We had an interesting discussion on a recent Conscious Growth Club coaching call about making sure that the financial rewards of your career path are aligned with the ways you’d like to be rewarded.

For instance, you may want or expect to be rewarded for some of the following:

  • devising a creative solution to a problem
  • successfully completing a project
  • helping a co-worker solve a problem
  • reporting a problem that could cost the company if not solved
  • acting with honor and integrity
  • telling the truth in a difficult situation
  • encouraging and/or mentoring a team member
  • stretching yourself to develop a new skill
  • working hard

But what people are actually rewarded for often includes:

  • keeping your mouth shut and your head down
  • obeying orders without question
  • agreeing with the boss
  • looking busy
  • lying
  • closing sales at any cost
  • successfully hiding how distracted and unproductive you are
  • leaning on team members to cover for you
  • completing trivial tasks
  • generating data that doesn’t help the company achieve any meaningful purpose

Misalignments like these can occur regardless of how much control and independence you have over your work.

When I started my computer games business in 1994, I expected to be rewarded for my creativity, programming skills, work ethic, and for project completion. I went bankrupt waiting for such rewards to come through.

What actually generated income was closing deals with publishers, and those deals introduced dynamics which were misaligned with my expectations. Creativity wasn’t high on the list of what publishers wanted at the time.

Eventually I was able to create better alignment, partly by shifting my expectations and partly by shifting the reward structure of my business. That involved changing my business model. No one really cared about my programming skills but me, but at least I could be rewarded for my creative ideas and execution. The area where I most had to shift my expectations was marketing. In order to succeed with that business, I needed to up-level my marketing skills, and I had to adjust my expectations to account for good marketing as an activity that would be financially rewarded. I also had to note that weak marketing was financially punished.

I ran into similar challenges with my personal development business some years later. My initial income streams rewarded me in mixed ways. When I generated income from ads on the site, I was rewarded for blogging, for traffic growth, and also for selling and optimizing ads. I was okay with the first two, but I wasn’t as fond of being rewarded for people clicking on ads and leaving the site instead of sticking around to read more articles.

I dropped that model in 2008 and explored other models that felt more aligned. My current models, such as doing workshops, offering courses, and hosting Conscious Growth Club, are good at rewarding me for helping people achieve positive transformations. The more people get good results, the better it is for me since this means more repeat business. This also financially incentivizes me to keep creating more and better courses, to design and deliver more workshops, and to keep supporting and improving Conscious Growth Club.

In this case too, however, I also have to adapt to what the real-world situation rewards. Almost any business, including mine, rewards good marketing. I’ve wanted to improve at marketing too, so I’m okay with this. I’ve tried to set things up so as to align my rewards with doing marketing honestly and honorably, and that’s been working well.

When the actual rewards are nicely aligned with the desired behaviors, life and business flow more easily. You can focus on doing the work and getting better at your core skills, and you can expect to be rewarded for this because the business model is aligned with rewarding you for such behaviors.

What can really mess you up is when your business or employment situation has a misaligned reward structure, so you get rewarded for behaviors you’d rather not reinforce, and/or you don’t get rewarded for behaviors where you feel like you really do deserve some acknowledgement.

In this article so far, I’ve mainly focused on the financial rewards since those tend to be the easiest to assess and measure. But we can extend this to other rewards such as how you’re being appreciated.

When I generated income from ads, people would thank me for my articles and how they benefitted from my writing and ideas. They wouldn’t usually thank me for the ads, although some people did when an ad helped them discover something personally useful.

These days I normally get thanked for insights and ideas I share, especially those that help people get results. I get thanked most often for course lessons, for blog articles, and for helping people in Conscious Growth Club. So that’s all pretty well aligned because these are all areas where I’m continuing to invest.

I don’t typically receive appreciation or rewards for all the study, research, and experimentation I do in private, unless I share something beneficial to others along the way. I don’t get rewarded for making mistakes or pursuing false starts, such as partly developing something that never ships. But I do get rewarded down the road for the results that these activities eventually lead to, and that seems adequate for now.

It’s important to keep an eye on sustainability too. I can be rewarded temporarily for overworking, for instance, but then I get punished for it when it catches up with me. I can generate surges of extra income when I want, such as by launching something new, but if I overdo it, then I get punished on the lifestyle side when life becomes nothing but work, work, work all the time.

Take a look at how you’re being financially (and otherwise) rewarded in life and business. How well do these rewards align with your desired behaviors? Are you being incentivized to grow, improve, and execute in the ways you like? Is the current reward structure sculpting your character in ways you like and appreciate? How are you being over-rewarded or under-rewarded?

If you like what you see, great. And if not, then you have an important problem to solve. One option is to re-align your personal priorities, and get with the program. See if you can release resistance to how you’re being rewarded, and agree to let those rewards sculpt your character as they will. So if you’re rewarded for sales, then get aligned with up-leveling your sales skills, and accept that you’re pursuing a path of becoming a better salesperson. Sometimes this is workable while other times it’s just too unpalatable.

Your other option is to change the reward structure. This may involve negotiating with an employer for different terms, switching employers to find a more aligned reward structure, or changing the business model you’re using.

It’s important to be proactive here. You do have options. If you don’t like what the current reward structure is doing to you, then get into a more aligned reward structure, even if you have to design the business model yourself.