radioIs there anyone more cynical than a 15-year old teenager?

Well, OK, a 16-year old teenager. As I listened to a radio programme humorously discussing alternative forms of reward besides money, my son chirped up with “we get gold stars when we do extra questions for homework”.

His Greek teacher motivates the boys by adding a sticky gold star to their work books when he marks them.

The boys love it. Yes, I’m talking about 6 foot, iPod playing, X-box shooting, rugby tackling, testosterone-fuelled teenage boys, not naughty toddlers rewarded for best behaviour.

When I thought gold stars in schools had gone out with the 80’s, it seems that this retro trend hits that sweet motivation spot. Clever teacher!

So why is this relevant? Even as I write, I bet thousands of managers will be bracing themselves to have the conversation about employee reward packages. Or rather, the lack of a reward package. When budgets have more flat-lines than a dead man’s ECG and fuel costs are escalating faster than a Dubai skyscraper, how do managers continue to motivate their staff in ways that don’t involve money?

Here are some golden rules and ideas.

Pay rises and bonus are not the only way.

Rule #1 Pay rises do not motivate people for more than a few weeks. Yes, it’s great to get a pay rise but if you calculate how much extra a week that means, it doesn’t pay for much.

Rule #2 But you have to get the hygiene factors right. If a person’s pay is far below the market value, no matter what you do, they will always resent this. Their attitude will reflect it and possibly their quality of work. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys, in other words.

Rule #3 A thank you and a smile will get you far in life. Do you sincerely and openly thank people for the work they do and specifically say what was good. Hint – the key word here is specifically.

Rule #4 Do you have restricted budgets for training? It’s always the first cost area that gets cut during budget squeezes (and, of course, the library is second). After you have accounted for basic training to get the minimum competency, should some training be as a reward? Attendance at a relevant conference – like the PIPA or DIA Medical Communications European or US conferences Are you sending your best people along or the next person in turn. If the team knows your policy, they’ll be raising their game to get the chance to go along.

Rule #5. Wacky works. How inventive and creative can you get when it comes to rewarding your team? Hint – most Med Info people love chocolate (related to the % of females workers?). Any variations on Employee of the month? Highlighting a Thank You email in the team newsletter? In one company, every employee had access to a reward intranet site where anyone could acknowledge a colleague’s contribution. It didn’t have to be a huge project; it could be coming up with a great idea, a happy customer after a MI call, offering to help a colleague when they were struggling, etc. You added the employee name, what they did that was great and the impact. Their line manager approved it and people accumulated reward points. And we all know – points mean prizes. What’s great about that idea was that the person giving feedback feels great, the receiver feels great and their manager hears about the small as well as the big things.

So what have you done today to tell your team or your colleagues about the great work that they’ve done?

A long journey starts with the first step.