Creative ways to reward and measure success without money

What if money is not the goal
This is a new type of article called food for thoughts
I hope that this article will make you think . It contains some of my conclusions and is an invitation to participate, comment, agree and disagree but most importantly think and find ways to change the world for the better.

It would change the world

I believe that money, along with writing, is one of the cornerstones of human progress. Both helped reduce misunderstanding and have allowed for complex transactions to occur. Money (finance) is the language of business. Money helps people share.

Money’s role has been extended from a communication method to a unit of measure when it started being the measure of success for people and companies: being rich means being successful, even if the money is not earned (inheritance). Companies are successful if they generate money for shareholders, executives are successful mostly based on financial values, startups are doing well based on their valuation and sales price.

As a creative exercise, we will imagine a world where money is a way of communication and sharing but not a unit of measure.

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What if money is not the goal

We would need new measures for success

If money is not a unit of measure, then money is only one of the tools needed by a business to deliver. A very important tool, a vital tool, but a tool. not very different from any piece of machinery.

Removing money as the main measure of success complicates things. This complication triggers creativity.

Every industry, every enterprise would have to come up with new measures for success.

It’s not as crazy as it seems; charities are doing it all the time. Charities are not measured on the money managed or made but by the amount of life saved, schools opened or baby tigers rescued. Each unit of measure is aligned with the goals of the charity. I find this interesting. Don’t you?

How would that work in the corporate world? How would it impact startups? How would that touches people? How would that impact you? I’ll provide my answers to some of those questions, and one great thinking tool.

Give yourself 10 minutes of freedom to let your brain go.

It would change the overall hierarchy of needs for people and companies

In our scenario there is no measure based on money, so we need to find replacements for where money is used most: to measure the results of companies and reward people and teams

Success for companies

Money is not the only measure used by companies. A car maker will always include the number of cars produced, and a restaurant the number of dinners served. What we want to achieve in this article, is to find new ways to measure success, more in-line with the 21st century, where a company needs to be more than a cash machine, needs to pay attention to more than the shareholders. In the UK the law requires companies to take into account the impact on employees, suppliers and other groups.

So what could be units of measure to use instead of money?

Simon Sinek, in his book ‘Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action‘ says that people buy from companies not because of the features (the ‘what’), not because of the way they do it (the ‘how’) but because of the ‘why’ of a company. Aligning the why with the measures of success and sharing them, will make the real goals of the company clear to everyone in and out of the company. Another added value is a boost in public relations (PR). It becomes easier for people with the same values to identify themselves with the company.

I believe that the unit of measure should reflect the positive impact a company is planning to have on the world. Some call it the mission. One company with a simple and clear mission that resonates in all decisions is Microsoft (not the one you expect, I know).

Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.Microsoft -
Pushing for personal computing, providing easy to install software, creating and selling tools like Excel and Word are all actions perfectly aligned with the mission (and they also made tons of money). When we use Excel, there is so much power at our fingertips. With Word we can create well-formatted documents without needing a professional editor or publisher.

What do you think?
I’ve not come up with a new unit of measure for Microsoft. Do you have an idea? Do you have other examples? Please comment here or send me an email at

Rewards for people and teams

If money is not acceptable to reward people, then we must find better solutions; equivalent or worse solutions are not acceptable.

To help finding great solutions and to understand why some solutions work better than others, we can use the Maslow Pyramid of needs. For easy reference, I’m including a short introduction of the various levels of the pyramid.

Maslow’s pyramid – a short introduction

You might know Maslow and his pyramid (wikipedia). Maslow defined 5 levels of human growth. To move to the next level, one needs to be comfortable in all the lower levels.


First of all, it’s very interesting to note that money is rarely the main way to reward employees: it costs the company money and has a limited effect, while other types of rewards have been found and their effect is more important, especially if mixed with some monetary reward.

Money is at level 2 of the pyramid, so our search will focus on thinking about rewards at level 3 to 5.

Level 3 rewards help you feel part of the team: team building exercises are a good examples.

Level 4 rewards boost your self esteem: awards and promotions are at this level.

Level 5 rewards show an achievement, like an idea becoming a product and being credited for it. The most common level 5 reward is to create a ‘patent’. Patents might belong to the company, but every inventor is listed and recognized worldwide.

Level 5 rewards deserve some more attention. They are rare because they make the person shine, not the company. Google does it really well. Google allow employees to dedicate 20% of their time to personal projects. Such projects are reviewed and can become Google products. Can you imagine the feeling of your idea being implemented by one of the biggest company in the world? For the rest of your life you will be able to say “I’ve created this”. It also looks great on your CV.

Using Maslow Everyday
You can use the pyramid every day. It’s a great tool to help craft powerful thank you messages.

Instead of a simple “thank you”, try:

  • “Thank your for your work, It’s great to have you on the team” (level 3)
  • or send a communication to the full team with the same words (level 3 and 4)
  • or organize a way for people to say thank you to each other and make it public.

    Your turn!

    If now, you feel energized and full of ideas then do the following:

    • Write your ideas somewhere.
    • Share this page with others like me and you
    • Discuss your ideas. In the comments, with your friends, on your blog, with me (
    • Subscribe to get special content and energize me.


    Money is a fantastic way to communicate, to share complex information in a format that can be understood all over the world.

    Money is vital to businesses (‘you only run out of cash once’), but it should not be the main (or only) measure used by companies to show success and differentiate themselves.

    I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and let me know if I should continue to provide food-for-thoughts articles


    • Rob for the editing
    • Rene for further editing

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    4 Comments on “Creative ways to reward and measure success without money”

    1. Hey. Nice article, Frank.

      Some quick scribbles from me:

      I like the synopsis. I think having a single unit of measure for a business is always going to leave gaping holes in insight into that company. That single unit of measure is a nice headline, but simplifies too much. It’s a bit like the psychologists initial grasping of IQ as _the_ way to categorise intelligence. It is now accepted that it leaves too many things unaccounted for, and, as when just using money as a measure, isn’t the fixed holy-grail figure they first thought.

      For reward, it should be noted that there needs to be a minimum though, before companies look to other types of rewards. And it is tricky – if a company offers, say, a group company holiday in lieu of some money that may not suit anyone. But the Google example is a nice one for non-financial rewards.

      Choice is perhaps a great reward to offer people, following that thought through.

      I think money needs to be _in_ the mix, it just mustn’t be the _entire_ mix.

      1. Thank you Rob, thank you for your brain time!

        It’s true that having a single unit of measure will always leave gaps and a mix is better suited. This apply to both rewards and measurement. As you rightly say, money should be part of the rewards. The idea of choice as a level 5 type of reward is fantastic.

        Extending your ideas, rewards could be a mix of the main level and all the level below. For example, if the main reward is level 3, it should include also something at level 2. A Level 4 reward should include some level 3 and level 2 recognition. And if the level 5 reward is choice (great stuff) then the beneficiary would be allowed to choose what to get and in which proportion.

    2. I love the idea to switch the focus and attention from money to values in general.
      Will it work in corporate environment – I suppose it depends on a variety of factors. For example in my country where the minimum wage is around 230$ I suppose everybody would prefer monetary payment because the average bulgarian is still in the 1st/2nd level in the pyramid. For the more developed countries where every person uses the money as a means to some other self-realisation path (travelling, leaving something to the world, etc) I suppose other rewards could be a shortcut to their goals
      It really would be interesting to me if this approach cloud be popularised and adopted not only as payments in the business sector but as an idea in general

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