Archive for Motivation

10 Reasons Why Employee Motivation Programs are a Huge Waste of Time

"Paul Marciano"

Paul Marciano

[tweetmeme]Despite all the research that confirms traditional reward and recognition programs decrease employee motivation and productivity, organizations persist in their use. Why? Perhaps because they seem to make sense taken at face value. I mean, who would think that “Employee of the Month” programs actually destroy employ morale and teamwork – but they do!

Perhaps these programs persist because people just don’t know any better. Here are 10 reasons why you and your organization should STOP using these programs to try and motivate employees because they are a huge waste of time and money.


  1. Programs fail because they are programs. Reward and recognition programs fail for the same reason that diets fail — because they are programs! Programs don’t fundamentally change employees’ beliefs or commitment to their job.  They simply change their behavior during the course of the program. Employees are motivated to work toward the goal only as long as the program continues.

  3. Rewards are not necessarily what employees want. The most basic assumption of reward and recognition programs is that the “donkey” wants the “carrot.” I live on a farm with donkeys. This may surprise you, but not all donkeys like carrots. Organizations always assume they know what employees will find desirable. In truth, many rewards are not the least enticing and some even downright undesirable.

  5. Goals can limit performance. Setting goals should be viewed as stepping-stones and opportunities to celebrate accomplishments, not as finish lines. In the words of Mike Krzyzewski, Duke University’s men’s basketball coach, “I never have a goal that involves number of wins — never. It would just tend to limit our potential.”

  7. Programs foster cheating. Cheating or deception of some form tends to occur in most programs. Examples range from the fairly benign to the illegal. These include expediting or delaying orders or expenses, withholding information or providing misleading information, taking shortcuts, stealing customers, or in some other way attempting to make the employee or team look better than the competition — also known as co-workers. Programs with high-value rewards and few winners are most likely to turn employees into cheaters.

  9. Programs destroy teamwork. Obviously, cheating destroys teamwork but other factors contribute to team dysfunction. Within any team there are employees with different skill levels, commitment to the organization, and those with the inability to devote additional effort outside of normal business hours because of family and other responsibilities. Invariably, “pulling the load” frustrates the hardworking, motivated employee. In the end, win or lose, the employees who were the most motivated will feel the most cheated.

  11. Programs reduce creativity and risk taking. Employees are risk-averse when it comes to competing for a reward. They don’t want to risk losing and looking bad because they tried some new, clever approach that failed. Traditional reward and recognition programs reinforce “doing it by the book” — not experimentation. Such programs actually discourage innovation, creativity, and risk taking — the very behaviors that improve organizations. People may work harder but they will not work smarter.

  13. Reward programs devalue work. Reward and recognition programs actually diminish the perceived value of the work to be done. Psychologically, employees are doing the work not because it is important but because they can benefit from it materially. The more employees value a task, the more motivated they will be to perform it well.

  15. Wrong behaviors are rewarded. Frequently, reward and recognition programs reinforce the wrong behaviors. For example, organizational leaders may speak of the importance of teamwork but then create programs that recognize and reinforce individual performance. This may well result in rewarding the individual who is the worst team player. Is your company accidentally reinforcing behaviors that run counter to the values of your organization?

  17. Programs have no impact on workplace culture. Reward and recognition programs will never lead to long-term, sustainable changes in behavior because they have no impact on organizational culture. Culture drives behavior and behavior reinforces culture. Highly effective organizations have a culture where people work hard and achieve – and this behavior is not the result of any program.

  19. Reward programs decrease overall motivation. Ironically, these programs reward the top performers in the organization and reinforce how unappreciated the poor performers feel. How much more motivated and productive can the best employees be? It’s like the student who asks, “Dr. Marciano, I got a 98 on my exam, can you help me get 100?”


The employees who increased their efforts and were not recognized will be demoralized and adopt the attitude, “Why should I bother working harder if I don’t get anything for it?” The additional effort of these employees actually dips below what it was before the program.

It may be difficult for managers to accept but it’s the truth; traditional reward and recognition programs that seek to motivate employees actually do more harm than good.

