A toothbrush and a pat on the back!

THE EVIDENCE IS OVERWHELMING, says LeaderShape Faculty Member, Duncan Enright,  that financial incentives have only extremely limited value in driving motivation towards corporate goals. Most goals worth aiming for are not easily described as just an amalgamation of specific measurable targets.  People are generally motivated by personal fulfilment; financial reward is more important as a sign of success and approval, than as a driver of required behaviour (behaviour can’t be “driven”).

Salary is a hygiene factor, a potential demotivator if too low (as it breeds low esteem) but rarely a motivator. I have seen in my career many examples of people unhappy or anxious about pay as a proxy for status (for example when finding out others earn more for what is perceived as the same or less work) than I have seen successful bonus or salary schemes.

I’d go so far as to say I have never seen a good bonus scheme!

Fairness between staff, sharing and celebrating success and an accepted, but also fair differential between top and bottom pay, count for far more than ideas of incentive.

In my first job as a door-to-door salesman for a carpet cleaning company, I can still remember one week winning the best sales award: a toothbrush and a pat on the back from the company owner! I can’t remember being inspired by the rather complex and arbitrary salary arrangements at the big companies I worked with subsequently, though I do recall that as a staff member and as a manager they were a source of annual stress, misery and demotivation.


Duncan Enright  has been a senior director with over 25 years experience in the publishing industry, as well as a decade as a Vice Chair and Non-Executive Director of an NHS Trust.


Read our case study showing how LeaderShape helped one company change its corporate culture,  opening up communication, empowering individuals to take initiative and decisions,  supporting individuals in their development and enabling people to maximise their potential.

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