December 29 2019
By: Terry L. Mathis
The ASSP (Association of Safety Professionals) had a practice of giving gifts to the presenters at their conference as a thank you for speaking. One year, the conference was in Seattle and the gift was a glass something with a salmon painted on it by natives of the nearby islands. It is still on my desk. It was a reward for doing something worthwhile and it enforced my motivation to do worthwhile things.
Had this plate been used as an incentive, it would have not only failed but would have been a demotivator. Even suggesting that I would write an inspirational and informative talk, fly at my own expense and deliver it all in exchange for a worthless trinket would be laughable. I would have felt like I sold my efforts for an embarrassingly low price. I would likely have told them where to put the salmon plate.
This is the difference between rewards and incentives. Rewards are given to reinforce people doing the right thing for the right reason. Incentives are an attempt to bribe people to do something for a prize. Incentives replace the intrinsic motivation of wanting to do the right thing for the right reason with an extrinsic prize for doing something whether or not you think it is right. At best, you get someone doing the right thing for the wrong reason. In safety, use rewards and avoid incentives.
Terry Mathis, Founder and retired CEO of ProAct Safety, has served as a consultant and advisor for top organizations the world over. A respected strategist and thought leader, Terry has authored five books, numerous articles, videos and blogs, and is known for his dynamic and engaging presentations. EHS Today has named him one of the '50 People Who Most Influenced EHS' four consecutive times. Business leaders and safety professionals seek Terry's practical insight and unique ability to introduce new perspectives that lead to real change.