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You Guys Are Killing Me – Cash Isn’t The Best Award


Once again I see a discussion on what are the “best” awards to use in a recognition and reward program. This is the Jason of motivation questions.  Just when you think you’ve answered it… it gets asked again and again.

I’ve been involved in the incentive and reward industry for more years than I care to brag about but I can say without any reservation the question of “what award to use” has been asked and answered at least each and every week of each and every year I’ve been in the biz.  It makes me wonder if people are still figuring out how to use google or they can’t find a good book on what drives people to do the things they do.  It’s like we hear the answer and we don’t like it so we ask the question again hoping for a different answer.

Insanity.  The definition.

Recent LinkedIn Poll

As surely as summer follows spring another question on what award is best has surfaced on LinkedIn.  This one is a little cooler because it uses the polling feature within the site but the results are no different than what I’ve seen in the past.

Cash Wins

Except it doesn’t   Studies have shown – over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over and over, (I can do this all day) and over – that it is one of the least effective motivational awards for incentive programs. 


  • Creates and entitlement mentality
  • Is difficult to stop once started
  • Reduces performance if used incorrectly
  • Creates a transactional relationship between the company and individual

It can work – don’t get me wrong – it just isn’t the “best” option.

“Whoa Paul – what are you talking about?  I like cash.  A lot.  Therefore, you are wrong.”

Yeah… and I like Moose Tracks ice cream (a little too much.)  Therefore, you must like Moose Track ice cream.  And… fact is even though I say it I really like it, it isn’t very good for me in the long run – or you for that matter.

The research is abundant and clear (I’ve beaten this issue like a rented mule so I’m not gonna do it any more – just google it ) awards that create a social connection, that heighten a person’s “experience” with the award and are somewhat removed from money – ARE BETTER.  #Fact.

I know – you don’t like the answer.  But you’re wrong. 

Unless of course because I like Linkin Park you like Linkin Park (who are we kidding – no one likes Linkin Park.)

Graphic and Question

Below is a pieced-together graphic of the results from the LinkedIn poll for your review. 

Notice that cash is #2 but the group in total like the “experience” angle – and they should – it is a very powerful influencer.

I’ll let you soak in the graphic and ask you to comment on what you think it shows.  Me?  It shows we have a long way to go as managers when it comes to understanding what truly drives behaviors and what we really care about. 

If you still need to ask about which reward to use maybe you should take this quote to heart:

“If my answers frighten you then you should cease asking scary questions.”

Some sort of bonus point award if you know the movie this is from – hit me in the comments.


Originally posted on on Incentive Intelligence

13 Responses to “You Guys Are Killing Me – Cash Isn’t The Best Award”

  1. Thad says:

    Paul, I happen to agree with your assertion, but what have you seen in the way of quantifiable data to back it up?

  2. […] the whole post over at Paul Hebert’s I-2-I (an FOT contributor blog) var dd_offset_from_content = 40; var dd_top_offset_from_content = […]

  3. Doug Shaw says:

    Great movie – Pulp Fiction? I hope I remembered that right? Whether I did or didn’t, this post is spot on. I think cash is a lousy motivator beyond having enough, and for sure the entitlement thing is a biiig problem. My recent trip to the US earned me enough money – but for sure it was all the experiences I soaked up along the way that motivates me and energises and engages me. One thing that doesn’t seem to come up much in these surveys is stuff around personal development. I think the idea of being given complete flexibility and choice over your some or even all of your development budget could be a great way of recognising/motivating people. But then I’m no expert – what say you Paul?

    • Paul Hebert says:

      Yup… Pulp Fiction for the win! Thanks for playing you get the home version of Incentive Intelligence! Great fun for the family.

      You’re on the right path with the flexibility thing. One of the great drivers of engagement within an organization is “control.” Control of my time, control of my work, control of the process. People are creative and people are curious. When you give them some control on the “how” work gets done you engage a whole different part of their brain and therefore get more of them in the work they do.

      Thanks Doug for weighing in – really appreciate it.

  4. USMotivation says:

    Excellent post. It’s amazing how many managers still aren’t getting this.

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  6. […] 50 percent of costs easily. (For more reasons on why cash isn’t a good award choice, check out this post from Paul Hebert on his i2i […]

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  8. Chandra says:

    Okay Jules, pretend I’m Vincent so we can get to the Pulp of the Fiction. I think the real reason this comes up so often is not because we can’t digest the fact that cash isn’t best, but because we lack the creativity to come up with the alternative. My staff ranges in age from 19 to 67 and represents numerous cultures, religions and races. Their individual likes vary as much as their musical tastes. It’s terribly difficult to come up with one program that satisfies all of their individual triggers. I use hand written notes, lunches, bonuses, a wide variety of gift cards and paid personal time off. I always look for articles like yours because I’m hoping to find a new idea on what to offer them. So keep it coming because I agree with you, I’m just out of ideas!

    • Paul Hebert says:

      If you’re not in a position to use a professional agency with a good catalog that includes a very wide assortment of both tangible and experiencial awards – then the next best thing – wait for it… is some sort of gift card system that allows people to pick the card they want. Remember – there isn’t a “perfect” system – just some that are better than others. At the end of the day though – cash is probably the worst because it sets an expectation that can’t be maintained for too long.

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