Rewards Only Work If You Practice True Accountability

Providing more generous rewards and work conditions in order to reward and retain high performers is a growing workplace trend. What I have learned from the research conducted by my firm, RainmakerThinking, is that providing differential rewards only works when managers do the hard work of “shining a bright light of scrutiny” on every single employee. In other words, spelling out expectations and evaluating employee performance against those expectations, on an ongoing basis.

True accountability: explicit goals, measured in concrete terms, with real consequences attached to performance.

Every single employee needs to understand how and why they are earning the rewards they earn, and what they need to do in order to earn more. That means defining expectations every step of the way and tying concrete rewards directly to the fulfillment of those expectations.

That’s what I call “true accountability” – explicit goals, measured in concrete terms, with real consequences attached to performance.

When your employees deliver on their commitments for you, you deliver on promised rewards for them. If they fail to meet commitments, you have to call them on that failure immediately and withhold the reward. When every person is managed this way, your employees are much less likely to wonder why another person is receiving special rewards. They all know that someone who is receiving some special reward must have earned it fair and square.

Avoid the mistake of thinking that some of your employees are so talented, skilled, and motivated that they do not really need the attention of managers. The better the are, the more attention they want: the superstars want managers who know exactly who they are, help them succeed, and keep close track of their success. And if your lower performers start to feel that this special recognition is unfair, remind them: rewards are directly tied to individual performance. True accountability.

Besides, I think most people would agree that what’s truly fair is to recognize and reward those who put in the most effort to achieve the best results: Whatever you are doing to be flexible and generous to retain your good employees, you need to be much more flexible and generous to keep your very best employees.

Make a point of talking regularly with your very best employees. Do not just ask them, “Are you happy here?” Rather, talk to them regularly to find out what they really want or need, whether it is a special deal or a small accommodation. Understanding an individual employee’s unique needs or wants is the key to being able to reward that person in a meaningful way. The more unusual the needs and wants of a particular employee, the more valuable it will be if you are able to meet those needs and wants, because it will be harder for other employers to replicate those rewards.

If you really want to retain your very best superstars long enough to grow and develop them, someone has to make concerted efforts to surround them with teaching-style managers, advisers, and maybe even mentors. The question every leader and manager should ask is: “What roles can I play in this process?”