So, you may be asking yourself: “If I don’t motivate employees through traditional programs, then how can I improve productivity?” The answer is – you’re asking the wrong question. Maximizing the productivity of your workforce has nothing to do with motivating them – it has to do with building a culture of RESPECT that leads to engagement.

Engaged employees are committed, loyal and dedicated, and will deliver high levels of discretionary effort without the promise of carrots or threats of the stick. Employees experience respect when leaders engage in the following behaviors.

Recognition: Acknowledging employees’ contributions on a daily basis

Empowerment: Providing employees with the tools, resources, training, and information they need to be successful

Supportive Feedback: Giving ongoing performance feedback – both positive and corrective

Partnering: Fostering a collaborative working environment 1:1, within and across teams

Expectation Setting: Setting clear performance goals and holding employees accountable

Consideration: Demonstrating thoughtfulness, empathy, and kindness

Trust: Demonstrating faith and belief in employees’ skills, abilities, and decisions

If you want to maximize the ROI of your employees, throw out the carrots and sticks and start showing them respect.


Paul Marciano is author of Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT.  His book provides real world case studies and turnkey strategies to increase employee discretionary effort and reduce turnover. Dr. Marciano earned his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Yale University where he specialized in behavior modification and motivation. Follow him on Twitter @drpaulmarciano.


Michael Jackson and Communicating Through the Language of Music

Much has been written about the shocking and untimely death of Michael Jackson.  He was truly one of the greatest communicators of all times. There is unlikely to be anyone like him again.

As David Segal wrote in The New York Times, “On the most basic level, this is matter of business and math. Michael Jackson has sold an estimated 100 million copies worldwide of the 1982 album ‘Thriller,’ which spent more than 31 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts. It’s one of those high-water marks that nobody  will touch because record stores are vanishing, and along with them, megahit albums are vanishing, too.”

Today’s performers also are contending with the distractions of the Internet, hundreds of cable channels and social networks, which drain away potential fans.

While his passing is sad, Michael Jackson’s great legacy will be his uncanny ability to communicate through the language of music — in words, pictures and actions. The lyrics from his most famous albums resonate with passion – “The way you make me feel,” and “I just can’t stop loving you” are just two examples. In reality, these were odes to his fans. They understood that he was really talking about them. And the love was mutual.

His dancing and mesmerizing moonwalk took his music to a new level. He captured the hearts and imaginations of fans around the world. From the tips of his toes to his sweet high-pitched voice, he was communicating with everything he had. He held nothing back and his fans loved him for it.

There is a lesson here for company CEOs. As I said in an earlier post, a CEO’s honest passion and belief in the vision he has for his company will inspire people to follow. You get more people to change by showing them something that affects their feelings than with a detailed factual analysis. Michael Jackson was a shrewd businessman when it came to striking deals, but his ability to communicate his passion through the language of music will be his most enduring legacy.

Don’t Go Through Life With a Catcher’s Mitt in Both Hands

I’ve never failed to be touched by the many wise sayings sprinkled through the writings of the poet and writer Maya Angelou. The beauty of her words and lyrics always inspire.   I’ll begin with my favorite quote because it is a constant reminder of how important in life and business it is to extend a helping hand – to a friend, someone in need, a young person just beginning the journey of a career.

From Maya Angelou:
“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”
“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”
“I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way s/he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”
“Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it!”
“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”

Words to live by.

Are CEOs Good at Rewarding Employees?

No doubt, employee morale is low at companies that are downsizing. So I sent a note to several people whose opinions I respect with the question: “Do you feel that CEOs acknowledge the value employees bring to the success of their companies? Can you share a personal experience you’ve had working for a company and how the company recognized and rewarded employees?” Here are several thoughtful answers (edited for space).  I start with an executive recruiter who is in a position to know what a lot of CEOs are doing to reward their people.

Stacy Lauren Musi, Managing Director
Chadick Ellig Executive Search

There have always been both many types of CEOs and leaders. The highly regarded leaders, whether CEO or a business or functional head, recognize the vital importance of their employees, and recognize and reward them … the paradigm for successful leadership in Corporate America continues to move away from the old-school “command and control” approach to an inclusive, consensus-driven, team-oriented model.

