Operations Payoff

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Can You Incent Productivity?

Many companies try to incent productivity with bonus programs, profit sharing and other financial motivators. The problem is that many of these only work in the short term. At one company where I worked early in my career, we got a Thanksgiving turkey as a reward for a good year. Everyone thought that was pretty neat, and productivity spiked. The next year we got another turkey but that seemed ho-hum. Productivity remained flat. The following year the company decided not to give out the turkeys and the employees were mad. I now refer to failed motivators as “the Thanksgiving turkey.”

Later, when I worked for Price Waterhouse, I walked into the office one morning and the receptionist seemed depressed. I asked her what was wrong and she replied that her position didn’t seem very important compared to all of the professionals in the office. I told her that, in fact, she was one of the most important. After all, she was the “face of the company” that a client saw when they entered the office. Her welcome would set the stage for meetings with partners and managers. She beamed! She hadn’t thought about her position from the clients’ point of view.

In his book “The Small Big,” Robert Cialdini mentions work by Adam Grant, who found that workers who fail to live up to their potential often do so because of a lack of meaningfulness in their work. A good way to make things meaningful is to show employees the customer’s perspective. Bring customers in to express how they use your product or service and what it means to them. Testimonials can be very powerful motivators. Understanding the significance of what you do – from the customer’s perspective – is a strong motivator.

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