Sainsbury is trying it, but a large financial bonus may well not motivate senior staff. They are more likely to be galvanised by continuing professional development says Christine Hayhurst

Sainsbury has just outlined a new management incentive scheme for its top 1,100 senior managers. The rewards, which have yet to be outlined in detail, will bring huge financial gain for these individuals, but only if the company’s earnings per share double and the annual sales increase by 10 times over a four-year period.
Philip Hampton, Sainsbury’s chairman, is seeking approval for the idea and, with Tesco continuing to dominate the marketplace, it’s little wonder he has set ambitious targets.
You only have to look at the publicity surrounding the likes of Allders, on one hand, and the record sales announced by Waitrose over Christmas, on the other, to see that Sainsbury’s staff have a tough task ahead of them. In situations such as these, it’s easy for people to reach a plateau. Morale nosedives and individuals can feel stuck in a rut that appears to be beyond their control.
Yet, it’s not always possible to motivate people with the prospect of a large financial bonus. In many cases, additional earning capacity is not at the top of employees’ priority lists. So, if you’re faced with a situation where you need to turn around productivity and performance, what can you do to manage the performer who has plateaued?
The first thing to bear in mind is that employees are often better engaged if they can see that employers take a genuine interest in their career development. The belief that a job is for life is now long-gone and with this shift in attitude often comes a desire on the part of employees to work towards their future employability. What this means in practice is that staff seek opportunities for continuing professional development. So, you need to ensure your organisation is taking responsibility for the development of your staff. A report published last month by the Chartered Management Institute showed that HR managers claimed a significant impact on their organisation if development programmes were actively encouraged, especially when these were linked to overall strategic objectives. But simply offering the opportunity to gain job-related qualifications is not enough. For employees to be motivated, the idea of development has to permeate all levels.
Performers who have plateaued may believe that their organisation is divided along the lines of the stereotypical ‘them and us’ scenario so you must demonstrate your commitment to skills development for all. Effective organisational learning often takes place where there is a culture of people learning from their colleagues, so think about balancing the opportunity for qualifications with informal mentoring
sessions. Just because there is a motivational issue, it does not mean that the individual lacks potential and this talent still needs to be nurtured.
Whatever the development programme, ensure it is linked to the new national occupational standards for management and leadership ( If you do, your staff will see that, with one move, you are cultivating their skills for their current role and providing access to development that would be recognised by future employers - a move that shows you have their career progress in mind.
And of course, managing people, especially in difficult circumstances, can really only be done well if you can understand what makes them tick. Find out their ambitions or if they really do want to improve. Only by knowing the person as a person can you hope to improve matters.
There may be something in your relationship holding an individual back. You should recognise you may not have all the answers, so perhaps you should find a way, possibly through a colleague, whereby the individual may express frustrations they wouldn’t share with you.
The organisation must take a continued interest in a plateaued performer. They could show a short-term improvement, but without careful management they can also sink back. And dealing with one person is not enough. If you, as Sainsbury, have hard targets to reach, everyone must perform to the best of their ability. After all, an organisation’s main resource is its staff and if you can succeed with them, you should be able to succeed in other areas, too.
n Christine Hayhurst is director of professional affairs at the Chartered Management Institute