top of page
Post: Blog2_Post

Banishing 3 monsters created through your reward programs

When my children were young, their favorite book was The Monster at the End of This Book, written by Jon Stone and starring the lovable, furry Grover from Sesame Street. They loved it because at the end of every other page, the book says “Don’t turn the page, there’s a monster at the end of this book.” And, like any child, mine did just that — they turned the page! And, like any parent, we laughed and cheered them on. But when I think back on this, it makes me realize that as fun as these moments were, they did in fact reward and reinforce bad behaviors in my children.

Why am I telling you this? Because I believe many companies are doing the same thing when it comes to their reward programs, with them encouraging and rewarding bad behaviors in their employees. In fact, I believe that we are also creating our own versions of monsters — and they are certainly not as cuddly and lovable as Grover is!

Here are three of the monsters that I’ve seen throughout my career as a result of poor designed reward programs. And so you’re not left with “monsters at the end of your book,” I’m also sharing some ways to banish them from your organization.

The Bimble Monster

The first monster is the Bimble Monster. This monster, and these employees, bimble along as they go about their work, doing so at a leisurely, and often ineffective, way as they receive little direction and encouragement to help them understand if what they are doing is acceptable, unacceptable or even damaging to the company. I’ve seen this happen in two ways:

  1. The first way is through a lack of transparency in pay programs, with companies not clearly explaining to employees how their pay is determined and what they need to do to receive further pay increases. This causes confusion, frustration and lots of bimbling, as employees are lost in a maze of confusion, trying different paths and approaches in order to receive the highest pay possible.To rid your company of these monsters, take a step back and look at how well you are communicating to your workforce the details behind your pay strategy, pay structures and performance-related pay approach. Don’t leave it to chance that your employees will understand how they work, but develop clear communications and education sessions at every step so that your employees can easily see the path they need to take when it comes to their performance and their pay.

  2. The second way is through the lack of timely recognition programs, with many organizations focusing recognition mainly on long-service and best-in-class (e.g. annual, quarterly and monthly) programs. This again causes confusion and bimbling, as the majority of employees will not be recognized, which means they are receiving little to no encouragement and direction. And even for the few being recognized, the distance between their achievement and their award is often so great that even these employees are bimbling along.

To rid your company of these monsters, implement a continuous approach to recognition, one that focuses on recognition in-the-moment, so anytime and from anyone. In my book titled ‘Appreciate it!’ I share many examples of these everyday programs which can be as simple as having a Post-It wall where anyone can put up a recognition message, to something more robust such as eCards or other options that leverage technology. 

The Gimme Monster

Next is the Gimme Monster. This monster, and these employees, often start out “normal” until they see someone else rewarded differently for what they view as a similar action or contribution. An amusing example of this comes from Frans de Waal, professor of primate behavior, at Emory University’s TED Talk. In it, he shares the results of a study of two monkeys, showing what happens when they are “paid” differently for performing the same task. In the study, all was good when both monkeys were receiving cucumbers for the same task, but as soon as one monkey received grapes, the other monkey was no longer satisfied, saying in their actions to “gimme” this new reward.

To rid your company of these monsters, assess your reward programs to determine if any Gimme monsters may appear based on their design. For example, do you have a bonus program that rewards your sales team for winning a new sale, but ignores everyone else in the company that contributed to the sale? Do you recognize all members of a team for living a company value, or possibly just the person who is the most visible? Challenge yourself to assess the fairness of your programs, making sure none of your employees act like the monkeys and, in a tantrum, throw the reward back in your face.

The Sticky Monster

The final monster is the Sticky Monster. This monster, and these employees, stick around at your company well past their “sell-by” date due to the design of your reward programs. And, like a product in your refrigerator that has expired, they stink up your company as they really don’t want to be there, only sticking around to receive the awards through these programs.

One example of when this happens is with share programs, where the program is designed so that employees lose their shares, and thus potential earnings, should they leave the company. Another example is with long-service programs, where employees receive overly generous cash or gifts for staying at the company. Both of these examples lead to and create stickiness, or what we often call “golden handcuffs.” 

To rid your company of these monsters, look at the rules and awards you provide under your reward programs. Here are two examples:

  • For your share programs, ask what would happen if you let employees keep any shares that were already vested when they leave the company. This is exactly what we did at a previous company when we started seeing too many sticky monsters, and responded by removing the rule saying that shares were lost if employees left the company. 

  • For long-service awards, ask if you really need to award such high-level, high-value awards. You can still make employees feel valued without spending so much that they dare not leave before receiving it.

The key to your success is to first be aware of what attracts these monsters through your reward programs, and second, to bravely and rebelliously modify them to set your employees — and your company — up for a happy ending.


bottom of page