Engagement

Q&A: Author and HR Expert Dr. Bob Nelson

By Alex Palmer
October 4, 2012

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Dr. Bob Nelson, author and motivational speaker on the subject of employee motivation and management, recently published a new book. 1,501 Ways to Reward Employees (Workman, 2012), that builds on his previous bestseller 1,001 Ways to Reward Employees. The new book offers successful strategies from companies like American Express, Bank of America, Northwestern Mutual, Hewlett-Packard, and Apple, as well as ideas targeted to the Millennial generation. Incentive spoke with him about the book and how the most effective tactics are often the least expensive. 

Incentive: How did you come up with this idea for the book?

Bob Nelson: No one has a lot of extra budget today, so here’s something tangible that motivates people. My take on it was, “What can they do?” So, I just cast a wide net and said: “What are some things that people are doing?” It’s all real-life examples for companies of all sizes in all types of industries, asking the question, “How do you reward employees who are doing a good job, not just to be nice but to reinforce strong performance?”

Incentive: How did you research this in order to gather so many suggestions and examples?

Nelson: I tried to sort of become a clearinghouse of ideas. I had people send them to me. Every time I speak, people come up and they share what’s working for them. I formally surveyed people. I would have people say to me, “You said such-and-such in the book, but we do a lot more than that.” So I say, “Tell me!” People like to share and be recognized for the good things they are doing for their employees.

Incentive: How do organize the book to make it easy for someone to find some ideas that might be a good fit for them and their organization?

Nelson: It’s organized in a very straightforward way, where you have things that have no cost, then you have things that cost a little money, all the way to more involved programs and incentive plans and that type of thing. In my research, the top motivators can be things that don’t cost any money at all. Thank yous, and things that you can do to acknowledge people, whether written out, emailed, or posted on a website, or said face-to-face. There are traditional ideas like gift cards, but I get more excited about the nontraditional things. 

Incentive: What were some specific ideas that really stuck out to you while putting this book together?

Nelson: I think, on a daily basis, I heard something that’s fresh or novel. There was this company I spoke to last winter and, like any company, they were having a tough year. They weren’t going to be able to give as much in bonuses, but they said, “We can’t do that, so what can we do?” So, they came up with telling employees that for the winter we’re going to keep the snow off your car. So every winter, they go out and wipe the snow off employees’ cars. It’s a simple thing, but it says, “We’re all in it together.” At another company when they hand out paychecks, they write personal notes to the back of the envelopes; it’s a simple touch that sticks with employees. 

Incentive: How should managers think through which rewards would best fit their own company?

Nelson: You start with what’s important to employees and you then systematically try to provide those things in response to the job they’ve done and that’s how this whole topic operates, in that window of what’s important to people and doing a good job. 
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