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Is It Better to Reward Effort or Value?

Reward Value

Navigate finds that people are often rewarded by how busy they are, rather than how productive they are.

I was recently working with a company and the president said, “I want people who put in lots of effort.” I asked him to define that.

“I want them working from seven in the morning until ten at night,” he said.

I asked him whether he would know if they accomplished anything valuable. “Well,” he replied, “At least I’d know they were busy giving the effort.”

Given that this company president was measuring and rewarding his employees on looking busy, I more fully understood why he had lots of busy-looking employees working lots of hours (with hourly employees billing overtime and salaried people ending up over-used and under-compensated).

But they weren’t creating much productive value and had actually introduced a lot of chaos and waste into their systems in order to maintain their “busy” status. When I asked the employees what they spent most of their time on, they replied, “Redos and tasks that make us look busy.”


We often reward people based on what’s easiest to measure — not always on what is most important to measure.


Here was a demoralized company that did not reward value. People felt that they weren’t appreciated and didn’t have a say in how to improve things. And the metrics and rewards system wasn’t in alignment with the results the company needed or desired.

Sometimes, management confuses motion (activity) with progress. Here in the U.S., at least, some companies have made this mistake and created a nightmare. We often reward people based on what’s easiest to measure — not always on what is most important to measure.

Figuring out what is most important to measure and starting to reward value is key to maximizing a company’s most valuable resources.

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