In too many companies where I have worked, coached or consulted senior leaders have been happy to recognize and reward success but were reluctant to reward or recognize effort. In most of them, leaders would say we pay people for their effort; we reward them for their success.

But if you wait for people to be successful before you reward and recognize them, then you can be waiting an awfully long time to reward success.

When it comes to driving success we need to change three things:

  • Behaviors
  • Technique
  • Attitude

and it all starts with behaviors.

Behaviors influence what we do on a daily basis, they are the habits that we fall into.

Aristotle says "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit".

Changing habits is not easy. It requires you to inspire your team, to show them how they could be successful, what success would look like, or giving them a sense of purpose. When you can do that, then you will be successful in getting them to try.

The challenge here is that the first few time people do things, especially new things, it doesn't always go as well as you would hope. This is why you have to recognize the effort, give positive feedback for trying.

In one company, I wanted to improve service levels, and the way I wanted to do that was to create simple service reports and use those to drive and monitor performance. The challenge was the team had never created these before, and when we did it, we found that not a single service was at the required level. The motivation to report you are doing a bad job is never high, so we rewarded the teams for at least creating the reports, for making them accurate.

What gets rewarded gets repeated, and we wanted the teams to repeat this effort.

Once we had changed the behavior, and had gotten people to start reporting monthly we could then focus on the technique aspects. Looking at providing training in the areas of underlying weakness, or problems. As we started to improve techniques we could see results improving almost immediately, this now gave us something else to reward and recognize.

We'd moved on from rewarding effort, to rewarding improvements and we were now raising the bar monthly.

When you have changed behaviors and developed techniques it always has an impact on performance, it often starts with small successes, but these can build over time which has an impact on people's attitudes.

Everyone wants to play for a winning team, and as teams start to have success, even more small success, they want more which helps to create a winning attitude, a culture of improvement.

With the client I worked at where we had zero services meeting the required level, within 2 years the team was operating at 99.7% of service levels achieved, additionally the team was constantly looking for ways to improve even further. Their desire to be successful overflowed into other areas and helped increase on-time delivery from 35 percent to 95 percent.

We now had a winning attitude, and all of this started because we rewarded effort.

You're teams need to be inspired and motivated, and you cannot wait until they are successful to start that process.

If you're team in underperforming start their transformation by recognizing their effort, and see how it impacts their behavior.