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Adii Pienaar

Now working on Receiptful. Co-Founder & ex-CEO of WooThemes. Author of Brandiing. New Dad. Ex-Rockstar.

Incentivizing Employees: Not with money, but stories

Money mostly doesn't motivate people. And money definitely doesn't inspire great work within your team and from your employees or team members.

[I watched this video] a couple of years back and at the time, I was quite a force in changing my mind about motivating and incentivizing employees. Back then WooThemes was still in its infancy and we could mostly skirt beyond internal, team or productivity-related issues. We were growing though and I noticed that there were definitely areas of concern in terms of individual performance (both in the quality and quantity of their work).

Initially we took the approach of incentivizing employees with financial rewards. And we most definitely always employed the carrot-method (we've probably been too lenient and should've brought the stick out more).

This approach however has barely had the effect that it was designed to have: it never had any impact on internal performance.

I've learnt that there's loads of other things (most of which isn't directly related to a monetary benefit) that motivate people within teams and companies: working on something you love, having a great company culture, working with people that inspire you, working for a boss that's not a dick and catered lunches are always a winner.

Many of those things are easy to understand, relatively easy to implement and you should be able to find loads of writing about those online.

With WooThemes, I've however learnt another way to incentivize and motivate a team: enable them to tell stories.

The thing about our societies and (Western) culture is that it's still relatively frowned upon to disclose how much you earn. Even amongst your best friends. People keep those things secret. Similarly, I don't think the type of "the company I work for is so much better than yours" conversation is the type of kite that flies well. (Even in drunken conversation.)

But the one thing that people love to share is stories.

In the last couple of years, there's a few ways in which WooThemes have enabled WooTeam members to tell stories...

First & foremost has to be the legendary, Jagermeister-fueled WooTrips. Since the WooTeam has always been mostly remote, the WooTrips have been designed as our annual, real-life get-together. Suffice to say, that the WooTrips are more about fun and relationships, than it has ever been about being productive.

Go to any WordCamp though and you'll hear other people tell stories about the WooTrips, because they've heard awesome stuff about them. Heck, so many job applicants to WooThemes have cited the WooTrips as a major reason for their application.

Beyond the WooTrip (which is admittedly quite a big project and expense), we've focused on doing a few small things for employees:

  1. In their birthday month, every team member gets $1000 to spend on any kind of tech (or groceries if they please). We don't have any requirements and it's merely a token of our appreciation.

  2. We've been using Uncover for the last couple of months and every team member gets the benefit of us paying for their music streaming service of choice (or iTunes), along with an allowance to buy some books.

Why does this work?

Imagine you're out having a beer with friends. Now compare these two phrases:

"I work at such an awesome company and they pay me $10 000 a month."

"I work for this company called WooThemes and they have an annual WooTrip, where everyone on the team gets together somewhere in the world for a week. We don't work much during this week, as we're mostly hung-over from Jagermeister. But it's awesome!"

If you're on the other side of that conversation, which intrigues you more about WooThemes? The latter obviously.

But imagine you are the one sharing that about your job. Wouldn't you absolutely love to tell stories from WooTrips? Or tell your friends that you get an extra $1000 just because it's your birthday month? Or that your company pays for your Spotify account?

How can you enable your employees and team members to tell the types of stories (about their jobs) that makes them feel good about themselves and their work?

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