Why Results Require Rewards: Encouraging Action With Incentive

Imagine a company that has taken the time to consider the role of Innovation in the corporate mission. Employees were encouraged to be part of the innovation process but their reward was compensation linked strictly to output.

Does that encourage value-added thought process? In my mind, it encourages work, which should need no encouragement at all.

Now, what if that same company put a reward system in place whose reward system was based on innovation and results, not hours or labor? It aligned reward to patents granted, products launched, or sales achieved? And its reward process was integrated along side its Vision, Mission, Strategy, and Resources / Budget?

I would argue that that organization has asked itself a key question: What motivates your team to excel in innovation? The answer is Net Rewards for Net Results.

Many companies see cash as the ideal motivational perk. This might not be the case. A recent survey from McKinsey found that three non-cash motivators rise above all other forms of incentive: Praise from managers; the attention of leadership that takes place in one-on-one conversations; and the chance to lead projects, teams or task forces.

Such nods and recognition topped even cash bonuses, increased base pay, and stock or stock options – the three top-ranked financial incentives, McKinsey found.

“The survey’s top three non-financial motivators play critical roles in making employees feel that their companies value them, take their well-being seriously, and strive to create opportunities for career growth,” the McKinsey report noted. “These themes recur constantly in most studies on ways to motivate and engage employees.”

Though being discussed last in the list of the 10 Imperatives to Innovation, “Net Rewards and Net Results” arguably holds equally high a position as any other imperative. There’s a fundamental connection between the two. Rewards must be in alignment with the expectations of the organization and its people. Some organizations seek to innovate, but try rewarding people based on R&D spend. It’s is a worthy financial metric, but is no guarantee for success.

Incentives should not be about output or spend. It’s about “thought-put,” and the creativity, ideation and esprit de corps brought to the effort.

Done right, rewards the organization in search of inspiration, motivation, ideation – all the imperatives that drive innovation. It rewards the individual for performing at a high level, and the team for working effectively as a Unit of One.

For the organization that seeks results, incentive is a kind of Reward ROI. By investing in employee rewards as a carrot, think of innovation as ROI derived from the alchemy of ideas-to-money. As we’ve written before, innovation leads to improved performance, heightened sales, more black on the bottom line. This profit – whether in actual product on the street or improved organizational performance – brings benefit to all stakeholders: shareholders, executive leadership, employees, customers and consumers.

Various perks can drive incentive. Incentives must be earmarked for all participants at the table. This may include the development team itself, to the marketing, finance, R&D, sales, customer service or people from other departments who helped with ideation, market research, justification or any other process that went into creating the new initiative.

For example, in the NPD process, the team or division should be rewarded with a compensation package that includes a percentage of sales derived from new products delivered. The neat thing about NP sales is that success is rewarded and people stay engaged and involved they care post development or launch.

Simply put, the fruits of your team’s labor benefit all – and rewards must reflect that. Moreover, this type of validation acknowledges individuals’ ability to envision new concepts, help shepherd them through the R&D process (even if the individual is not part of R&D, per se), and play a key role in bringing product to market.

Rewards can enhance valued employees’ commitment to the organization, boost morale, motivate future efforts, reinforce positive outcomes, encourage repeat performances and help keep employees’ “eye on the ball” vis a vis innovation and ideation. It also strengthens the connection between strategy and results.

In sum, when Net Rewards are based on Net Returns in the innovation process, everybody – the organization, the innovators, the stakeholders and the consumers – wins.

By Robert Brands with Jeff Zbar

Robert Brands is the founder of InnovationCoach.com, and the author of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation”: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival, with Martin Kleinman and which will be published in March by Wiley (www.robertsrulesofinnovation.com).