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A Vital Leadership Question: "What Does Our Organization REALLY Reward?"

PERMISSION TO REPUBLISH: This article may be republished in newsletters and on web sites provided attribution is provided to the author, and it appears with the included copyright, resource box and live web site link. Email notice of intent to publish is appreciated but not required: mail to:

Word count: 900

Boost Your Leadership Skills Simply By Answering The Question, "What Does Our Organization Really Reward?"
By Brent Filson

The difference between leaders is ears. Good leaders not only ask good questions, but they actually listen to the answers.

Ask people in your organization: "What does our organization REALLY reward?" Listening to the answer may help you achieve marked increased in results.

Rewards and punishments make up the drive shaft of any organization. But my experience of working with thousands of leaders during the past 23 years reveals that most of their organizations reward the wrong things.

Such organizations may pay lip service to rewarding people for what is viewed as the right things: getting results, getting the right results, getting the right results in the right ways. But what they may really reward, often in terms of promotions and job perks, are such things as the care and feeding of top leaders' egos, political conniving, tyrannical leadership ....

Here is a way to transform wrong rewards into right results.

(1) Ask people in your organization what your organization REALLY rewards. The answers may surprise you. But don't get caught up in those answers. Don't make value judgments. At this stage, you are just an observer. Simply compile the list.

(2) Gauge each item on the list against results your organization really needs. Does it help get results? Does it detract from results?

Do it this way: Pick out a single item from your list. Describe the problem in the item and identify who controls its solution. Execute a "stop-start-continue" process. What reward do you stop, what do you start, and what do you continue?

You'll get results, but don't expect overnight success. Not only are many of these wrong rewards ingrained habits but changing them seldom achieves quick results. Still, keep asking, What does my organization really reward? In the long run, when tackling the challenges that comes with listening to the answers, you'll be getting more results as well as sharpening your leadership skills.

(3) Ask, "What does your leadership really reward?" When your leadership rewards the wrong things, you're getting a fraction of the results you're capable of. However, since we see the faults of others more clearly than our own, it may be more difficult identifying and dealing with your own issues rather than your organization's.

Do a 360 degree assessment. Select a single item from the list and apply the start-stop-continue process. Don't simply eliminate the item. Such items can be grist for the results mill. Identify the problem in the item then have the solution be a tool that gets results.

Guaranteed you will get results. After all, you are eliminating a negative aspect of your leadership and replacing it with a results-producing one. When you make this a long term endeavor going from item to item results will come to you in new and often unexpected ways.

(4) Encourage the people you lead to question the rewards aspects of their own leadership. Be aware of their reactions to your encouragement. Do they see the questioning as meaningful to their jobs? Do they want their colleagues involved in such questioning? Do they want to have senior management question their own leadership?

If people want the questioning to be a regular part of their daily work, continue it. If they feel it has little value, call a time out. After all, if people believe they are powerless to change things in the organization, seismic questions like this will only frustrate and anger them, creating a hot house environment for cynicism to flower.

As you go forward:

--Cultivate among the people a common, self-reinforcing fervor for the questioning. Don't force things. Be an observer and a supporter. Observe their reactions to the questioning and support their efforts to make it succeed.

--Encourage the development of networks of people taking the initiative to engage in the questioning together.

--Now and then, and especially in the beginning, set aside special times and places to have them focus exclusively on such questioning, making sure they continually link the answers to getting increases in results.

--Keep that linkage alive. This is not an academic exercise. It's not meant to simply have people feel good or, on the other hand, vent their frustrations. It's sole objective is to get MEASURABLE INCREASES IN RESULTS. If results are not forthcoming, have people refocus on the need for the questioning; and if you still are not receiving results, curtail or even eliminate it for awhile. You can always reactivate it when the time and the environment are more conducive to having it succeed.

--Avoid having the process deteriorate into name calling and finger pointing. The idea is not to use the questioning to get the goods on people or as a platform for emotional outbursts against the organization but instead for what it is meant to be, a powerful tool to get more results continually.

Mind you, people shouldn't be spending inordinate amounts of time on the questioning. Nor should it be seen as a major, discrete effort, like an operations or marketing program. Just the opposite: It should be a natural part of everybody's leadership activities. Constantly asking, Are we rewarding the right things? should eventually come as second nature.

2006 The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author: The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. and for more than 20 years has been helping leaders of top companies worldwide get audacious results. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get a free white paper: "49 Ways To Turn Action Into Results," at

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