Identifying and incentivising the key people in your organisation

In the current market of tight margins and the challenges of getting enough quality construction projects, a key to success and growth is identifying and looking after team members who make a profound strategic and operational difference to your business.

I am a strong proponent of finding these key people and determining the appropriate strategies – i.e. remuneration, motivation and management - to incentivise their commitment and performance.

However, finding the right answer is not easy. People management and remuneration problems create more challenges for business owners and senior managers than any other issue except succession.

In family controlled companies, family and business priorities overlap, causing tension and conflict which shows up very clearly in the context of people management policies. The lessons learned and strategies applied in well managed family businesses provide useful assistance but we need to stretch the principles to maximise business performance.

The initial questions in a family company are:

  • Should a family member be recruited even though a more experienced outsider is available?
  • How should the roles of each individual be determined?
  • Should family members be paid the family rate or the market rate for the job?
  • How should family members’ performance be evaluated?
  • What is the best approach to motivating and rewarding family members?

There are contradictory forces at play and in the absence of clearly defined policies; the business leader is dragged in multiple directions. If all emotion is removed and only business principles are applied, there should be little difference between family and non family employees.

Identifying Key Players

In the construction industry the first performance measure to be applied is whether the employee is able to perform their job and manage their part of the project so it is on budget, problems are resolved as they occur and quality and safety standards are adhered to.  But is that enough? 

There are further questions to be asked:

  • Does the person identify smarter ways to do the project so margins are improved or tenders won?
  • Do they work seamlessly with other trades so all components of the margin are maximised?
  • Do they have the leadership qualities that bring the best out of the whole team?
  • Do they have the ambassadorial qualities to represent the business to the outside world?
  • Do they have a strategic grasp; the ability to define, implement and follow through the strategies that meet the business goals?
  • What contacts and at what levels and quality does the person successfully manage, both within and outside the organisation? And most importantly…
  • …Are they a rainmaker; a person who identifies and successfully converts opportunities into profitable contracts?

These attributes are seldom all found in one person. To complicate matters, a person who is outstanding at one key attribute often has weaknesses or shortcomings in other areas. This is why it is challenging and the solutions complex.


Different strategies will apply to different people and positions. Not surprisingly remuneration is not the only way of motivating and rewarding the desired behaviours.  This is fortunate as staff often compare salaries and unexplained differences create friction and management challenges. A clear understanding of the aspirations, future goals and motivators for key staff will be critical in devising a unique plan to get the best out of each person.

There are many strategies and plans that help create that vital ingredient of motivation in the workplace. Carrot and stick strategies are seldom effective.  Just ask any highly motivated employee why they put in that extra effort and the response is usually “because I love my job”.

General non financial techniques include:

  • Encourage employees to use their own judgement and to improvise
  • As well as authority, give employees responsibility for the results
  • Communicate goals clearly and ensure employees are accountable
  • Make work rules flexible so that individuals can tailor them to their needs

Specific incentives are usually appropriate for those staff that have that “X” factor when applying the questions above.

The phases to devising and implementation are as follows:



1.Plan introduction

Is there a need?

2. Identify objectives

What are you hoping to achieve?

3. Select participants

Who do you need to provide with incentive?

4. Choose the performance measure

Does it match with business objectives?

5. Plan design

What are the practical consequences?

6. Launch

How will the plan be communicated?

7. Post launch

How will the plan be monitored?

Any plan will need to be closely monitored to ensure that not only is it effective, but also that the right people are included and that it actually achieves a better result for the organisation as a whole.  Too often, a person will take actions that improve their result and bonus but create tension elsewhere.  Everyone’s incentives need to be matched to the overall business objectives and reward performance that exceeds the basic requirements.