What I mean by tactical programs I’m thinking sales incentives that last less than one year or quarterly performance programs that measure specific outputs or behaviors.
I’m saying no and this is why…
Long Pants Discussion
Last week I did a post on employees earning their “long pants”, a riff on the olden times practice of boys wearing knickers until they reached a certain age and then they were “allowed” to wear long pants and signal to the world they were grown up. I suggested that there should be some mechanism in a company that allows employees to know which of their fellow employees were grownups in the organization and could be, and should be, seen as mentors, managers and guides. In other words, who is wearing long pants.
The idea that you earn your long pants then made me think about incentive programs as a “privilege” of being a grownup.
Incentives Work Too Well
We’ve all heard the news and seen the posts and read the books (yeah – I’m talking about Dan Pink) that say incentives are bad for business because they are too effective and they many times drive bad behavior in pursuit of awards. I don’t disagree with that. Many poorly designed incentives drive too much of one behavior to the exclusion of other behaviors causing problems and unintended consequences.
Because incentives work so well they need to be balanced by other behaviors and influences.
In other words, getting a bonus for hitting a goal should be balanced by the basic rules of the company, the DNA of the company, the operating system for that company– the CULTURE for that company.
Culture determines the “line that shouldn’t be crossed” in a company. When you have a culture that rewards no-holds-barred selling (think Glengarry Glen Ross – NSFW) then you have a very rough-and-tumble sales environment where almost any behavior is acceptable as long as you get the sale. Not for everyone. Probably not for anyone.
Culture Provides Checks and Balances
The culture of the organization provides employees with the baseline behavior code that cannot be violated (or shouldn’t be) and therefore keeps the unintended consequences of incentive programs in check (assuming the program is designed well.) The cultural norms of the organization are the boundaries for behavior. Until those boundaries are known it would be unwise to ask that employee to participate in an incentive program that could potentially lead them astray. Until they’ve earned their long pants they don’t have the requisite “cultural indoctrination” that would serve to reign in poor behavior.
It’s Why The Drinking Age Isn’t 11
I liken this to the fact that we don’t allow children to drink. We allow adults to drink (and thereby making them children again – but that’s a different story) but only after they’ve spent a few years (18/21 depending) learning the responsibilities of life, consequences of decisions and the affects of alcohol.
We don’t allow children to do a lot of things – vote, drive, etc. until they’ve reached a certain age – which is simply a proxy for learning the social norms and the boundaries of behavior in our society.
Should we put in place similar criteria for participating in incentives?
The more I think about this – the more I’m liking it.
Thoughts, ideas, comments? Should employees have to be grownups in your organization before they get access to grownup incentives?
Originally posted on on Incentive Intelligence