Total Rewards versus A Coke Machine
I recently Googled the term “total rewards”. The first thing that struck me was the top 6 sites were related to casino gambling. That might be a sign as to where we are headed with this discussion. I did locate the website of an organization who provided a thorough definition of the term, although it took many pages to describe. This brought me to Coke Machines.
In our experience dealing with hundreds of organizations, two of the most significant barriers to motivated, engaged employees are the issues of trust and complexity, and many times they are inter-related. I did not see either of those words mentioned in the Googled description.
Two other phrases for complexity may be – lack of understanding and/or misunderstanding. It really does not matter which – either are dangerous. I was called to Pennsylvania recently by a company who was having some real turmoil with their employees. It seems that many of the company’s quarterly postings regarding their bonuses (or lack thereof) were finding their way at night under the General Manager’s office door with interesting notes written on them about what he could do with the bonus. The situation was a classic case of complexity and misunderstanding breeding unrealistic expectations and disconnections between management and employees. All of which conspired to create a culture of distrust and distraction. Both of which equals significantly increased costs.
Any system that is utilized in an attempt to drive organizational performance must have the operating characteristics of a Coke Machine. That is… there must be something visible and tangible that employees really want. What he or she needs to do, to get what they want, must be very clear and straightforward. Ever stand in front of a machine and not be able to figure out where to put the money in? Most importantly is the issue of trust. Trust that if you invest in this effort (put your money in), and push the right button… the Coke comes out.
By the nature of this transaction, if the machine (the system) is too complicated, or you put your money in and the Coke did not come out – trust is shattered, and the effort becomes counter-productive. Trust is an extremely precious commodity and very difficult to regain once lost. Many, many, total rewards/performance based compensation systems fail this test. As I have mentioned before, some managers seem drawn to complexity at their own peril. Complexity and trust are inverse to one another.
Don’t get me wrong. The issue is complex, the challenges complex, the culture complex, and all the work that goes into a great system may be very complex. But, the resulting product can not be. It is analogous to the Thomas Jefferson quote in my previous posting. “I apologize for the length of my letter, I did not have time to write a short one”. We once described it to a client this way – when you give us 200 pages of data, we need to come back with practical, effective solutions, articulated in 5 pages. It is not easy, but clearly worth the time and effort.