Unexpected Rewards

In the past week or two, the notion of unexpected rewards (think: unanticipated acknowledgment of positive behavior) has come up in two entirely different conversations. But in both instances, the value of rewarding people out-of-the-blue facilitates the same thing – a spirit of goodwill which fosters further positive behavior.

In one context, I was in a discussion around ways to incent an online community in a social website. Of course, there are numerous rewards & recognition systems in place at various communities, often with deliberate actions and points accumulated which trigger specific compensation for participating in those communities. And those structured incentives work very well if executed correctly. But what can also work in addition to formal schemes are random acts of apparent generosity. Selecting top contributors and making a small gesture (sending something like a small mug/t-shirt/stick promotional item, or even as inconsequential as a personal email from an employee) can really encourage those users further. It makes online community members feel like they’re part of something larger and that their contributions are truly being recognized. Based upon those feelings, users usually then contribute even more than would even given the structured incentive in place. It’s amazing to see how much this actually works.

Similarly, in addition to formal compensation of employees in a startup, unexpected recognition of hard work and positive contributions do wonders. Small gestures from managers of a company that are unexpected can really boost moral in a place that sometime appears to be going every which way some days. Like with all gifts, it’s the thought and gesture that counts, not the reward itself. This situation is little more delicate, however, as the gesture really needs to be perceived as a sincere one. But if done in an authentic manner, far from formal compensation structure and conversations, the effects are often very beneficial for all parties involved.

Real recognition – that knowing that others’ notice and appreciate a particular set of actions – is a valuable intrinsic quality that cuts across many situations. Those little rewards can mean a whole lot, especially when people aren’t looking for them.

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by About.com where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.

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