One of the most familiar maxims in management is “what gets rewarded gets done.” While true, what is often missed is the more subtle, but equally powerful, point that what is rewarding gets done too. Managers and employees alike don’t just do things that offer an extrinsic reward; they do well at the things they find rewarding and like to do.
Candidate selection and interviewing often takes into account the rewards that will come with any job. How often do you consider—and discuss—the aspects of the job that are rewarding?
Are you making efforts to understand both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in your job candidates? If not, you’re missing a great opportunity.
The Towers Perrin Global Workforce study found that the number one reason employees stay at a company and are engaged is that their manager understands what motivates them. The second reason was challenging work. Despite what you might think, employees find challenging work rewarding. While nobody wants to be overworked, nobody wants to be bored either.
Rewards that are valued and the aspects of work that are rewarding are specific to individuals. Sure, you can work from a composite list of “the top 10 things that motivate employees.” However, unless you’ve hired statistically average employees that approach won’t prove very effective. And, that’s not the goal is it? We don’t want statistically average people, do we?
Of course, the alternative is to find out what rewards are valued and what is rewarding to a potential employee, and the best place to begin is during the interview.
The golden question of motivation is painfully obvious but seldom asked. It is: “What motivates you?” The challenge, unfortunately, is that some adults have never done the reflection necessary to understand themselves well enough to answer that question.
Why not ask candidates to do some “pre-work”? Either ask them to write a brief essay about what motivates them, or provide a framework of the most common rewards available to them should they get the job. That framework would be a list of potential rewards that a candidate could evaluate on a 1 to 10 basis—1 being worthless, and 10 being highly valued. Review this pre-work assessment prior to the interview. You won’t stun candidates with a question they can’t answer and you’ll quickly gain insights about both self-knowledge and valued extrinsic motivations.
At this point there might be some confusion around “rewards” and “rewarding.” I don’t want to split hairs, but for purposes of this article, think of a reward as an external thing and rewarding as an internal feeling. I get a reward after I’ve done something; I find something rewarding while I do it.
There are four broad categories for rewarding work: 1. the work itself, 2. the relationships involved whether with colleagues or customers, 3. the role one plays, and 4. the growth one experiences.
Not all work is particularly rewarding. You can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear. However, by focusing on the related aspects of growth, relationships and roles, you can enhance even menial work to make it more rewarding.
At this point, of course, you’re still in the interviewing and selection process. I wish there was a sexier technique for learning about an applicant than asking good questions. It just seems so obvious. But since I don’t know of a better way, here are some excellent questions to ask to find out what an applicant finds rewarding:
- What have you enjoyed most in your past jobs?
- What activities have lead most to your growth and development?
- What are the characteristics of a manager who helps you be your best?
- If you could assemble your ideal team, what would the team members be like?
- In the future, what kind of work would you most like to do?
- What would you most like to learn?
- If you could completely eliminate certain aspects of any job, what would you get rid of?
The key is to find an applicant whose definition of “rewarding” most closely matches either the kind of work you have available or the kind of work you can create to best utilize his or her internal motivators.
Once you’ve gained sufficient insight and move to the offer, here are some important guidelines to keep in mind:
- Don’t over-promise. No job is completely rewarding and no workplace free of challenges. Be realistic in how you present both the rewards to be gained and internal satisfaction to be expected from doing rewarding work.
- Don’t under-sell either. An overreaction to the above admonition might cause you to shortchange what your company and the position has to offer.
- Don’t accept complete responsibility. Adults share in the responsibility to find rewards in what they do—if the rewards aren’t inherent, they need to find ways to inject them into their job. This is the challenge of adulthood. There is stuff that needs to be done. How we do it makes it either routine or rewarding. Establish an expectation of shared responsibility for creating rewarding work.
- Don’t let your own biases and preferences distract. One person’s “rewarding” is another person’s “boring.” Thank heavens for diverse employees who like some things that others don’t! Otherwise certain work would never get done.
Many HR professionals beat themselves up because they feel their employer doesn’t offer enough compensation and related perks that enable them to reward employees as they’d like. The good news is that rewards are only half the equation. By getting better at recognizing and enhancing the rewarding aspects of working in your organization, you’ll have more to offer both existing and future employees. And, who knows? You may just discover that your job is more rewarding than you ever imagined.