In May, Brian Hall, the Albert H. Gordon Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, convened what he hopes will be a yearly conference of scholars working in the burgeoning field of incentive design.
“Most people just think, ‘What do employees want? They want money,’ I’m not sure they don’t get more creative with non-monetary incentives,” Hall said. “This stuff doesn’t cost a lot but requires people to get into a room and talk about how to meaningfully recognize performance and commitment, so even the process of creating non-monetary rewards is good for the company.”
Hall is developing a guide for managers and HR professionals that he has tentatively named “Cents and Noncents.” He shared the story of a private equity firm that motivated board members of Gulfstream to sign up new clients with model airplanes. This group of wealthy and influential individuals reveled in the bragging rights conveyed by each individual model plane they could proudly display in front of them at board meetings.
Non-monetary rewards become unbelievably impactful when they are incorporated into a culture of recognition. The objective is to deepen the connection employees feel with their company in a way that salaries or bonuses simply cannot do.
“The story matters a lot,” Hall says. “Even when you get the financial incentives right, it’s rarely the case that you want to emphasize to employees that this is primarily about making them wealthy. That’s rarely inspirational. It’s about succeeding and meeting the goals of the mission.”
In a world that is enamored with metrics, Hall encourages managers to develop a system that measures some unmeasurables. Recognize actions that foster teamwork, extra effort and improved customer relations.
Paraphrasing Einstein, Hall says, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts. The finance department doesn’t have all the measurements that matter.