Lessons in Leadership: Share the Rewards

Natural disasters, global recession, investment banks in the doghouse, financial pressure on businesses and individuals: the financial and business worlds have trudged through the last couple of years, dragging their employees with them.

Employees have been asked to “dig deep and work to get through this”, bearing the brunt of pay cuts, increased workloads and reduced working conditions.

Employees have mucked in when it counted so shareholders could sleep at night and the company could live to see another day.

These employees are not just your management team either. They are anyone with a point of contact in your business including cleaners, secretarial staff, support staff and suppliers.

How you treat people directly affects your standing in the market place, your employee value proposition and your shareholder value.

Last December Clive Palmer, a leading figure in Australian business, shared the rewards.  He gave all 750 long term workers at his Yabulu nickel refinery in North Queensland a luxury holiday for two to a resort in Fiji. His 50 most valued employees also scored a new Mercedes Benz. This was on top of a Christmas party for all staff costing an estimated $2million and featuring 20 performing artists.

Palmer was rewarding a remarkable turnaround, led by the production workers themselves. In July 2009, when he bought the plant from BHP, it was on the point of closure. By 2010 it is believed to be $200million “cash positive”.

Palmer is quoted as saying: “When we took over the plant we recognised that we didn’t know how to run the plant as well as the workforce. We let them go to do what they thought was best.”

In the words of the mining magnate:  “These people have made a lot of money for me this year, and I thought I’d give some of it back”.

There is however one overarching principle that must be applied to make this sort of gesture truly effective. The same acknowledgement and reward must be applied to all areas of a business that merit it. You cannot be selective as you run the risk of dividing your employees.

In summary, not only has Clive Palmer personally benefited from his employees’ input and hard work, he has wisely made sure they have been amply rewarded for their efforts.

I think the next time Palmer says “Can you jump?”, the question will genuinely be “How high?” from every worker at the plant.

Ask yourself today what would your employees do? If you are unsure of the answer, consider implementing a rewards program.

How can you share the rewards?

  • Avoid “capping bonuses”. If people have done their job and achieved more than expected, which you can measure on their KPIs, then your rewards program has done its job.
  • Bonuses should also reflect success and not become an automatic right. Ensure you are measuring performance and rewarding where due effort and achievement has been proven.
  • Acknowledge that to attract the best talent you sometimes need to pay a competitive salary.
  • Know the power of informal recognition of achievement – an impromptu visit to a desk in an open plan office to say “thanks and well done” has a multitude of benefits.
  • Occasionally – do the unexpected. You may not be able to afford to be as generous as Clive Palmer, but often it is the gesture that matters more than the magnitude.

I’d be interested to hear other great ways in which employers reward their people – what happens in your workplace? Share your ideas here.

Sue Morgan is a Director at Vantage Performance,  Australia’s leading business transformation and turnaround firm – solving complex problems for businesses experiencing major change.

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