Friday, September 3, 2010

Unexpected Rewards - Part II

So how should one use unexpected rewards? In my opinion there are four keys to the effective use of unexpected rewards: Caution, Value, Motive and Timing

Be cautious in using unexpected rewards. For example, if you have ever worked in a union environment you know what the term “past practice” means. I know of one situation where a dock supervisor “occasionally” brought in donuts for his crew. Eventually some knothead decided that donuts and a donut break should become a daily event. A grievance was filed and the union won. No good deed goes unpunished. The same principle often applies with kids and charitable organizations. Once you get on their list, that unexpected gift becomes a pledge.

Value. To be a reward it has to have some value to the receiver. My wife happens to be an avid golfer. If I surprised her with a golf vacation trip she would think it was great. If she did not play golf, it would not be so great. She knows that surprising me with tickets to the opera would be like offering me a free root canal. Make sure that the unexpected reward has real value to the recipient.

Motive is critical. It’s one thing to use unexpected rewards to acknowledge and express appreciation, even love, for others. It can strengthen relationships and build loyalty. Some might say it's manipulative, but if done honestly and in good faith and with no strings attached, unexpected rewards are a great way of just saying "Thank You". It’s another thing all together if unexpected rewards come with a balance due or as penance.
Sending your wife flowers before you tell her about the upcoming fishing trip with your buddies makes the gift about you, not about her. Sending her flowers after you’ve transgressed in some other way may be necessary, but it’s not an unexpected reward. (And depending upon the transgression, it may only make things worse. There’s flowers and there’s bling-bling. Don’t send flowers to do a bling-bling job. Just ask Kobe Bryant. And sometimes there's not even enough bling-bling to make it work. Just ask Tiger).

Timing is everything. It’s a delicate balance. Unexpected rewards must be random and infrequent, but they cannot be just a one time event. Timing is also an art not a science. You either have it or you don’t. I don’t have it and I know it. I am overly cautious and suspicious by nature, so I even have trouble accepting rewards, whether they are expected or unexpected. The same caution and suspicion get in the way of my giving unexpected rewards. Will the person expect me to keep giving? Is this the right reward, will they appreciate it? Will they question my motives? Is the timing right?

So I struggle with it. But at some point, one has to stop over-thinking it and end the debate. Just learning to say "Thank You" may be the first step.

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