While cruising through Facebook world yesterday I came across an Easter meme. The meme read, “My kids can pick up 3,000 eggs in a yard the size of football field in 5 minutes, but it takes them 3 months to pick up 5 toys from their small bedroom.” I know this is meant to be tongue-in-cheek humor, but there is also truth to it. When I first read this I was like DUH!! There is a huge incentive for running around finding eggs; more eggs equal more candy! What is the incentive for picking up the 5 toys? Not hearing your parents nag anymore.
Whether your a manager, leader of an organization, or a parent you must not underestimate the power of incentives. In a previous life when I worked in a multinational corporation full of bureaucracy, I once had a regional manager argue with me over giving employees incentives for comply with a behavior that would result in great productivity. Her view was they get a paycheck and that should be incentive enough. Although I somewhat agree with her, the employee who comes to work and gives it 110% when they know they can give 75% and get the same pay is very rare. Also, not everyone is motivated solely on the money they can earn. Studies have shown that recognition and awards can go further in motivating a person than money alone. Unfortunately, she outranked me and my ideas were not tested (another reason why I didn’t thrive in a corporate environment).
Thinking about being a parent, I need to pay attention to how I use incentives to reward positive behaviors. Jessica would hate me saying this, but its almost like training the dogs. Yelling no at a dog will take years for them to learn, but start throwing high value treats at them and they’ll learn in seconds. They key here is high value treats.
High value is in the eye of the receiver. If you want your incentive to have the largest impact, find out what the recipient values. Just because I spent $30/lbs on dried kobe beef to train my dogs and they hate them, there is no value, but maybe small pieces carrots are the greatest treat.
Additionally, varying the incentives is equally important. If you are rewarding effort in school for your child one time the incentive is ice cream, maybe the next is a movie. The varying of incentives keeps the specialty of the treat.
I know it seems pretty obvious, but we as humans are much better at punishing bad behavior than rewarding good behavior so it does take some thought into putting together a plan. Happy rewarding!