Guest Column - September/October 2008

Show Me the Trophy (Value)

By Jimmy Beyer


ll three of my children are adults and have long ago moved out. That's a good thing. My wife and I survived the terrible twos, all the drama of the teen years and hopefully will soon have all of the college bills behind us.

As I think back over these past 27 years of child rearing, some of my fondest memories are the organized sporting activities during the early years. There was T-ball and coaches pitch. There was soccer and the swim team. It was a nice social activity for the adults, but this was serious stuff for that 6-year-old. It's hard hitting the ball off of a tee. The best thing was the end of the season. There was a pizza party and you got a trophy. It didn't matter that every game ended in a "tie." You got a trophy—something that said the child had survived the grueling season of weekday afternoon practices and games on Saturday. Something that said "look at me, I've got a trophy." Swim team was even better. If you did well at the swim meet you got a ribbon, then at the end of the season you had a pizza party and got a trophy. There is nothing better for a small child than pizza and a trophy.

Children don't stay small forever. As they grew the trophies became larger and the number of winners smaller. In junior high and high school the sports were more organized. The competition was for team glory with just a small chance of winning an individual reward. To those who won those awards it was a big deal.

This quest continues for those who are lucky and talented enough to go on and compete in athletics in college and for some, the pros. The ultimate goal is always the same, to win that trophy. You can be a very successful competitor, and make a lot of money in the pros, but if you never win the trophy something is lacking. Just think of Charles Barkley—is that why he is so bitter? He had a great NBA career, but it never led to a championship trophy.

The business world is much like organized sports. We all play on a team that competes against, and hopefully beats, another team. It doesn't matter what business you're in. It could be sales, manufacturing, the service industry or whatever; you compete to win every day. You compete to beat the other guy. When the season is over, somebody wins and somebody loses. Just because this isn't organized sports doesn't mean there shouldn't be a trophy. There is a reason the Super Bowl MVP gets a trophy: It is a symbol of an accomplishment. Our business victories, while not as dramatic as the Super Bowl, are still victories and there needs to be a symbol of that accomplishment.

Before I go any further, let's talk about cash. A cash bonus is not a symbol of accomplishment.

I know that if you ask all of your employees what they would like as an incentive, the answer will almost always be a unanimous "cash." This is one time you shouldn't listen to your employees. Time after time, study after study has proved that cash isn't the best motivator. Trophies (as in merchandise or travel) are.

Think about it this way: You give your top performer $500 for an outstanding quarter. Where does that money go? It pays for groceries or gas or is sent to a credit card company. Ask that same employee three months later where the $500 went, and most will not be able to tell you.

When that employee makes a purchase with that $500 it is something he bought, not something that was given to him for a job well done. Take that same $500 and buy the employee a nice watch, some jewelry or a digital SLR camera and it becomes a trophy. It is something that can be shown proudly, a special reward from the employer that says "thanks for a job well done, you are a winner." This trophy serves as a symbol of the achievement long after the cash reward is gone.