How To Motivate Your Team & Why Your Employee Perk Won’t Work

by  David Dye  |  Leadership Development
How to Motivate Your Team & Why Your Employee Perk Won’t Work

Recently, my daughter invited me on a tour of New Belgium Brewery. If you’re not familiar with New Belgium, I’m sorry…pay me a visit in Colorado and we’ll fix that.

New Belgium is a craft brewery. The company is employee owned, practices environmental sustainability, and makes a good product. They also have very low staff turnover and people wait for years to work there.

Every employee receives a complimentary pint when they finish their work for the day. On their first anniversary with the company they receive a custom fat-tire bike, a symbol of the founder’s inspiring bike trip through Belgium and their flagship product.

On their fifth anniversary they receive a trip to Belgium. And those aren’t all of the perks and benefits employees receive…

When I asked our tour guide why he and so many other staff stay with New Belgium as long as they do, he said, “The beer, bike, and Belgium are all nice…but really, it’s the people.”

Why You Can’t Beer Your Way Out of Poor Leadership

New Belgium is one of those companies that other companies emulate. In fact, one person in our group said, “This is what the last company I worked for wanted…or thought they wanted. They tried the beer without actually giving a crap about the people.” That might have been the free samples talking.

Imagine if I walked up to you and said…

  • “I don’t care about you.”
  • “I will use you to achieve my own goals.”
  • “You have no dignity. Your worth is only what you can give me right now.”
  • “Your opinions are worthless.”
  • “I don’t care what you do well. Do what I want you to do, right now.”
  • “I will control how you think, what you do, all your decisions, and much of your free time.”
  • “Do not expect my gratitude.”
  • “If you try to improve things, you are a threat to me and I will make your life miserable.”
  • “I will intentionally make your work more difficult than it has to be.”
  • “I will waste your time – my time matters more than yours.”
  • “If you get good at your work, expect to be replaced by someone less skilled and cheaper.”
  • “Please tell me what you think – so that I can ignore it and pretend you never said anything.”
  • “Oh, and one more thing…Here are a ping-pong table and free donuts on Friday morning – because I want you to feel good about where you work.”

How would you respond to my offer of table-tennis and donuts? If you’re like most people, you’d probably want to throw the donuts in my face and tell me what to do with the ping-pong table. You’d be insulted. And you’d be right.

The thought that I could treat you poorly and then buy your loyalty with a few donuts or free beer is ludicrous. But I see business leaders do this sort of thing all the time. And I understand why…it’s easier to buy donuts than to do the real work of leading well.

Substance Then Symbols

The bike New Belgium provides its employees after one year of service is a symbol. It represents the company’s founding story, their commitment to “bike culture” and the environment, as well as their appreciation for their employees.

People may appreciate the bike, but it’s what the bike represents that really matters. As our guide said about what makes him stay: “It’s the people.”

Remember, leadership is about people and purpose…relationships x results. Do you struggle with employee loyalty? Employee engagement? Productivity? Silos?

Please don’t try to adapt the symbols of another successful company (free bikes, beer, ping-pong, or donuts) and expect those outward objects to fix your internal problems. That would be like putting a colorful bandaid on a broken arm and expecting it to heal.

This is what I mean when tell audiences:

Don’t Motivate. Cultivate. If you want energized, productive teams, get your substance in order first.

  • Treat people with respect
  • Honor their strengths
  • Value their time, contributions, and dignity
  • Help them to grow
  • Encourage them
  • Connect their work with meaning and purpose

When you consistently do these things, you’ll find naturally find the symbol of your substance. Symbols – whether they are cool ones like a free bike or something more mundane like a coffee mug, are insulting and hurtful when you use them instead of a healthy human relationship.

Focus on substance first, then symbols. That’s the only way to make your perk actually work.

What’s the best symbol of real leadership substance you’ve ever seen?
Photo Credit: Matt Peoples

About The Author

Articles By david-dye
I work with leaders who want to build teams that care and get more done with fewer headaches.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Ben Simonton  |  19 Feb 2015  |  Reply

Great thoughts, David. As a manager of people, I needed to know what actions to take to show that I respected and valued my people. Fortunately, the science of people tells us what those actions are and what leadership is. Sadly, that science or even that it is a science is not well understood.

David Dye  |  19 Feb 2015  |  Reply

Thanks for that observation, Ben. To further illustrate your point: we all need encouragement, but you’re right on that we all receive encouragement in different ways. I had a manager who used to say ‘thank you’ to me with book store gift cards. She had me figured out! :)

Mike Henry Sr.  |  19 Feb 2015  |  Reply

This may be the first Lead Change post with a “beer” tag. Way to go. Nice quote too. Simon Sinek said that everything that doesn’t come from inspiration is manipulation. Either we inspire people to give us authority or we have to manipulate it out of them. Your post is another great way of making the same point. Thanks for the thoughts. Interesting reminder this morning. Much appreciated. Mike…

David Dye  |  19 Feb 2015  |  Reply

Thanks Mike,

I will add that crowning achievement to my bio ;) Inspiration vs manipulation – great model from Sinek!

Mike Henry Sr.  |  19 Feb 2015  |  Reply

Oh, and I forgot to answer your question. Nothing is more valuable than our lives or our time. When a leader makes a sacrifice for me, that’s the best symbol of real leadership substance I can think of. When the leader can subordinate themselves to the goal of the team and the individual team member at the same time, that’s the most compelling leadership inspiration. It’s hard to manipulate others through sacrifice. You either give willingly or you (most often) simply don’t give. People who serve the team first are the most compelling leaders and they inspire me to grant my best influence.

Thanks again. Mike…

David Dye  |  19 Feb 2015  |  Reply

Great observation Mike – there’s no faking or manipulation there. Love the symbols you chose!

Jane  |  19 Feb 2015  |  Reply

Great article here Paula! Thanks for sharing. Reading through the list of “Imagine if I walked up to you and said…” brought back memories. I recently read an article on a related topic.The author asked the question. If you say people are your most important asset why are you treating them like they don’t matter?

David Dye  |  19 Feb 2015  |  Reply

Hi Jane,

I’m glad this was helpful. That’s a great question you ask…alignment with words and actions is so important. Credibility is leadership currency!

Have a great day,


John Marcello  |  19 Feb 2015  |  Reply

I will say that the practice of offering non-substantive incentives always infuriated me in the corporate world. I always perceived it on the level of bribery or more as “opium for the masses.” As David points out, it’s both easier and cheaper to buy donuts than to lead.

I praise those leaders who make the choice to invest in their employees and see them as partners. It is doing the right thing and even though the path to success may be a longer or more difficult road, the long-term benefits of this investment truly pay off.

It is leading by example. If you expect your team to respect your customers or clients, you must respect your team from the top down. Choosing to value those you lead and offering them some level of dignity and respect goes a lot further than those short-sited incentives ever will.

Also, ditto to Mike Henry…long live the beer tag!

David Dye  |  19 Feb 2015  |  Reply

Well said, John – those are infuriating.

It may be easier and cheaper…but in the long run it just doesn’t work.

Appreciate you!

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