We built a cookie machine to motivate people. It didn’t work. 

Eliana Atia

Like mastering the transition between small talk and “what you’re here to discuss” on a zoom meeting—staying motivated while working from home is hard.

In fact, we asked 207 employees who made the recent transition to WFH, and one-third of them admitted to feeling less engaged.

To take a stab at this engagement crisis, we decided to take matters into our own hands.

First, we considered the most commonly held principles of motivation:

  1. People want to be rewarded for good things they do
  2. The more good stuff they do, the more rewards they should get

We needed a way for managers to incentivize and motivate employees for their work, from anywhere. After hitting the drawing board, the answer was clear.

A cookie machine. For every task an employee marks as “Done” on monday.com, one cookie is distributed.

It was perfect; innovative, practical, and simple. After all, if a task is done, but no one is around to congratulate you, is the task really done?

Well, the results were not exactly as we had hoped.

Apparently, the old carrot (cookie) at the end of a stick trick is not quite the effective motivator some may have thought.

The answer may not have been as simple as we assumed, but we did learn a few things about actually motivating people along the way.

Make impact clear and employees will motivate themselves 

For many managers, getting caught up in fast-paced execution can lead to handing out tasks and cutting corners of communication with your team.

Don’t let communication fall by the wayside.

In early March, monday.com, along with most companies around the world, made the transition to WFH. At the same time that we were all setting up our make-shift home offices and training our cats not to walk on the keyboard—we declared a company-wide initiative to make our platform the best place for remote teams to work together. That meant the product, sales, marketing, creative, and R&D teams uniting around a common goal and executing fast.

The easiest way to do that?

  1. Announce the shared goal to the company in a shared forum
  2. Explain the reasoning and opportunity behind the shift in priority
  3. Define what’s expected from each team
  4. Make the work and progress of each team transparent.

For this project, we used this board to outline everyone’s initiatives, progress, and updates in one place.

Check out our Remote Work Initiatives Board

By tracking the progress of all of the teams who are working towards the same goal, it’s easy to feel a part of something big.

Agree on KPIs

After identifying the shared goal, expectations need to be clear. Agreeing on how success will be measured is a must so no one focuses effort on things that don’t feed into the ultimate goal.

Depending on the span of the project, KPIs may shift as you begin diving deeper. You may set a KPI that you all feel comfortable with, only to see that it’s leading you down a path that doesn’t align with your original vision.

Feeling comfortable to share when things aren’t working is the only way to make sure they do.

Make room for creative processes 

Once the goals, and how you’ll measure the success of those goals, has been defined, the role of the manager is to keep the team on track— guide when guidance is needed and prioritize when projects start piling up.

The how of reaching the goal should be left widely up to the team to come up with. Once you embrace the idea that everyone probably wants to do something cool, anyway—you may be surprised by the quality of ideas and drive to execute.

Still feeling wary to take your hands off the wheel?

Before sending your team off with their project, try:

  • Scheduling periodic “office-hour” style meetings with a focus on feedback, questions, and brainstorming
  • Keep open channels of communication so no one gets blindsided by the end product

Celebrate success publicly

When success—big or small—is reached, giving credit where credit is due is a biggie. Whether it’s a shout out at the company meeting or a post where everyone can see, letting your team know that their contributions are noticed only builds stronger motivation for the projects to come.

One simple way we try to support autonomy and celebrate success is by keeping team-specific Captain’s Log boards to record the progress teams make daily or weekly. This provides one forum for feedback, celebration, and transparent ownership for the products they are responsible for.

P.S You can get a peek into the R&D captain’s log on our weekly product blog.

Although the cookie machine may not have motivated anyone, like, at all, motivating teams is something that any driven manager can do. First and foremost, trusting that you and your team actually share the same goal: delivering something to be proud of, is the best place to start. By contextualizing the impact of your team’s work, defining clear KPIs, encouraging creativity, and celebrating success, you can promote your team’s natural desire to succeed, and save the Oreos for yourself.

Eliana Atia
Eliana is a marketer and storyteller who uses her diverse industry experience to create compelling content. A Texas native and current Telavivian, she’s finding her place somewhere between BBQ tacos and falafel pitas.
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