vs. Basic Human Nature
was stupefied. The poor guy just couldn’t seem to get the employees of
his advertising agency to produce to his satisfaction.
get it, D.F. I just can’t light a fire under them.”
I had a few
theories. Sam tends to scare the bejeezus out of his employees by
running through the halls like he’s in a panic because the agency could
go out of business at any minute. He tends to get flustered by
exceedingly challenging questions like, “What do you think we should
habits tend to make it hard to get your employees to run through walls
for you. Sam’s employees are more likely to rent a fourth-floor
penthouse so they can see what’s on the other side of the wall. But Sam
was determined to find a way.
“I think I
need a bonus incentive program, D.F.,” he said. “What do you think of
Oh no. When
Sam asks you a question, he means, “You agree with me, right?”
a bonus system. You know, that is a way to go. I’ve heard some ideas in
my day, and that’s one of them.”
two major problems with bonus systems. One is that you can never
anticipate when designing your bonus system what you might need a given
employee to do on a given day. Let’s say a given employee’s job
description does not generally involve the setting up of chairs. But on
this particular Tuesday, the setting up of 300 chairs will make or break
the company. The bonus-obsessed employee wants no part of the chairs.
His bonus is based on cardboard cutting. If he saves the company but
cuts no cardboard, his bonus check will be paltry!
problem with bonus systems is that they try to do what can’t be done,
which is to take employees who are not naturally self-motivated and
somehow light a fire under them.
will do what’s in their best interests!” Sam insists. “If there’s money
in it, they’ll work hard for it!”
It seems to
me that people will do what’s in their nature. While they might
momentarily respond to incentives, they will always return to the work
habits that come naturally to them – unless they undergo some
life-changing transformation, which does happen, but not usually because
someone offers to throw an extra C-note into your paycheck this week.
try telling that to Sam.
to develop a bonus incentive system that rewards people for doing what
the agency needs, D.F. You wait and see.”
later, Sam unveiled his masterpiece:
billable hours are more than 70 percent of your total hours, you receive
a 20 percent bonus based on your salary, with a 5 percent boost if you
also sold the work that resulted in the increased billings, minus 1
percent for every hour-equivalent of slippage, with an additional 2
percent subtracted if you fail to bill the entire budgeted amount.”
employees’ eyes glazed over. A few thought of some things that are
easier to understand, like the NFL’s passer rating system, with its
“perfect” score of 158.3. One employee, who apparently managed to follow
the whole thing, asked a question:
you saying we get docked if we finish a project under budget?”
said, “if you’re under budget, we don’t make as much money.”
when we’re under budget, it makes the clients happy, and isn’t that how
we keep them?”
about that for a second, and then gave the only possible response.
any other questions?”
employee took his or her copy and shuffled back to his or her office.
Sam went back to his office to wait for the incredible increase in
energy that would surely begin to characterize each employee’s work
I went back
to my own company, to wait for human nature to be neutralized and for
love and understanding to transcend all meaning, which will surely
happen before Sam’s employees start acting the way he wants them to.
Poor guy. I
did suggest to him once that he start trying to hire people who work
hard just because it’s part of their fundamental makeup – without
needing to get a bonus check for it.
they do that?” he said.
reason. Good luck paying out those bonuses, Sam.
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