New managers often make a rookie mistake: They assume that what motivates them must also motivate their employees.
A manager who craves opportunities to earn extra cash, for instance, may think it’s motivating to offer $50 or $100 prizes to workers who excel in completing certain assignments. But that may backfire if employees conclude that the slim chance of snaring more cash isn’t worth the extra effort.
You’ve probably heard that you should ask employees, “What motivates you?” Then use the answer to guide your selection of carrots.
While customizing your strategy seems sensible enough, it doesn’t always work. Individuals may not know what drives them—or lack sufficient trust in their manager to reveal the truth. Or you may not be able to offer what the worker covets.
A better approach is to mix and match your motivational efforts—and measure the results. Track what works best with each employee: money, public praise, increased autonomy or authority, more time off, etc.
Set demanding goals and distribute rewards for truly superior performance. In an effort to motivate, some managers give away too much without inducing employees to push sufficiently hard to earn it.
Another challenge is to articulate your incentives clearly and leave no room for ambiguity or misinterpretation. In the new book Parentonomics, author Joshua Gans describes how he developed a reward system to motivate one of his young children to get through the night with a dry diaper. But the crafty child removed the diaper before going to sleep. In the morning, Gans discovered a soaking wet bed. But the diaper was dry.
The same trap often befalls managers. Shrewd employees may spot loopholes when assessing incentives—and outsmart their boss by devising a roundabout way to deliver the desired results.