Motivation in motion Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2009

There was a time when Memo Kahan believed that payday was the day that mattered most to employees.

“I used to be a guy who believed that getting your paycheck was all that there should be. You signed a deal or you get paid for doing a task,” says Kahan, the president and founder of PromoShop Inc., a promotions and marketing services company that generated $33 million in 2008 revenue.

But his management team thought otherwise and, eventually, made Kahan see the light.

“What our management team did was they tried to convince me that there was more to coming to work than a paycheck,” he says. “Fortunately, I was open-minded enough to try anything. Our management team put new programs in, and I found that the effect has been pretty amazing.”

Kahan’s realization has helped create a culture at PromoShop that is focused on employee motivation through competition and recognition.

Smart Business spoke with Kahan about how you can place an emphasis on motivation at your company.

Value recognition. Recognition doesn’t have to come in the form of tangible cash recognition, but it has to recognize that someone is going above and beyond in their job. It can be a letter, it can be a speech, it can be a pat on the back, but recognition is so important these days because we are all reading the paper too much and we are all so enthralled with layoffs and what is going on out there in the business climate. Your people need to be recognized and valued, not just because they get a paycheck, but let them know that they belong and are an integral piece of the operation.

We recognize our people in front of their peers. We are a sales organization, and we always have incentives for our salespeople, but sometimes we forget the operation is the backbone to our company. Without our operations people, our salespeople wouldn’t be able to sell anything. With that in mind, we have a program called the ‘five star.’ Anytime someone goes above or beyond, or does something that is not part of their day-to-day operation, we’ve set up a Web site where salespeople and fellow operations people can recognize their peers. On a monthly basis, we read out the employees that are recognized. Some people are recognized five or six times a month for doing things that are above or beyond their normal scope of work. On a quarterly basis, we name a five-star winner who was most recognized over the quarter, and we give two big awards on a yearly basis, as well.

Promote constructive competition. About six years ago, we did the first sales contest, which also included the operations team. The salespeople would always come in saying, ‘I’ve got an order.’ But then, during the contest, their behavior pattern would change, and they’d come in and say, ‘I’ve got a contest order.’ They’re making enough money that the gifts they could win in the contest are things they could buy anyway, but it is all about winning the contest, not making the money.

That taught me some amazing lessons, and these contests have evolved into quarterly contests and monthly competitions. It’s really powerful.

If you engage employees like this, you will become a believer, too. The investment of time, resources and money that you put into an endeavor like this is the best money you can spend.

However, implementing a program to reward and motivate employees is a little bit of trial and error, based on the culture throughout your company. Different people are motivated by different things. Through trial and error, sooner than later you will recognize people’s patterns and people’s desires and fears, which will help you round out whatever program you’re looking to implement.

Put the team first. Even when competing with each other, you need to instill as part of your culture that if your neighbor wins, we all win. We play as a team and we win as a team. If we win as a team, everyone’s successes really allow the company to foster a winning attitude and will foster more success.

I’ve worked in environments before where people locked their doors and hid their Rolodexes for fear that their neighbor would come in and steal their opportunities. Very early on, we decided that was something we would not tolerate in our organization. Besides the accounting door, we keep every office opened; nothing is ever locked. We truly believe that fosters a team spirit that is a means to success. We share information. We share situations, knowledge and experiences. Everyone in the company is willing to help their neighbor, even though everyone is going after the same audience. But there is enough to go around where, if you do it for the right reasons, it works really well. It’s not something that you necessarily preach; it’s something that you just have to do.

Open-mindedness on your part is the beginning of forming a team-first mentality. It’s a willingness to take criticism; it’s the understanding that we’re all on the same team and working toward the same means and ends. It’s the sharing of information and engaging of people. As leaders, we don’t have all the answers, and we don’t sit down and tell our people how it needs to be. We just express what our experiences have been.