Rewards and incentives for nine year olds

Think you can offer incentives or rewards long after the fact and it won’t affect the results? Here’s a story I’ve been watching closely that disputes the idea that timing isn’t a major factor in decision making (even for nine year olds).

My wife is a teacher (and a darn good one). One of the things she has done in her classroom is to offer special lunches to students who hit their reading goals. Those special lunches involve me bringing them something from Chick-Fil-A (a Southern delicacy!) on the Friday immediately after they reach their goal.

But it wasn’t always that way.

For the first half of the school year, the agreement was that if the students read their goal amount, then I would bring food at the end of the grading period. That could take up to nine weeks (if the kid’s a fast reader), and that’s like infinity in a child’s eyes. While she had a few kids read their books, most of them did not.

A new, better way

Then, this half of the school year, we’ve done it differently. Instead of waiting until the grading period is over (up to nine weeks), she gives them the reward less than seven days after they meet their goals. This has had a few effects on the process.

  1. It lets the other kids (in the midst of their own progress) see the tangible reward and encourages them to reach their own goals.
  2. It keeps the process high on everyone’s radar by making a reference every week or so.
  3. The kids who reach their goals and get rewarded? There is a 100% goal completion for kids who met their rewards in previous sessions (in other words, they are repeaters).
  4. There are significantly more students who reach their goal amounts on this new system (more than twice as many, I’d say).

I love the process of continuous improvement and how my wife can see something like this changing how the students are engaged in their reading program. Next year she can tweak it a little more and see if those numbers get even higher, but it’s nice to start off with something you know that works.

What it means for you

Thinking about offering rewards or incentives to your workforce? Make sure you don’t ignore the time element. It can help (or hurt) you in more ways than you might imagine.

8 thoughts on “Rewards and incentives for nine year olds

  1. Krista Francis

    Nice. Your wife’s students are lucky to have her as a teacher. They will probably always remember Mrs. Eubanks and how she encouraged their love of reading. On a more personal note, it’s a really nice model of a loving couple working together in support of each others’ goals. Some children don’t have that at home…

  2. Cori

    This is such an important point! Often organizations rely on their service awards and year end recognition programs (don’t get me wrong, these are important programs!)and forget to incorporate more frequent awards to encourage employees. Recognition that happens immediately after the behavior is the most effective, so organizations have a huge opportunity by simply incorporating spot awards. Thanks for your thoughts, Ben!

  3. Lyn Hoyt

    Love this post Ben. It was ringing true to me as we are in the middle of preparing recognition for the Japan disaster. When raising money to serve a philanthropic need it is necessary to have a physical gift of thanks. And the presentation timing of that gift with non-profits is key. That humble thanks becomes part of the marketing buzz that gets the attention of other corporations to also give to the cause. It becomes self replicating.

    Love the reading goal plan! I know it works for my kids.

  4. Drew Hawkins

    Love how something outside of a corporate environment can teach us a ton about human behavior. Really good parallel drawn. Wish I had a Chik-Fil-A reward when I was in school!

  5. Michael Brisciana

    Ben – – –

    Echoing Drew’s comment, this is a terrific story from outside of the business world. It deftly illustrates one of the key principles of rewards — timeliness. This seems to be equally true regarding rewards (whether monetary or non-monetary) and recognition (whether public or private). There’s also a great point in there about points of reference (milestones) — we all need milestones along the way, lest we get discouraged and give up on the goal.

    Nice going … and thanks for sharing.

  6. Karen Newman

    What a cool teacher and “helper!” Funny….I’ve been gathering Leadership Lessons FROM my 9 year old. The girl will rule the world one day because of her supreme diplomacy!

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Ben Post author

      Thanks, everyone, for the great comments! I love the opportunity to see this miniature system work with all the moving parts. It’s a fantastic opportunity for me and I am thrilled to interact with the kids, too.

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