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Taking “Trophy Value” Literally

December 2, 2009

[tweetmeme]So what exactly DID I learn about noncash rewards from running? The effectiveness of trophy value. Literally.

Outside of school sanctioned competition, I did a lot of local road racing on the side. Since I wasn’t allowed to take any cash prizes for performance due to amateur rules, the only tangible incentive I had included the trophy up for grabs for winning. There was also the possibility of recognition to go along with the new piece of shiny hardware in the form of post-race coverage in our town’s sports section. This incentive had a greater impact on me than anything, seeing my name in print. The pat-on-the-back for a job well done via print had more significance to how well I wanted to perform than anything. This is important in the workplace too. It’s not just about rewarding employees for great performance: it’s also about the recognition that coincides with the reward.

After having to turn down money a handful of times at road runs, I always dreamed of the day when I would be able to compete for cold hard cash. “What good is a trophy when I can just have the cash?” I would think to myself after road races. My philosophy was that I would train harder and be more competitive once cash became something I could legally compete for. A philosophy most people would agree with. Ask employees what type of incentive would motivate them best and they would likely say the same thing:

Cold. Hard. Cash.

However, this ended up being flawed thinking on my part. After college, when I was finally able to compete for prize money, I significantly slowed down my training. Unusual right? Actually, since college, I have only ran two races, neither of which afforded me the chance to lay claims on victory money. In my most recent race, I was most excited about receiving the medal they awarded everyone who crossed the finish line. It was a morning where I pushed myself to a limit for no direct financial gain.

The same is proven for employee motivation. While most claim to work harder for cash, studies have proven that tangible, noncash incentives have a more positive effect on performance. According to the University of Chicago study cited in our Trophy Value Continuum post, people tend to prefer cash but perform at much higher levels when in pursuit of a noncash incentive. I wanted cash for running but worked harder for noncash options. The same holds true for your employees.

What motivates you?

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