Well-regarded leaders acknowledge the contribution of their employees and seek to recognize and reward their top performers accordingly. Historically, this has been done with promotions and monetary gains. But, particularly given the current economy where money is tight and stock options are under water, CEOs and others have to be more creative in the reward systems.

So, in addition to the traditional salary increases, bonuses and equity grants, today, I am seeing other types of rewards:

Public recognition in front of peers and colleagues. Being given an official company performance award or even just being acknowledged publicly can be motivating to the honored employee as well as to others who would want to be selected for future recognition.

• Particularly to the up-and coming generation that is hard working and ambitious, career growth opportunities go a long way towards keeping them engaged. This reward can include: being selected for a special task force; having the opportunity to participate in an off-site; being given a coveted developmental assignment; or simply being chosen to be mentored and groomed by a well-regarded leader.

• Lastly, I am seeing that more and more, rewards include a wide variety of special privileges or perks. This can include time away from the office (whether it be additional vacation time or the opportunity to work from home); a trip; a complimentary dinner or gift card, etc. This can be particularly effective with middle or lower management, and these perks often include the entire staff. For instance, one leader shared that after a successful quarter, she took her team bowling, and another leader, who was on a tight budget, closed the office at 2:00 on a Friday and threw a wine and cheese party for her staff to thank them for a good job and to encourage a team spirit.


Amy Dean

I once had the managing director at a PR agency lavish me with a big bonus when I saved a key client. I really felt that he valued and empowered me. But the trust was eroded when he lied about me to the same client months later. He didn’t want to work with the client anymore, so he blamed it on me, saying that I wasn’t happy working on the account, and his duty was to keep me happy.  It wasn’t true. When he found out I refuted his statement to the client, he gave me a tongue-lashing.  He wasn’t consistent in his support of me, so I never trusted him again.


Bea Fields

I think that most CEOs do a pretty good job on the front of acknowledging their employees. One company I have worked with offers what is known as a “Visa Bucks” program. With the program, when an employee accomplishes something that has a positive impact on the company, they are given $50 or $100.00 Visa bucks to spend at partnering local retailers. The announcement of the “Visa Bucks” winner also receives quite a bit of public/verbal acknowledgement which, at the end of the day, is what most employees want to know…that their boss recognized their great work.

Another idea which I have recently learned from a senior pastor is an acknowledgement program known as the “Barnabas Pack.” This is actually a peer-to-peer acknowledgement program where the entire leadership team votes on the one employee who really gave 110% during the month. The award is given at the first of the month at a staff meeting and once again, is great, because it is coming from the entire team, which makes the award meaningful.


Nina East

Some CEOs do acknowledge the value their employees bring to the success of their companies. I have a feeling this happens more often, or more visibly, in smaller companies. CEOs who recognize the value contributions, and communicate this, not only have greater business/financial success (from Megatrends 2010), but they also create a much more loyal employee team –critical in the current economic climate.

The challenge seems to be when money gets tight, revenues are down, or the CEO’s own behavior or contributions are being called into question. In those situations, which I’ve seen far too often, the leader will sacrifice another employee in order to save face or solidify their own position.


Miriam Battson, Marketing & Sales Director
The Pettibon System, The Pettibon Institute

Enlightened CEO’s DO acknowledge the value the employees bring to the success of their companies.  You can also feel it when you walk through the front door.  Employees have a sense of ownership and taking pride in your work.  There is a company in Seattle that has a gym, numerous classroom/conference room for their own “university” classes, full blown cafeteria, wine bar, fitness classes, etc. , all at no charge to the employees.

In Gig Harbor, the owners of The Pettibon System have been encouraging the employees to read “the Great Game of Business” by Jack Stack.  What it’s doing is showing the way to a mindset shift of employees taking ownership in the outcome of the organization and specifically in their work.  As we begin to implement the game within the company it’s been fun to watch the communication lines open even more.  The net result is engaged and happy employees who are being proactive with customer service related issues. They are feeling empowered to do the right thing and help create the future.  As an employee, I feel very blessed.