The Inside Track - Picking a Winner


With the Olympics now very much under way, the medals are coming in thick and fast. For some just getting to Rio will define their success, for others it will be making the final and for the truly elite success will be measured by the colour of the medal they receive.

The medals are an essential element of what drives the high performance environment. As we watch the incredible human performance of the Olympics it is worth considering how we can apply similar reward mechanisms to the world of organisational performance.

When using rewards to drive performance it is essential to consider a number of things:

  • The rewards need to be meaningful
  • The rewards need to be of high value
  • The higher the value the reward the scarcer it should be
  • The mechanism for allocating the rewards need to be clear and well understood
  • The reward mechanisms need to be fair


As athletes train and dedicate themselves to the pursuit of the high value Gold medals and the recognition that comes with their success it is imperative that the rules of the competition are clear. The different sports adopt different mechanisms to judge success and differentiate the winners from the losers.

There are a number of different strategies to do this:

  • Objective – the athletics, swimming, rowing and cycling events use a race format where success can be assessed using a stopwatch or measuring tape
  • Objective – badminton, hockey, volleyball and judo use a game format where the winner is determined by the team or player who scores the highest number of points
  • Subjective – gymnastics and diving use a performance format where judges assess against a pre-determined set of criteria to determine the winning routine


The objective strategies often provide the simplest mechanisms to allocate the rewards. However, outside of sport there are often other subjective performance considerations that need to be taken into account such as behavioural impact and leadership. Here it is perhaps useful to look more closely at the subjective strategies in sport and how they ensure sufficient rigor to allocate the rewards fairly.

Considerations for applying subjective strategies to allocate rewards:

  • Clearly defined criteria that are transparent and well understood by all performers
  • Multiple judges to ensure a number of perspectives are taken into account
  • Highest and lowest judges scored are eliminated to ensure biases are removed


When used well rewards are a great way to drive behavioural change and performance. Organisations can draw from these different mechanisms and strategies when looking at how they establish their own mechanisms for determining how to allocate performance related rewards and bonuses.

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