Want Your Employees to Be High Performers? Tie Goals to Rewards Like Extra Days Off or Cold Hard Cash. Follow these tips to align rewards with goals to achieve high performance.

By Kerry Alison Wekelo

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How many times have you felt as though your manager was talking to you about your goals just to check off a box that required a performance review? In many cases, the employee review is a last-minute dreaded task for all involved, even when goals are tied to raises and bonuses.

Related: Stop! You're Demoralizing Employees With Reviews! And Frequency Isn't the Reason.

But, goal setting doesn't have to be an energy-draining duty. It can actually provide a way for leaders to cultivate inspiration, which can make all the difference for both your team and your firm. The key is to spend time with individual team members creating meaningful and achievable goals aligned with the areas in which each member excels and is most interested. You can then work with each person to create a plan that will align her personal goals with the firm's goals while ensuring that her responsibilities remain connected with her areas of expertise and interest.

Start with setting annual firm-wide goals. These goals provide a foundation that team members can link their own goals to, creating a win-win situation where individual goals motivate your employees and help move your company forward. At Actualize Consulting, for example, we streamlined the process by structuring it around the 3P's we were already using to guide firm-wide performance -- our People, Projects and Profitability. Setting firm-wide goals in each of these areas provided a laser focus for all of our firm's initiatives. For instance, Projects goals are around client growth and providing excellent customer satisfaction. Now, our team members can choose how they can help achieve our overall goals by creating their own goals for each of the 3P's. Given that our people are our best asset, we have developed the 3A's as a subset of the first P (People) to help foster inspiration in goal setting:

  1. Accountability: Each party takes honest accountability in helping the firm grow.
  2. Acumen: Each person decides how they will hone their skills to strengthen and grow personally.
  3. Aspiration: Each person sets career goals based on what is of most interest to them and excites them at a personal level.

Related: Employee Feedback Is Only Effective If It's Done Right. Here's How to Make Sure It Lands.

Rewarding for performance

Although much of the success in meeting individual goals is up to each employee, the organization also plays an important role. Managers need to support their employees in setting inspirational goals, and the organization needs to reward employees for work well done toward those goals. Following are some ways to provide appropriate and effective rewards:

Tenure awards: Give employees an award for reaching a designated number of years of service. Examples include monetary awards, gifts, additional vacation time or other creative rewards. Employees want -- and deserve -- to be valued for their loyalty to your firm.

Recognition program: Implement a way for peers to recognize each other. For example, a "star player" award allows employees to nominate their peers by providing management with information on why the person should be recognized. The rewards can be monetary or prize based, depending on what works best for your firm. Written kudos are another way everyone in the firm can highlight excellent performance, though companies like Globoforce and Achievers make it easy to do with the touch of a button.

Related: To Motivate Your Employees, Give Honest Feedback

Performance bonuses: Provide monetary rewards based on annual or biannual (or other appropriate frequency) performance reviews.

Profit sharing or stock options: Give employees monetary payouts based on company profits and/or ownership via stock options. The National Bureau of Economic Research studied companies using employee profit sharing programs and found that these plans can and will work. These incentives provide extra motivation for employees to support the success of the company both in and beyond their own job roles.

Sales and referral incentives: Provide monetary payouts as reward for bringing in new work or referring strong candidates who are then hired by the firm. These programs can save you time and money. According to Glassdoor, referrals can increase the chance of a successful match somewhere from 2.6 and 6.6 percent. But, it also helps build a culture of shared growth and connection.

Work toward a shared mission: At Actualize, we take our mission of focusing on our people and our client service and infuse it into all our discussions. We celebrate our people and client successes.

Related: 3 Steps to Help Employees Understand Your Objectives and Expectations

Finding a system that works

Many people sigh at the mention of setting goals, but leaders can turn goal setting into a rewarding experience by focusing on personal accountability, acumen and aspiration aligned with corporate goals. Goals should not be boring or tedious requirements; they should be interesting, important to the employee and even a stretch or an adventure for them.

For goals to be effective, leaders should make sure that meaningful performance reviews are held on a regular basis. At Actualize, we encourage our team members to track progress in much the same way they would for a status report, and review their accomplishments monthly with their supervisor to enable a smooth review process. Then, when performance review time rolls around, employees don't have to worry about remembering all they have accomplished in the review period. Implementing a generous reward system that names and acknowledges work well will bring the goals full circle.
Kerry Alison Wekelo

Managing Director of HR and Operations at Actualize Consulting

Kerry Alison Wekelo is managing director of human resources and operations for Actualize Consulting. She also is author of Culture Infusion, a yoga teacher, life coach, award-winning author of children’s books and the founder of Zendoway, a company that encourages holistic wellness.

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