Rewarding Staff when there is No Money

“Reward your Staff”. That’s what all the books say. All very well in theory, but how do you do it when you have no budget for awards or bonuses, and no ability to give valuable gifts?

Increasingly, that’s the new reality. And even if you do still have some budget, it’s worth taking a good look at what people really consider “reward” and validation to be.

While most of the research studies do indeed show that money is in the top three to five reasons why people feel valued (or not) at work, it’s almost never the number one reward people want. And yet we focus on money, often ignoring the things people desire even more.

Cheesy and corny as it may sound, all the research – some of it done by our company over 20 years, some by universities – shows that the number one reward wanted by workers in all industries is VALIDATION. Human beings are evolved to live in tribes, and the most valuable commodity in a tribe is a sense of community. We are programmed from birth to feel good when we are truly valued.

Don’t think that rewarding your people with true validation is an option that “costs nothing”. Done right, it costs a great deal – time, effort, care, truly finding out about the people in your team and their values, self-control, maturity, and more than a few sleepless nights. But the best leaders in this world know that genuine care and letting people know how they are valued is the single best reward strategy there is. They also know that humans are programmed to detect insincerity in a heartbeat.

Interestingly, rewarding people with large amounts of money is not a good strategy to keep them in any case. Making money your principal method of communication leaves you open to poaching from anyone with more money, even in the short term. On the other hand, personality loyalty and fair treatment that comes from truly validating staff is much harder to duplicate by competitors.

All it takes is a “nice work”, or “I trust you”, or “I love working with you”, or however you normally express validation and approval, delivered at the RIGHT MOMENT and with the RIGHT ATTITUDE. By all means use your ingenuity, too. It does not matter at all if this feels uncomfortable at first. Keep at it, keep it genuine and unforced, and the results will amaze you. No budget required.

If you are wondering how to use this advice practically, give me a call on 202 257 5593. We aren’t consultants, so all advice is free.

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