Just because you´ve asked your people to think about and write down their goals doesn´t mean they know exactly what you´re talking about. When you ask someone to think about what he wants to achieve in his career you need to set some boundaries-how difficult should the goals be? If an employee sets goals that are too high, is she setting herself up for failure? And if she does, in fact, fail, will she slow down her efforts because, really, what´s the point? In other words, if the reward is out of reach, why try in the first place? On the other hand, if an employee is strongly committed to the goal and can clearly see what he´ll get (the reward), then it´s more likely he´ll stay the course. But what if the goals are too easy? Will that individual learn anything? And how involved should you be in helping your people with goal setting?
And what about the rewards? How connected should they be to the goals themselves? The bottom line is this: they have to be meaningful to people. If they don´t value the prize, then doing the work to achieve the necessary success won´t be very appealing. It seems like an obvious point-that you´d set up a reward system that makes sense to the people you´re rewarding. But too often companies miss what´s right before them-what an employee really wants. Sure, it´s faster to just make assumptions and downright guesses, but guesswork can be dicey business and a big, fast waste of time and money.
Instead of guessing what people want, gather some intelligence by asking them outright. Or put your query in an informal survey, especially if your company is small. You might think people want cash rewards, but with a little digging you might discover that time off is a more coveted reward. But don´t expect everyone to have similar points of view. What´s valuable to one employee might be meaningless to another. Likewise, what´s useless to one could enrich another staffer´s quality of life. One employee might want tuition reimbursement while another would be happy with one morning off every quarter to volunteer at his favorite charity.
Clearly, any rewards system you implement needs to be directly tied to performance and how that performance supports your company´s goals. Making that clear up front is critical. But you have to make sure, too, that you fulfill the promise. Let´s take a business book as an example: On the book´s cover is a title and presumably a subtitle that offers a promise. You´re at the bookstore (or you´re shopping online-whatever) and you leaf through the table of contents and flip through a few pages. You really need what this author is promising, and, heck, it says so right on the cover, so you trust the author and the publisher and the bookstore, so you plop down $25 and some change and on the way home or your office you start thinking about how knowledgeable you´re going to be when you start reading all this great stuff in the business book. But once you sit down and start reading (and reading and reading) you are startled and disappointed. Where´s the promise? Where´s the meat. Where´s your $25 (and change)?! It´s the same principle with a reward system (sort of simplified for this blog of course)-if you say that employees will be rewarded for completing certain tasks in a specific way, then you need to come through.