Surely the likes of bike racer Kristen Armstrong, weight lifter Sarah Robles, boxer Shakur Stevenson and long jump winner Jeff Henderson must be celebrating their Olympic gold medals in style… they’ve earned glory, fame, plenty of TV air time and of course big fat checks. Not quite.
In reality, very few Olympiads are running to the bank. But one of the personality strengths these great athletes are showing the world is tremendous self-motivation - even when their gold doesn’t translate into dollar signs.
In the business world, we spend a lot of time strategizing around salaries, salary structures, negotiations, bonuses and what work and accomplishments render financial bonuses. Of course this is important (that’s how we pay the rent), but look at the majority of Olympiads who over these last weeks competed and played their hearts out.
A Forbes Magazine article in 2012 reported on a study of US track athletes "that found that half who ranked in the Top Ten of their particular event earned less than $15,000 annually from all sources of income (including sponsorships, prize money and grants).” That figure probably hasn’t changed much in four years.
Some years ago, the Journal of Vocational Behavior reported a study finding the “association between salary and job satisfaction is very weak.” And in 2013 a Harvard Business Review study summary concluded that “if we want an engaged workforce, money is clearly not the answer… money doesn’t buy engagement.”
So what does? What can we learn that we can bring to our workplace? These gold-winning athletes can be a reminder that there are forces greater than money for many of us:
- Personal challenge
- Desire to learn new things
To create a working environment where these forces can be influential, leaders need to give their teams the opportunity to chart their path within the objectives of the business. Challenge people to develop solutions and strategies, pursue them, and feel that sense of contribution and accomplishment when team members see their ideas through.
Create a learning organization where new ideas are acknowledged and rewarded as well as shared among the larger team. As the leader, challenge yourself to get a step or two ahead of the crowd and then let your team members in that crowd figure out how to join you.
And think of the Olympiads who did become famous these last few weeks. Create an atmosphere where people’s efforts are recognized and encouraged. How about creating your own version of the Olympics? Go ahead, jump on the bandwagon if you think it will charge your team. Such an endeavor will probably generate bigger results than dollar incentives.