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Written by The Mezzanine Group
on July 07, 2008

For the summer my daughter plays soccer every Thursday evening in a league for four year olds. I use the term ‘play' very loosely since it is more or less my husband and I watching her do everything BUT play soccer. This tends to include dancing, picking dandelions, waving to us, and cloud gazing, amongst a host of other activities that always tends to allude the actual sport of playing soccer. Well last night my husband had tried our usual tactics and pep talks to motivate her: likening soccer and the field to her dancing and performing on stage in the recital (which she loved); encouraging words on how she knows how to kick the ball so let's show everyone; etc... Yet this same approach we had used week over week produced the same disappointing results - more cloud gazing and skipping on the field. Finally he reached his tipping point and said "Look Ayanna, every time you touch the ball with your foot you get one chip. For every goal you score, you get a piece of chocolate." and then sent her back onto the field. That's when the transformation happened - our 4 yr old self proclaimed dancer turned into a pint sized soccer phenom, Pele, for some chips and chocolate. As she dribbled the ball up and down the field the other parents were astonished "what did you say to her?" they asked but quickly started cheering her name "AYANNA! AYANNA!" No longer were we the pariahs of the soccer field. Twenty chips later, in our kitchen, Ayanna was enjoying the fruits of her labour.

Apparently, all we needed to do 5 weeks ago, when soccer season started, was figure out what motivated our little ‘soccer star in training' and keep it front and center for her. I know, I know, I've already provided my husband with feedback on the long term strategy of chips and chocolate for soccer, but I think the application on the business front is an important one for us to consider. The simple lesson about matching compensation to things that an employee values is seldom put into practice effectively in companies.

So I ask you, "Do you know what motivates your best employees?"

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