To Reward or Not To Reward – That is the Question?!

For those of us who run ideas programmes within organisations, the decision ‘to reward or not to reward’ can be a tough one. Financial reward can be a key motivator for some, however there is much evidence that when we are looking at the creative process, financial benefit does not always provide the best incentive.

One of my favourite clips on this topic is by Dan Pink, which I have watched and recommended on numerous occasions and whilst not directly related to ideas management, brings up some great points in an easily digestible format. He talks about how processes requiring higher cognitive function which, I would argue being creative does, is less to do with financial motivators and more related to truly believing in a higher purpose. So if you haven’t already taken a look, I recommend you accessing it here.

However in reality, does this really translate? Do we still focus on financial rewards and in practice do they actually work? We asked some innovation corporate leads to share their experience…

Tammy, Innovation & Adoption Programme Manager, West Midlands AHSN, NHS
There are many pressures facing NHS staff today and getting them to engage in activities outside their clinical duties can be challenging. However, without engagement with our staff and patients it is almost impossible to seek out improvements and adopt new initiatives and innovations. It is for this reason that we spend a lot of our time looking to engage and reward people for their involvement. To add to this, there are great financial pressures on the system so we have also had to be quite innovative in our approach and not rely on pay-outs to get results. In my various roles I have tried everything from Blue Peter style badges, certificates, interviews, award ceremonies and small financial rewards, all of which have had a variable response suggesting that not everyone wants a physical award.

One of the greatest lessons I have learnt is that understanding people’s motivations is a great way to understand how best to engage and reward someone. Some people just want to see improvements in care for their patients, some to save money to invest in more equipment and others a big glitzy award for their office. Being able to understand what motivates someone is a great start to being able to engage someone, get results and reward them in a manner that is meaningful to them.

Michael, Head of Ideas Management, HSBC UK
When I took over idea management for HSBC there was a well-established process for rewarding ideas – cash awards up to £5k, plus additional incentives which included places at overseas conferences and additional holiday entitlements.

I removed all awards and introduced a bronze, silver and gold programme where the user received a certificate and vouchers to the value of £25/£30/£50 to match the award level. I expected a backlash of angry emails and whilst I did receive a few the majority of people welcomed the change as without realising it, the previous award process deterred a lot of people from submitting ideas as they didn’t feel their ideas were big enough to justify the awards being offered.

As a result, we saw submission levels rise and a large number of quick wins were implemented which led to an increase in employee engagement and provided an introduction to a new ideas process incorporating continuous improvement.

Jayne, Continuous Improvement Engagement Coordinator, RICOH UK Products Limited
Ricoh Telford have operated a suggestion scheme for all employees for over 20 years. The scheme offers a combination of both small monetary rewards (enough to buy a coffee) and recognition, which is just as important.

Monthly recognition is delivered by the senior management team, with the annual awards, where over 100 employees are invited to an event, being presented by the MD, highlighting the importance of ideas and the employees to the organisation.

The focus on visible recognition, which also includes displays dedicated to the winners over the last 10 years, has led to strong engagement with over 75% of our employees contributing ideas on an annual basis.

Innovation Lead, Telecommunications Company
Reward comes in many forms for our people – knowing that they have made a difference by improving a daily task, the customer experience or effected a change to a product/service is something people often tell me is the reason why they shared their ideas in the first place. Then having work colleagues know their idea has been implemented is all the recognition they seek.

That said we do offer rewards for most campaigns we run, whilst having the latest iPhone or a tax free cash award is a great way to drive up employee engagement and the volume of submissions, it does not guarantee quality ideas.

Campaigns that are focussed on a particular theme, with a clear ask and senior sponsorship usually generate the best ideas and outcomes for the business, irrespective of offering a reward or not. But, it’s always great to make the call to someone to say they are to receive a reward for their idea, which when publicised – generates even more ideas!

Alan, Head of HR, Thales
When thinking about Reward & Recognition (R&R) it is important to remember that one size does not fit all. For instance, in today’s multi-cultural workplace managers must understand cultural differences. Some cultures do not consider recognition as appropriate and working hard and doing well should be part of your normal job.

If you are considering giving money, think about someone in the latter part of their career, money may no longer be the motivator. That said, research tells us that it is the act of thanking someone that has the most positive and lasting impact, more than any money or gift. Someone taking time out of their day to go and thank someone for a great job is probably all it needs.

So whether you do choose to reward or not to reward, think about following some golden rules:

  1. Know your people: Seek to understand individual’s motivations and cultural backgrounds to provide the right motivators
  2. Align rewards to the corporate culture / values
  3. Encourage Senior Management involvement with recognition
  4. Consider a range of options for rewards (i.e. money, gifts, experience days, additional annual leave, training etc.) to appeal to the majority of people
  5. Give people a reason to submit their ideas – the higher purpose, ideally aligned to the organisational goals
  6. Take the time to say ‘Thank You’ – it maybe all that’s needed