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Incentives and Rewards: Lazy or Excellent Management?

Updated: Dec 17, 2023


Beyond Incentives and Rewards

The traditional reliance on incentives and rewards often falls short in truly fostering a culture of safety and excellence. Drawing insights from various sources, including a notable 1993 HBR article by L. Dennis Kozlowski, we understand that while incentives can drive behavior, they may not always cultivate the right kind.


The Limitations of Incentives

Incentives are commonly used as a straightforward approach to encourage certain behaviors. However, in the complex and high-risk oil and gas environment, they may not always lead to the desired outcomes. For instance, incentives aimed at increasing employee engagement or participation in safety programs can sometimes attract participation for the wrong reasons, turning safety initiatives into mere 'box-ticking' exercises.


The Essence of Employee Engagement

True excellence in an organization, especially in a high-stakes industry like oil and gas, is not about what we have to do to prompt desirable behavior. It's about creating an environment where each individual is intrinsically motivated to go above and beyond the basic requirements. This means understanding why an employee might be hesitant to volunteer or offer improvement suggestions and addressing these underlying issues.


The Role of Rewards

Rewards can be effective when they genuinely reinforce desirable behaviors that contribute to results. Timely, unexpected recognition, and direct feedback from leaders can be more impactful than generic reward programs. However, caution is advised. Recognition in public, for instance, can be a double-edged sword, as what motivates one might embarrass another.


Inspiring and Coaching for Better Performance

The key to sustainable performance improvement lies in setting clear goals, inspiring employees, effective coaching, and recognizing individual efforts. This approach builds a more enduring motivation than incentives can provide. It's about creating a sense of purpose and progress rather than a simple transactional exchange for rewards.


Understanding Individual Motivation

To truly motivate employees, especially in the demanding context of oil and gas operations, it's crucial to understand them at a deeper level. What drives them? What are their personal goals and aspirations? Often, employees arrive at work motivated but face demotivation due to various workplace factors. Addressing these demotivating elements can be more impactful than any incentive program.


In conclusion, as HSE professionals in the oil and gas industry, we should look beyond traditional incentive and reward programs. Instead, focus on building a culture where intrinsic motivation, individual understanding, and genuine recognition are at the core of our safety and performance strategies. This approach not only enhances safety outcomes but also contributes to a more engaged, motivated, and productive workforce.

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