Should we reward outcome or effort?

I’m a huge believer in results. When I test, my results orientation is off the charts! So, naturally, I’ve always believed you should reward outcomes/results. The world is filled with folks who put in the effort, but in the end, can’t close the deal, was how I’ve thought about it.

Over the past few years, I’ve softened a bit on this. I still love and want results, but I started to believe that obtaining success isn’t about failure, but small successful efforts that lead to success. I was reminded about this recently when I overheard a story.

The story was being told by a parent who was watching his son’s youth soccer match. A boy on his son’s team scored a goal and all of the kids and parents were cheering, but this father noticed that the boy’s dad who scored was not cheering. “Oh, boy,” he thought, “another crazy sport’s parent, never satisfied with what their kids do…”

After the match, this guy really wanted to talk to the Dad, to tell him what he was doing was wrong, and eventually was going to push this kid to hate sports. So, he waited around looking for the perfect time, when the boy walked up to his dad and the dad asked him, “how did you score that goal?” The boy thought a minute and walked through the play, how he got the ball from the opponent, how he ran really fast to get in front of the opponent, and then went as fast as he could dribbling the ball down to the other end, and kicked the ball past the goalie.

The boy’s dad said, “so, you gave great effort, to get that goal?” Yes, said the boy. The dad congratulated the boy’s efforts. “That was a tremendous effort you gave that led to that goal”, said the dad.

The other father stood there listening, now more than ever wanting to talk to the dad to apologize for thinking he was such a jerk. So, he went up and told him what he was about to do, but glad he stopped himself to overhear his conversation with his son. “Well, he will never be able to guarantee the outcome in sports, but he can always guarantee his efforts”, said the boy’s dad.

In the business world, it’s really about both effort and outcome.

My business is recruiting. We reward “outcome” all the time. Did you actually find and hire the person for this job? Pretty black and white!

But, the reality of recruiting is so often the recruiter has very little to do with the outcome. Yes, they have to find a candidate, but ultimately you have a hiring manager who has some say, you have a candidate who has some say, you have others who have input to the final say. So, only rewarding for an outcome they don’t necessarily control, seems like we are missing a piece.

I often see great effort put in by the recruiters I work with to find and uncover talent, to talk that talent into interviewing and getting them interested in the job, the hiring manager, and the organization. The entire process can be measured and viewed in bursts of effort.

It’s one of the biggest failures most recruiting departments, agencies, RPO’s, etc. do in recruiting. We only reward outcomes and not efforts.

I advise people all the time if you want more employee referrals, stop rewarding the final outcome, and start rewarding all the small efforts that lead to an employee referral getting hired. Reward an employee for just giving you a name and contact information, reward the employee when that referral comes in to interview, reward that employee when that candidate they referred show up on the first day of work, etc. Most of us only reward our employees when the referral has stayed on working for us for 90 days or six months.

The problem is, the employee has so very little to do with that referral getting hired, the outcome. They have plenty they can do to help lead a referral down the path to the outcome, the efforts!

There’s a time and place for outcome rewards. Ultimately in business, we need outcomes to be successful. That is just a fact of life. But, if you believe in your process, your training, your tools, etc. Rewarding efforts can lead to awesome, sustainable results, that can be very rewarding to those grinding it out every day.

2 thoughts on “Should we reward outcome or effort?

  1. As someone who does this for a living and has for 30+ years – rewarding outcomes ONLY is the bain of my existence. Way too many Type A execs think the only yardstick is the actual goal achievement. It is the cause of so many unintended consequences.

    I have probably posted more on this issue than any on my blog.

    Rewarding outcomes communicates the process is irrelevant and anything that gets the result is the right thing to do. Espeically when the reward far outweighs the effort (and morality) of the work. Wall Streeters will sell out their grandmothers for another $50 million dollar week.

    The truth is the process determines results not vice versa.

    The best design provides goal-based behavior incentives that are known to lead to results that then are recognized.

    Incentive and recognition are different sides to similar coins but not interchangeable (as most 98.3% of managers think.)

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