we are doing an interesting and demanding task that stretches us, unless we feel appreciated for doing this, unless the importance of what we are doing is recognised, we are likely do become demotivated. In the end, you have to show us it is valued rather than just telling us, and in today’s world, this usually means in cash or kind!

We will defer pleasure and reward for only so long, then we feel that we are being taken advantage of and we will seek an environment that affirms our sense of worth. As human beings, we have a fundamental need to be valued, and we will always seek out people and places that make us feel this way. Money is just one way we keep score.

So take a while to reflect on those people around you that you depend on, are you making them feel special? Are you rewarding the right things in the right way, or are you running an ’emotional overdraft’ with them, in which case, don’t be surprised if they foreclose!

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” JF Kennedy

What HR Can Do To Give Change a Chance

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

I would argue that Change, as a process never fails, because things always change. It is more accurate to say that we fail to get the results we wanted, or needed or anticipated. Change is a subtle, natural force and it can’t be turned on and off, it has to be harnessed. If we think about how sailors use the wind and tides, or how farmers use rivers to irrigate their fields we have a better idea of the required attitude.

“Wisdom sails with wind and time” John Florio

Change happens when we align ourselves with the natural forces in any system. If we feed things they grow; they grow where there is space (opportunities), light (attention) and nourishment. When King Canute commanded the waves to retreat he was held up to ridicule, but when a manager commands “Change”, people seem to think this is reasonable.

People will only do what they believe is in their interests to do. Let’s deconstruct that sentence, and look at some of the key words. They have to believe it is in their interests. If we fail to cover all three of these bases, then they won’t ‘play’. So, taking those elements one at a time:-

  1. They: it is what the staff think and feel that is crucial. The opinion of the company or their manager is only important to the degree that they hold influence / power over the individual. The greater the respect, trust or relationship that you have, then the more they will listen to you. However, never shortcut the step of explaining why this is something they need to do.
  2. Believe: This is a bit like a game of Monopoly, you can not move out of Jail until you have thrown a double. Nor can you begin your change programme till you have won people over. It maybe you need to start on something simpler or smaller first to gain their confidence.
  3. Their: everybody needs to know What Is in it For Me. We have been programmed by the forces of Nature and Evolution to survive, and each time we are asked to do something, some primitive part of our brain checks to see it helps our survival. If it feels too dangerous then we won’t do it. If the environment is one where we are not allow to make our feelings known we will say “Yes boss”, and ignore it in every way we can. It should be pointed out that management use this tactic all the time, but it is called ‘political savvy’ when they do it rather than ‘resistance’.

Too often well meaning managers try to say “Thank you” with M&S vouchers, flowers or days go-carting. In themselves, these are not bad things; they are just no substitute showing genuine, unconditional appreciation of the individuals and their efforts. Most people are part of a pack and they need a leader who inspires them and makes them feel safe. The safest member of the pack is the most valuable one. These are very powerful and very ancient drives, and not to be ignored. We all long for the approval of ‘parent’1 figures and in our world and bosses fall into that category. However, just saying “Well done” really doesn’t do it. You have to actually mean it, people can tell the difference.2 You need to show that you have seen the real them and appreciated their unique contribution.

After a merger I acquired a new boss who thrilled me initially by his fulsome “Well done!”s but after a while, I realised that he said the same thing every time, and so I started to ignore it, and ended up almost resenting his inability to differentiate between the good-enough and the good work. HR needs to understand this dynamic and guide and coach line managers in these areas.

It is a clichĂ© to say that everyone is unique but it is true, and deep within us, we know this and we long for people to see, recognise and appreciate our unique gifts. Doing this makes us feel special, and this is a very heady ‘drug’ and we will go a very long way for more of it. However, I repeat, for it to work, it has to be real.

Change is a very human process and requires sensitivities and skills that the modern workplace tends not to value or nurture. There are few courses on sensitivity: communication courses deal with slide decks rather than telling your truth. HR have the opportunity, and hopefully the training, to be more aware and help those line managers who are less able in these areas, and support staff who are affected by this inability.

Too often businesses regard and treat their people as ‘human resources’. This is an accountant’s view of people as assets; indeed we often see in the company accounts “Our people are our greatest assets.” This leads to a rather mechanistic view of people. The business wants ‘reliable processes’ where things happen the same way every time. However, during a period of change, people are afraid, whether they admit it or not. They need to be cared for and looked after if they are to perform. There is a huge opportunity for HR to step into this ‘care vacuum’. If HR can demonstrate that they, and the business they represent, truly want the best for their staff, and will look after them, then, knowing this, the staff become far more trusting and less change resistant.

“First you need only look: Notice and honour the radiance of Everything about you… Play in this universe. Tend All these shining things around you: The smallest plant, the creatures and objects in your care. Be gentle and nurture. Listen…” Anne Hillman

HR has to become the part of the company that looks after people rather than processes them and their records. I was an accountant for 25 years, and I always thought that there was little difference between the accounts department and the HR one, apart from the things they counted. Managers are there to get the job done, but they are subject to all sorts of stresses and pressures, HR should be there to catch people when their managers can’t see what is required. They should bring objectivity to the care process. They do have the time, they should have the skills. However, as long as their prime role is ‘Hire’em ‘n’ Fire ’em’ then they will not be trusted and immediately become part of the problem for the staff.

By recognising Change as part of Nature rather than an industrial process we are much more likely to approach it with the care and sensitivities we need to make it successful. If you still aren’t convinced, then think back to some of the really good teachers either you or your children had… what were they like? They weren’t all about processes, flow charts, slide decks and emails were they? They listened, they got down to your level, they excited and encouraged you, and, when necessary, they picked you up, brushed you off and told you “Never mind.. it’ll be all right next time”

“He who nurtures benevolence for all creatures within his heart overcomes all difficulties and will be the recipient of all types of riches at every step.” Chanakya

Many mangers feel that they have to check ‘the real them’ at the office door and only pick up the mantle again once they get home to their kids. However, if they dared tried using some of these softer skills, awareness and intuitions to bring along their staff with them they would be vastly more successful. Business might need a hard-nose, but it also requires a soft-heart to make Change happen, HR should be at the very centre of this. A successful change leader knows which organ to use and when!


  1. Parent-Child mode – Transactional Analysis
  2. Spotting the Bull