The Bonus Round

EXEC_LIFE“Someone once redeemed for a diamond ring for his fiancée,” says Quirk. “Another person redeemed their rewards for solar panels for their house, while someone else chose a honeymoon trip to Italy. The options are only limited by the bounds of your imagination, and there’s usually nothing we can’t fulfill.” In addition to its concierge program, Achievers has agreements with reloadable credit cards and online merchants that can help employees transform rewards into merchandise or services they can select for themselves.

Bonuses should reflect a higher calling, not just money
“Strategically, whether you’re giving out a cash bonus or a non-cash bonus, you need to make sure there’s clarity around what you’re doing for the folks you want to motivate,” explains Carter. “If their bonus or reward is going to be tied to the performance of the entire organization, they need to know what role they play in achieving it. But more than that, bonuses and rewards can’t just be tied to goals,” she says. “I believe that corporate culture is a driver of behavior. If people don’t fit in, they don’t thrive, and if they don’t have good leaders they don’t feel tied and motivated, meaning you won’t get the most out of them regardless of how you reward them.”

Carter notes that one of the big reasons she chose to work with CEO Richard Fairbank at Capital One was that the culture and values of the company were clearly tied to the strategy of the company, and that was attractive to her and the other executives on Fairbank’s team. “Having any incentive for a team member that isn’t connected to what you’re trying to achieve doesn’t get you the fullest bang for buck,” she says. “Motivation doesn’t always come from a monetary incentive. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is a psychological theory about human motivations, says that while people need to earn a living and have a roof overhead, there’s usually a higher calling motivating your people.”

Soliciting employees’ feedback on the work environment is another, more subtle, way to provide recognition. “Asking someone how they think things are going is a huge opportunity, it makes them feel included and can inspire them to produce more and more,” Carter says. “We’ve all worked for people we liked and some we didn’t, and you know the difference: You’ll work a 17th hour for someone who you’d walk to the Gates of Hell for.”

Reward programs can drive your people to be better performers
Recognition is a different type of currency, one that really doesn’t cost you or your company anything to spend and that often buys lots of good will, loyalty and productivity. Coupled with traditional rewards like the annual bonus, recognition in the form of a letter from the CEO acknowledging a job well done, or a top executive taking a project team out for a casual lunch following a milestone in an SAP implementation program can be extremely beneficial to everyone involved, she says.

“One thing I did, from a developmental perspective, was to let my team members be keynote speakers at big events, which gave them visibility with their peers and helped them to develop new skills,” explains Carter. “My sense is that they felt they were really progressing personally, and it fueled their hopes for their careers.”

Annual bonuses will continue to be an important component of employee compensation, but noncash motivators, such as praise from immediate managers and the opportunity to lead projects or task forces, are already proving effective. Nonfinancial incentives are likely to become even more effectives as more millennials join the workforce. As leadership teams adapt how they manage and motivate to this influx of younger employees in the workforce, they will likely find that frequent rewards and recognition can reinforce their corporate values, increase productivity, improve customer satisfaction and help retain top talent.

And what company doesn’t want that?