Positive Reinforcement: Keeping your Team Motivated through Incentives

I am a reward-based dog trainer which means I teach a dog what to do and make that behaviour rewarding, so that they enjoy performing it and want to do it more. It’s a simple concept really: perform a certain action, receive something good, repeat behaviour. An educated dog trainer always focuses on this concept first. We may ignore an unwanted behaviour, or we may redirect, but should always be focused on teaching the dog what is expected of them, and rewarding them for it. This exact concept applies to our team. If a team member is not performing, I first need to ensure that I have taught them what is expected of them. If it is a performance issue, let’s first look at how we are rewarding our team, and we will discuss how to handle underperformers in another post.

1. Have a Structured Initiative Program
If you supervise a team, I highly recommend a structured incentive program. We work with dogs, so we give out wags whenever a team member goes above and beyond. Our management team has an outline of example tasks and/or initiatives a team member may complete, with a range of wags given for each. This ensures it is fair for all – that one manager is not over-compensating or that another manager is not giving out enough.

We track the number of wags given for each team member, and for what task. We keep these posted in an employee area so everyone can see how their team is doing. At the end of the month, one team member for our each location is awarded ‘The Biggest Wagger’ award. We reward this to one team member at the end of the year as well. Previously, we had them trade in their wags for whatever items they would like from a list of rewards. The rewards outlined how many wags were required, and they ranged from gift certificates, paid time off, store products or the option to donate to the pool for large team awards. We found that not everyone traded their items in, so now provide jackpot items throughout the year and the team earns paid time off for being the monthly or yearly biggest wagger.

2. The Timing of the Reward
As a dog trainer, you learn that timing is an integral part of the reward system. This also applies to your team. As soon as you witness a team member do something that you want to see more of, you must reward it immediately. A supervisor would acknowledge what they are recognizing and communicate the number of wags received immediately. If it is something they do not see in action, they reward as soon as they learn about it. As part of this, we are also implementing a process where we let the team know who the lead earner of wags is per week. This provides some more immediate feedback, and acknowledges a team member who may have had an outstanding week. We also encourage team members and clients to recommend each other for wags, which has created more collaboration and participation in the program.

3. Rewarding Excellence
We set the standard for care and training of dogs so focus on excellence. This means that we provide excellence for the entire customer experience. We also recognize that we need to acknowledge excellence in our team members. Our initiative program allows us to constantly be acknowledging and rewarding great behaviour, but we wanted to do more for exceptional performance.

We keep jackpot awards for these moments. We have a variety of items on hand that are not part of the rewards and give these as additional bonuses for excellence. We also do shout-outs of excellence on our employee page to recognize the team member. We may also jackpot reward in other ways. For example, recently we were short staffed and two team members came to work and gave it their all and were able to leave early. They were thrilled with being able to leave early, but we also told them it would be paid time off. It is a low cost way to show your team you truly value their commitment and hard work, and they were more deserving of this small token of appreciation. It allows regular gratitude for all the smaller things that result in large outcomes.

If the whole team is working hard, we may just do a pizza lunch or bring in a small treat. I have learned that humans are just as motivated by food rewards as dogs are! At other times, I’ve bought them all a gift certificate for a movie and dinner night out if they’ve been putting in long hours. It’s important you recognize every time they put in that extra effort to ensure your business runs well.

4. Do Not Over Reward
Do not reward every task and ensure you are rewarding when they show the initiative. We had a challenge where the manager had left a list of tasks and what wags would be earned for completion. This quickly devalued the wags and demotivated the team from putting in the extra effort when they could just complete tasks.

We also had another incident where a manager gave out 50 wags for a task that deserved recognition, but the 50 was far more than any we had ever gave out. This can be unfair to the other team, and you also need to ensure it does not show favouritism. It was an item we would see many more team members do, so should we be giving 50 wags out every time? This challenge helped us to create a clear guideline for how many wags/tasks, which has alleviated this problem.

6. Track Your Performance
And finally, a good initiative program measures the performance of yourself or others as a leader. If the team is not getting much for rewards, it is a sign that they are not providing them the positive feedback that is a crucial part of your team and your business success. And too many rewards can demotivate the team as well. They just come to expect them. So track your managers’ delivery of incentives. I have two locations, so I compare and it gives me some excellent feedback on the overall performance at each one.

If you do not have something structured in place, I highly recommend considering this. There are some great employee recognition programs that automate this entire process and help you build a culture of gratitude, recognition and rewards. Take a look at Kudos for one great option.  I consider this program to be one of the most important parts of our company culture and team building, and it has brought everyone closer. Your customers and your business will thank you for it!

Questions? Email me at megan@dogmatraining.com!