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Motivation - Are You Rewarding Poor Performance?
by Kreg Enderson

When we think about motivation, things like gift cards and trips come to mind. We reward team members for positive behavior by giving them things that they value. I would challenge this idea by asking leaders who they spend most of their time with, and how they delegate much of the daily work.

Let's say you are a front-line leader for a team of 10 people. Like most teams, you have 3 team members that are superstars, far exceeding performance goals. You have 5 team members that are average in every way, they never cause any issues and 'meet' expectations every month. And finally, you have 2 people on your team that are in the middle of every 'issue' you deal with. They come in late 2-3 times each month. Their performance often falls below the 'acceptable' level, and team members complain often about the behavior of these 2 problem team members.

One of the ways leaders reward team members is by spending time coaching and mentoring them. When we look at how we spend our day, specifically with those on our team, we find that most of our day is dedicated to improving performance of the bottom 2 team members. We create a success plan to improve performance and document our actions. We document attendance issues and address each situation according to the policies. All these things end up taking any available coaching time we have, and leaves the better performers to assume they are needed and valued.

When we fail to coach the middle performers, we often see one or more fall into the bottom level of performance or even leave the organization. And those top performers, they rarely stay there without seeing rewards and recognition for this performance. With little time to spare, it's just a matter of time before you are looking for a new superstar to replace the one that left. So we reward the poor performers by spending the majority of our time coaching them.

We also penalize top performers in another way. When we delegate tasks, we consider who can perform the task the best, with as little direction as possible. We don't want to add additional work onto poor performers since they are struggling already. So we load even more work on those that are performing well.

When we consider how this all impacts our best performers, we can see that what we are actually doing is rewarding poor performance by delegating less work and spending more time coaching them. And we punish our best performers by adding more work and spending little to no time with them coaching to improve even more.

So take a look at how you spend your time, and how you reward those around you. There is much more to motivation than just handing out gift cards and trips.

Kreg Enderson may be contacted at

Certified Coach, successful leader, and owner of the new leader training and mentoring site


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