Madison Performance Group

With all the talk of gamification these days it’s only fitting that the modern day employer/employee relationship has gained the same handle as one of the most popular computer games of all time.

Reid Hoffman (co-founder and Chairman of LinkedIn) who just penned the new book, “The Start Up of You” suggests that employee loyalty is a thing of the past and that employees should now look at jobs in short increments. “Tours of duty” is the term he uses.

Tongue-in-cheek pop culture references aside, Hoffman’s point is well taken especially among the younger generation. They switch jumps every two and a half years or so. Some millennials have already embraced the mindset that jobs are mere stepping stones on a greater career path. That way of thinking should be a wakeup call to employers everywhere.

There is no question that top talent will be at a premium in the near future. I’d argue that it already is. Even though net new monthly job creation hovers at the 200K mark, millions of positions go unfulfilled. Employers are being very selective in filling them. Frankly, they are targeting your top players. Leave those employees feeling unappreciated and they will start entertaining offers.

I’ve heard the new labor economy called a “free agent nation”. For employees who think like that (and many do) companies need to reinforce that they are valuable. They need to remind them why their present situation is the better option. Rewarding goals as they are achieved is one way to do that. Rewards will help your top people see how they fit in today, and remind them that their efforts will pay off over the long haul.  Rewards and recognition can take a tour of duty and turn it into a long career.

Are your sales people winning the battle for mind share with their busy prospects? Not likely. Several studies have confirmed that when sales people lose theydon’t lose on price. This is the issue they say they lose on, but the reality is more nuanced. Most lose because they fail to provide a level of value early and upfront during the client’s decision process at a level that exceeds the price they are asking for and that’s why they are perceived as too expensive.

Many sales people mistakenly believe that prospective clients care about what they have to offer. That’s not only self-centered—it’s way off the mark. The truth is that people care about their own problems. They are not interested in you until they feel that you are interested in them. The packaging, positioning and delivering of useful information and insight throughout the client’s buying process is the only way to earn the coveted role of trusted advisor—the person with whom prospects will want to do business. The person they trust to help them solve those critical business issues that they care about.

So how can you help your reps achieve this? It’s simple when you have the most configurable sales incentive software in the business. Program planners can set objectives that reinforce value-driven behaviors throughout the prospecting, discovery, detailing and presentation stages of any sales cycle. That built in flexibility helps their sales ops sponsors reinforce selling behaviors that drive results.

The flexibility doesn’t stop there. The goals can be tied to specific data driven results or they can be based on a manager’s or even a client’s observation. Either way, you will be promoting the types of activities that generate trust and credibility with prospects—activities that build trust, shorten sales cycles and increase close rates.

Want to increase the value of your entire sales organization? Do what the smart companies do. They follow a “portfolio management” approach to developing their sales talent. By that I mean they take proactive steps to make everyone a better performer.

What’s the secret to moving the needle for everyone on your sales force? The most progressive firms design their sales contest so they put as much emphasis on improving the contributions of “core” performers (the mighty middle) as they do rewarding “A” level players.

Who’s the mighty middle? It’s the majority of your sales people, who in the aggregate, contribute the bulk of revenue. Some sales executives ignore them. They firmly believe there is no second place in the highly competitive arena of sales and their reward scenarios reflect that.

That paradigm needs to be reexamined. My logic is simple here: the number of “average performers” by definition represents the bulk of your sales force. If you want to grow revenues you must include and address this group in your sales incentive contests.

Too many sales programs are geared exclusively toward the upper 15 or 20% echelon of the company. While it’s never a bad idea to treat these top players special, it’s bad business to ignore core contributors.

With Madison’s configurable technology you can rethink that typical “winner takes all” prize structure and enhance it with attainable “tiers” that create multiple “step-up” opportunities for everyone—thresholds that will inspire average performers to improve one step at a time. By setting and resetting goals based on previous achievements—something made simple with our system—you can encourage incremental growth across the entire sales force.

Do this and you can focus each and every rep on behaviors and outcomes that are both meaningful and attainable—the formula for growing everyone within your sales force.

Can a big company learn something from a smaller firm? When it comes to engaging employees a new study would suggest so.

According to a recent paper, small businesses are doing a lot of things right in the area of employee motivation—36% of employees at smaller firms say they are fully engaged vs. only 29% at the larger ones. As far as disengaged workers go, smaller businesses have less of those as well: 18% vs. 26% at big companies.

So what’s to learn from these findings? Maybe bigger companies should consider how smaller firms manage and encourage workers and how the autonomy workers often feel in smaller business environments can be duplicated in the bigger ones.

In both situations, employees who put themselves in the “engaged” category make it a point to say they are given the support, help and encouragement they need; that they are trusted to do their jobs; and that their managers give them ample feedback.

All of that makes sense, but here’s the kicker. While their managers hold them responsible, of course, they spend more time encouraging them vs. overseeing their every move. In other words, they are not controlled or micromanaged. They are encouraged, coached, rewarded and appreciated.  That sense of purpose and independence inspires them.

When there are less people working at a company you might think that they are more closely watched and supervised. The opposite is actually true and the difference between the way small business leaders manage and the way some bigger companies do so can be the difference between employees feeling engaged, enthusiastic, empowered and inspired—or not.

So if you’re at a big company and you struggle with anemic engagement scores, consider learning something from your smaller competitors.  Employees do their best when they feel autonomous and appreciated—two inspiring things that can be instilled with your rewards program.

Employee loyalty—measured in the context of worker retention—is becoming a bigger and bigger issue for businesses. Companies looking to grow (and what firm isn’t) need to retain and nurture top talent if they are going to have the bench strength and bandwidth to expand and prosper.

Many businesses have shot themselves in the foot over the years. Layoffs followed by additional workloads heaped upon the employees left behind have made many workers question the value of their long-term commitment. Add in the demonstrated tendency of younger workers to leave employers at the drop of a hat and you see that the concept of worker loyalty has all but vanished.

The question for employers now is how can they reverse that mindset? And what tools can they use to facilitate the shift?

A recent post in the Harvard Business Review suggests that, “the answer is for managers and employees to treat each other as allies: independent and autonomous players who voluntarily come together to work towards mutually agreed upon goals.” That’s a powerful aspiration and one that’s made more probable and powerful when rewards are involved.

Managers who reward employees frequently and who use recognition as a currency are more than twice as likely to get early buy-in and foster firmer alignment on projects than those who don’t. They get a higher percentage of discretionary effort from their workers—even those with a lot on their plates. And here’s the real payoff —they build more worker loyalty toward the company and its mission and vision.  In essence, reward and recognition programs can stem the tide of early departures. They can complement the long term career thinking of both employees and the companies they work for.