Markers are Mightier than Money

markersEnglish Author Edward Bulwer-Lytton apparently coined the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword.” A replica version of the sword Excalibur sits on a stand in my office, a gift from my team, but motivating people with cold, hard steel is not really effective in the workplace. Believe me, I’ve tried. In today’s highly competitive business environment it’s not about words (the pen) or force (the sword) but money that is generally known to be highly motivating. Everyone on my team has goals and objectives to work towards and financial incentives for achieving them. Money is a nice incentive, but I’ve noticed something else is a far better motivator.

Just outside my small office a large whiteboard hangs from the wall used to track team results and personal contributions. A slew of markers are in place for individuals to chalk up their daily or weekly contributions. Within seconds anyone walking by can see who the top performers are (and who is struggling) – a simple, but very visible leader board.

No one sees your paycheck or bonuses, but everyone sees you stand up, walk over to the whiteboard and chalking up your results. This simply act provides a subtle rush of emotion – accomplishment, pride, success. The rest of the team takes note and renewed determination kicks in. It’s fascinating to watch.

Over the years it’s become quite clear that the act of marking down your successes is far more powerful than any financial incentive. No one is saying that if the markers go dry total mutiny would occur, but probably something not far off. People like being praised and recognized. Visible demonstration of achievements and physical proof that everyone can see is mightier and more motivating than money.