Which Is More Motivating: Individual or Group Employee Incentives?

Reprinted with permission.

One of the chief “head‑scratchers” for me is developing a worthwhile employee incentive program. I believe in them and know they are important, but because each employee is motivated by different things, it is difficult to come up with one that satisfies all. Which is more motivating: group or individual incentives? And what is a good starting place for each? Thanks.

—Still Scratching, principal, services, Renton, Washington

What motivates employees today does vary somewhat from person to person. You can take some of the mystery out of your search for a worthwhile employee incentive program by discussing the topic with your employees and seeing what things motivate each of them.

One manager told me when he brought up the topic with his staff that an employee suggested: “Why don’t we have a revolving responsibility on this topic? Each week we can have a different person highlight some element of success in the group and recognize or celebrate that success by doing something of that person’s choice. The next week it would be someone else’s turn, and so on.” They did this and it was not only very meaningful to employees, but fun and creative to boot! The manager told me his job became much easier as a result.

As to which incentives are more motivating: group or individual, the answer is yes. You need to look to do both. Individually, we each want to be recognized when we do good work (in my research, 99.4 percent of employees say such recognition is important), and doing so will make it more likely that we will perform well again. Asking your employees individually what motivates them—either one on one by having them list items on an index card or by completing a simple questionnaire—will help you learn more about those things they value.

We also know that if you don’t recognize positive group behavior, teamwork and group performance, you are unlikely to continue to get that from the group. At the beginning of a group task, ask the team members how they would like to be recognized or celebrate if the group attains its objectives –then plan on making those things happen. You can thank the group for its efforts, but also single out individuals (either publicly or privately) who contributed to the group’s success.

SOURCE: Bob Nelson, Nelson Motivation Inc. You may contact Bob at bobrewards@aol.com or 858-673-0690.