Sales Coaching Blog

Rewards Part 3: 7 Guidelines to a High-Engagement Culture

Posted by Kristi Shoemaker

March 19, 2012

This is part two of a three part series on sales incentive programs. In part one we defined the difference between Intrinsic Rewards versus Extrinsic Rewards.  In part twoincentive programs intrinsic reards we share  descriptions of the four intrinsic rewards and how workers view them. In part three we look how to build a highly engaged sales culture by using intrinsic rewards. This information comes from a powerful article we found on Rewards and Recognition written by Kenneth Thomas, author of Intrinsic Motivation at Work: What Really Drives Employee Engagement. In his work with managers, change agents and training specialists, he has developed seven guidelines for building a culture that supports high levels of engagement and intrinsic rewards.

Seven Guidelines for Building a High-Engagement Culture 

1. Begin with a meaningful purpose.

Unlike financial rewards, you simply can’t task the Human Resources Department with developing an “intrinsic reward system.” Building intrinsic motivation is largely a line management responsibility, although HR can offer considerable help. That responsibility begins with spelling out a meaningful purpose for the organization. To be meaningful, this purpose usually needs to involve more than profit, tapping directly into the contribution that the organization’s work makes to its customers—the contribution that allows it to earn a profit. Again, it is largely that sense of contribution to something of value that drives the entire self-management process.

 

2. Build intrinsic motivation and engagement into management training and executive coaching.

As mentioned earlier, managers tend to recognize the role of intrinsic rewards in their own motivation, but often underestimate their importance for other people. To build a culture of engagement it is important to incorporate training on intrinsic motivation and employee engagement into management development programs. We also find that managers are more credible and effective in promoting the value of engagement when they first learn how to better understand and manage their own intrinsic rewards. Training typically begins by getting managers in touch with their own intrinsic rewards and then shifts to learning how to support the intrinsic rewards of their direct reports. At executive levels, the four intrinsic rewards also provide a useful framework for executive coaching. For example, the New West Institute builds its coaching on executive transitions around the four rewards, identifying what would be most meaningful for the executives in their new position, what choices they have, the new competencies they need to build, and the ways they will identify progress. Training and coaching, then, are an important part of embedding intrinsic motivation and engagement into the organization’s culture.

 

3. Focus conversations on meaningfulness, choice, competence and progress.

Leaders from the top down need to convey the same message—that the organization stands for doing work that matters and doing it well. When approaching any work project, leaders can underline the importance of contribution by focusing discussions on the basic questions in the self-management process:

 

    What can we do here that is meaningful?

    What creative choices can we think of to accomplish this?

    How can we make sure we’re doing this work competently?

    How can we make sure we’re actually accomplishing the purpose?

 

These questions bring employee contributions to the foreground and highlight the intrinsic rewards.

 

4. Engage the “middle.”

Pay special attention to building intrinsic motivation for people in the middle ranges—the large group that is only somewhat engaged. If you are able to move their intrinsic rewards to the high range, they will combine with the people who already highly engaged to form a large majority of highly engaged, energized people—the critical mass needed to support a culture of high engagement.

 

5. Measure intrinsic reward levels.

Without some way of assessing the state of intrinsic rewards in your organization, you will be flying blind. We use the Work Engagement Profile for systematic measurement, though with experience it is possible to get a rough sense of reward levels from everyday conversations with employees. Measuring the reward levels will show you the overall level of engagement in your organization and allow you to recognize improvement. It will also allow you to determine if any rewards are at lower levels than others. Because self-management requires all four reward levels, the lowest rewards will tend to act as a drag on overall engagement over time—so that they deserve special attention.

 

6. Provide missing building blocks for intrinsic rewards that you need to bolster.

Each reward has its own unique building blocks. Building a sense of competence involves actions that are different than those used in building a sense of choice, for example. The following is a list of key building blocks.

Sense of Meaningfulness:

    A non-cynical climate—freedom to care deeply

    Clearly identified passions—insight into what we care about

    An exciting vision—a vivid picture of what can be accomplished

    Relevant task purposes—connection between our work and the vision

    Whole tasks—responsibility for an identifiable product or service

Sense of Choice:

    Delegated authority—the right to make decisions

    Trust—confidence in an individual’s self-management

    Security—no fear of punishment for honest mistakes

    A clear purpose—understanding what we are trying to accomplish

    Information—access to relevant facts and sources

Sense of Competence:

    Knowledge—an adequate store of insights from education and experience

    Positive feedback—information on what is working

    Skill recognition—due credit for our successes

    Challenge—demanding tasks that fit our abilities

    High, non-comparative standards—demanding standards that don’t force rankings

Sense of Progress:

    A collaborative climate—co-workers helping each other succeed

    Milestones—reference points to mark stages of accomplishment

    Celebrations—occasions to share enjoyment of milestones

    Access to customers—interactions with those who use what we’ve produced

    Measurement of improvement—a way to see if performance gets better

Notice that some of these building blocks involve relatively observable or “hard” elements, such as job designs, information systems, and formal authority. Others involve “softer” aspects of organizational culture and managerial style, such as a non-cynical climate, celebrations, trust, and skill recognition.

 

7. Adopt a change and implementation process that is itself engaging.

You could try to build intrinsic rewards using a centralized, top-down decision process. But we find that it makes more sense to use the change process itself as a means of fostering high levels of engagement. That was the genius of the Work Out process used by Jack Welch to help change the culture at GE. Similar processes are now used for planning and change in a number of organizations. In these applications, participatory processes allow teams of employees to identify meaningful work-related problems, recommend solutions that make sense, apply their diverse competencies, and experience a rapid sense of progress. When these processes address the building of intrinsic rewards and engagement, they not only yield workable solutions but also produce their own sense of excitement— which often serves as a significant turning point in the organization’s culture.

 

Learn more about the Compensation / Rewards / Recognition Pillar of Sales Productivity Pillar

Teach yourself how to design an effective incentive program and learn the four critical elements for a successful roll out by listening to our sales management webinar titled "Sales Incentive Program Success"

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About The Author:

Kenneth Thomas

Kenneth W. Thomas is an emeritus professor, researcher, and developer of training materials. He is co-author of the best-selling Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), and the author of Intrinsic Motivation at Work: What Really Drives Employee Engagement (Berrett-Koehler, 2009). This article is based on the book. www.kennethwthomas.net.

Topics: compensation recognition rewards, incentive programs

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