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How to Keep the Spark Alive: Long-Term Pay-For-Performance Success
By Charles DeBettignies, Ph.D.

How do you keep the spark alive in a Gainsharing System or other pay-for-performance program? That's a question that I've been asked many times over the years.

A client recently sent me that question after they paid a record Gainsharing bonus. He said his employees had "really embraced the Gainsharing concept" and wanted to be sure that they maintained the high level of "buy in" they've achieved.

So how do we keep the "spark" alive?

When we say we want people to get more involved, the question that occurs to me is "Involved in what?" Well, doing their jobs (of course). But also getting involved in the challenges of the business and all of the things the business is trying to achieve (growth, giving customers what they want, etc.)

The key to getting peoples' involvement and keeping that involvement over time comes from being direct about:
(1) their goals and the goals of the company, 
(2) how they are doing in terms of those goals,
(3) problems we are having,
(4) solutions to those problems, and
(5) how we are progressing from where we are to where we need to be.

People want direct, useful information. They want leaders to lead, in a confident, straightforward manner.

People know what the problems are. They live with the problems. They want to see that management sees the problems too and has a plan to do something about them. When they see that management is following through with action to eliminate the problems, credibility begins to accumulate.

Keep them in the fight
People will "stay with" management emotionally, and stay "in the fight" for a long time when they see followthrough and progress made toward the goals.

Hourly production goals (for example expected production in an area by hour) and performance against these goals, are an excellent way to "get into" this type of data and performance analysis.

Lean Manufacturing
Many companies using Lean Manufacturing, use a technique called "By the day, By the hour". The scheduled production for the day is broken down to the hourly performance necessary to achieve the production for the day. I'm a strong advocate of posting these type of hourly goals and performance against those goals right in the production area so every employee can see where they should be versus where they really are.

If we don't give people this information, how can they know? How do we expect them to hit their goals for the week, etc. when they don't know where they are (versus the goals) at any given time during the week. If they don't know, it's our (management's) fault.

This type of data is critical to problem solving and provides the straightforward information people need to stay on track with their goals. Without "in their face" feedback, things lose momentum.

The "buy-in," and positive momentum comes from seeing management "walk the talk" in terms of setting the goals and following through. This makes believers. When people finally get a few bonuses, the forward momentum is solidified.

Connecting to the Plan
People need management to "connect the dots" for them. What's the plan? And how are we going to get there?

In the beginning, you (management) know your plan, can see what you want to do, and how you're going to do it. Once you're underway, providing feedback, and followthrough, EMPLOYEES SEE IT TOO. This is how you get their involvement or buy in.

This is the hard thing about "vision" in a company. First it exists in the mind of an individual. We have to forcefully "get it out there!" Out into the open and the minds of the whole workforce.

Sun Tzu, in "The Art of War", says that "He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks."

So, how do we keep the spark alive?

Management must show the people:
(1) where we are,
(2) where we need to be,
(3) how we are going to get there,
(4) that Management sees the problems (that the people also see), and
(5) that they are following through with plans to fix the problems.

When we do these things, the spark stays alive . . . and we keep moving forward.

This process can be very rewarding, but the greatest reward come from having a focused, effective, competitive business - with employees whose pay is tied to and driven by their own excellent performance.


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