REWARDS – What Do I Get?

In our serialisation of my book “Punk Rock People Management”, we continue with a piece about the vexed HR question of Rewards and Recognition.  Punk Rock Events are available on a worldwide basis based on a heady mix of HR strategy and on the ground practice, contrasting the good, bad and ugly of HR.

Classical HR says you use an unemotional set of exchange tokens to get performance from people.  Simply stated, we’re talking money, money, money.  Had HR studied their social science theory more carefully, they would uncover the truth about rewards and recognition.

Ain’t no mountain high enough?

Maslow offered us his hierarchy of needs.  He said that rewards and recognition should take account of ‘where people are at’, rather than attempting to apply a ‘one size fits all’ approach.  Critics of Maslow point out that his hierarchy is too simple, and that he never dealt with money in his study.  Having travelled widely, one can sometimes see examples of the inverted Maslow triangle with people placing more value on a widescreen TV than having shoes on their feet.  Nonetheless, Maslow’s principle remains a good one if you want a rough guide as to where people are at in their cycle of needs.

A classic case of getting Maslow’s triangle wrong occurred when a subsidiary of the Munich Reinsurance group rewarded its top executives by giving them an evening in a brothel.  This was completely inappropriate, crass and also divisive, as women were excluded.

  Maslow would have advised that senior people are motivated by self-actualisation rather than “basic instincts”.  Worse still, someone blew the whistle and their dirty secret was exposed for all to scrutinise.  Hopefully, the HR department will suggest a visit to a monastery next time, to compensate for their “premature evaluation” of the reward options and consider their values through reflective practice.

Can’t get no?

“Money don’t satisfy but it sho’ ‘nuff pays for the search” – wise words from Prince, based on the wiser research of Frederick Herzberg on the so-called ‘satisfiers’ and ‘dissatisfiers’.  Basically, the things that produce long term satisfaction differ from those that are required just to prevent dissatisfaction.  Money is a dissatisfier – double people’s salary and they don’t necessarily work twice as hard for twice as long.  First direct, an online banking subsidiary of HSBC understands this very well, as do Virgin.

More recently, the US HR guru Daniel Pink came out with the insight that, if you reward behaviour, you get more of that behaviour, especially where profit meets purpose.  More surprisingly, he said that if you punish behaviour you get less of that behaviour.  We only have to look at the risk-taking of banks to generally agree with Pink’s first point, but the second is not always as obvious as the headline would suggest.  A study of child psychology would point out that punishment for some kids acknowledges bad behaviour.  If you really want to change a child’s behaviour, then you must ‘extinguish’ the behaviour by ignoring it and making sure that the child gets no social approval from others in their circle.  Adults are just big kids in many respects …  So, sometimes, punishments are wrong because they perversely reward the perpetrator.  The wise leader always looks at the individual circumstances.

Punk Rock People Management offers us three chords on rewards:

  1. Pay people well enough, but don’t just focus on pay as the reward for work.  This reinforces the conversation about “What do I get?”
  2. As far as possible, match rewards to where people are in terms of their hierarchy of needs.
  3. Don’t always assume that a carrot and stick approach to life is right.

I am presently engaged in writing the sequel, entitled “The Great HR Swindle”.  You might like to join me in writing the text for these in a global crowdsourced collaboration for reforming the HR paradigm for good …


Peter Cook
Peter Cook
PETER leads Human Dynamics, offering Business and Organisation Development. He also delivers keynotes around the world that blend business intelligence with parallel lessons from music via The Academy of Rock. Author of and contributor to twelve books on business leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham, and Harvey Goldsmith CBE. His blends his three passions are science, business, and music into unique inspiring keynotes based on the art of storytelling. His early life involved leading innovation teams for 18 years to develop life-saving drugs including the first treatments for HIV/AIDS, Herpes and the development of Human Insulin. 18 years in academia teaching MBAs and 18 + years running his businesses. All his life since the age of four playing music. Peter won a prize for his work from Sir Richard Branson after his mother claimed he was a Virgin birth. He now writes for

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