Stop worrying about the top guns and incentivise your average employees

When riders fall off their horses during the Grand National, you often see the horses carry on the course. Without any instruction, without any structure, without a boss, they finish the course.

In this metaphor, those are your top-performing employees. The ones that week in, week out, do what they have to do to make their numbers. You don’t need to motivate them, you don’t need to coach them, you just need to support them.

A lot of businesses look at those top performers, and think “wow, they’re great…but what if they were better?” Which is a very normal train of thought, don’t worry, but it’s not always a very productive one.

High flyers don’t need you

If someone’s reliably performing, reward their efforts, recognise their work, and get out of their way. Squeezing the last drops of productivity out of an employee when they’re already doing well is more likely to tip them into burnout territory than create sustained performance improvements.

At the other end, your lowest performers aren’t going to respond to an incentive. They’re more likely to be demotivated and disengaged. In that state, it’s unlikely they’re going to respond to an incentive. Those employees need you to open the lines of communication about what’s going on, and how you can help.

Where you need to be directing your attention is to the middle of the pack, it’s where you have the greatest opportunity to improve. It’s where you have employees that are still motivated, have a better probability of being engaged, and are producing good work. They’re just not up there with the top performers.

They’re the most likely to have capacity for performance improvement without risking burnout. And they’re the least likely to respond to incentives with a negative mind-set. From a performance and culture perspective, it’s where your efforts should be.

Scheme design is key

Of course, this approach means you need to strike a balance. If you let your focus stay on pure number-driven KPIs like sales made, you’re just going to reward the people that naturally hit those metrics. So you need to get a bit more creative in how you motivate staff, and what kind of behaviours you attach to an incentive. That means getting outside the comfort zone of hard metrics.

We’ve written in the past about this subject with more in-depth guides, take a look here for the full write-up. Or, if you just want to talk about launching better incentive schemes, get in touch with us. The team is always happy to talk.