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Finding the right incentive Featured

7:00pm EDT February 24, 2008

Once upon a time, people’s work was their life, and everything revolved around the job and the next task that needed to be done. You got up in the morning, went into the office at 9 and went home at 5 before getting up the next day to do it all over again.

Times have changed, however, says Lou Cardinale, and CEOs who don’t change, too, will find it tough to develop and maintain a healthy work environment.

“Work today is viewed differently,” says Cardinale, owner of Express Personnel Services in Parma, which posted 2006 revenue of $5.2 million. “In the older generation, work was the total focus of your life. For the younger generation, it’s important, but they want a life that is more balanced.”

Incentives can be an effective way to motivate your employees. The challenge for you as the leader is to figure out just what it is that your employees want and which incentives will be most effective at increasing their productivity.

“The biggest mistake that I believe companies make is they think the same thing motivates everybody,” Cardinale says. “In my experience, that isn’t the case. Some people like money, some like recognition, some like time off and some like trips.”

After struggling for the first five years he was in business, Cardinale set the goal for his company to earn an award for achieving excellence from its parent company, Express Services Inc.

After discussing the goals with his team, he posted a board in the office laying out what needed to be done to get the award and what could be achieved by each employee if these goals were met.

“I realized right then the power of sharing rewards with the team,” Cardinale says. “Everyone was focused on the same goal as a team. We’ve had those boards every year. Every week, we mark on the board what our progress is. I’m a visual person, and I think it always helps to keep the goal in front of you of what can happen and what goal you can attain.”

Communication is the key to getting a sense of what your employees want, especially when you have people on your payroll who come from different generations.

“I don’t care what age you are, every person wants to feel valued,” Cardinale says. “I seek advice from everybody in our group. Everybody has a talent they can contribute. A lot of times, the senior people have a lot more to bring to the table because they have seen a lot more in their life. It’s a nice blend.”

Sometimes, it’s not a bonus or trip that gives an employee a boost. Cardinale recalled a recent situation where he was trying to develop a large graph and chart for a presentation he had to make.

“I’m technically challenged,” he says. “My payroll person, she loves technology and challenges, and she says, ‘How about if I try it?’ I said, ‘Sure, great.’ She and other team members worked on it and created this spreadsheet. She felt fulfilled and valued because we all gave her recognition for doing a great job.”

The old adage that little things mean a lot also rings true in the workplace.

“A pat on the shoulder or a little note,” Cardinale says. “It doesn’t have to be a big thing. When we have a team meeting, I’ll recognize somebody who did something above and beyond the call. Try to do the compliment or the reward right after it happens.”

Talk to your people

Group meetings can be helpful in learning about your employees, but nothing beats a one-onone session in terms of generating useful dialogue, says Lou Cardinale.

This becomes especially important when trying to figure out what motivates your employees, says Cardinale, owner of Express Personnel Services in Parma.

“Some people are less vocal about what it is,” Cardinale says.

But the idea of motivating people is really more complex than just saying, ‘Do this and you’ll get this.’

“You really can’t motivate people,” Cardinale says. “They have to be motivated internally by themselves. By talking to them individually and seeing what motivates them, you find out what those motivators are for each person.

“If it’s something they really, really want, they are going to work harder for it. That’s the key. They have to buy in to it. If it’s something that they are lukewarm on, they’re not going to buy in to it as much as they will if it’s something where they are really excited.”

Since you, as the CEO, may not always have time for one-on-ones with your employees, it is critical that you train your managers and supervisors to maintain open lines of communication with the people who report to them.

HOW TO REACH: Express Personnel Services, (216) 459-2800 or parmaoh.expresspersonnel.com