Successful Supervisor 73 Incentives

April 14, 2018

Is it ever a good practice for supervisor to bribe her employees? I recently asked that question in an online leadership class. We got into a very interesting discussion that highlighted the difference between four words that are sometimes confused by supervisors. Those words are bribe, incentive, reward, and reinforcement. The world will not come to an end if these words are mixed, but since they represent different concepts in motivation theory, it would be wise to use them correctly.

Before or After

All four of these words have the connotation of influencing people to do the things you would like to have them do. The distinction is that two words typically apply before an action is taken while the other two words usually apply after the action.

1. Bribes

The word bribe is a well-known and loaded word. In common usage, it means we are offering people something they want in pre-payment if they will do something that they would not normally do.

For example, in some cultures it is expected that airline passengers going through customs will give the customs officer some kind of “tip” in order to process their bags without hassle. That is a bribe, although we would never use the word in front of the customs officer.

We have all heard stories of individuals arguing with a policeman about a potential speeding ticket and trying to offer some kind of bribe to have the ticket waived. These individuals often find a bribe is not only unsuccessful, it can lead to jail time.

2. Incentives

The second type of pre-agreed payment is called an incentive. This is where a supervisor will challenge people to do more than expected, and they are promised a specific payment if they do it. For a supervisor, an incentive for her crew may sound like this: “If you beat the standard rate of production each day this week, I will give you a pizza party on Friday.”

Usually with incentives, there is no stigma associated with doing something wrong; it is merely an encouragement to do more of what is right.

Often the incentives are built into a compensation plan, such that they really don’t appear as separate incentives, but certainly have that same feel.

For example, commissions paid for certain levels of sales are types of incentives. They are a promise made ahead of time to pay a certain amount based on the employees performing at a certain level.

3. Rewards

When employees perform better than expected, for any number of reasons, but without a precondition agreement, supervisors may give them extra compensation after the fact. These payments are called rewards.

Often, the compensation is a token amount in recognition of the actions by the employees and are not intended to fully pay for the extra effort. Instead, they are a kind of “thank you” for going the extra mile.

The area of rewards can be a minefield, and there are numerous books on the potential mistakes when trying to reward people. For example, if a supervisor rewards an individual for a job well done, often other people feel slighted because they expended as much effort or provided more benefit to the organization than the person being rewarded.

There are numerous other problems that can be devastating. It is not uncommon for well intentioned supervisors to create ill will by applying rewards poorly or non-uniformly.

4. Reinforcement

A final category is called reinforcement. Like rewards, reinforcement is something that is usually applied after actions have been taken. Reinforcement is more general than rewards. It seeks to make people feel appreciated and thanked for the things they have been doing.

Usually reinforcement takes the form of verbal or written praise as opposed to tangible gifts or direct compensation. Reinforcement takes hundreds of different forms and can be as simple as a “thank you” or as complex as a group-wide celebration.

The words discussed in this article are sometimes used inappropriately by supervisors. One might refer to what was intended as an incentive to be some kind of bribe. Or someone might think of a form of reward as being simple reinforcement.

It is instructive to realize there is a difference in behavior modification between promising an incentive ahead of the act versus providing a reward after the act has been completed.

To be an accurate communicator, it is important to use the right words for each application. If one of the four words described above is used in the wrong context, it can send mixed signals about a supervisor’s intent. That action will cause a lowering of trust within the organization, and it will eventually show up on the bottom line.

Be careful when using these words to use them accurately. The concepts involved in behavior modification are critical to having people experience higher motivation as a result of incentives offered by leaders. These tools are powerful concepts, but they can be easily misused and end up causing damage.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Dealing With Risk

August 15, 2016

I saw something in the social media a while ago, that said “Give chances: don’t take them.”

I propose a different slant on the topic: “Give chances and take them.”

Since I am rather risk averse, the notion of not taking chances has a comforting ring to it. On the flip side, none of us can make progress in life without taking some kind of chances. Finding the right balance between taking calculated and strategic risks versus foolhardy ones is worthy of some analysis.

The trick is to determine the difference between smart risks and dumb ones. We need a system that helps us sort them out.

Focus on a personal risk that you have taken in the past year. Think about the process you used to sort through the risk/reward ratio and how you ultimately decided to make the plunge or not. In retrospect, would you do it again?

Do you thank yourself for taking intelligent risks, even if sometimes they do not pan out?

My system is to have a good strategic plan for my life. It covers my professional as well personal life. Every year I renew the plan and refresh what I intend to do for the next year. Having a written plan allows me to turn down some tempting things without feeling guilty for missing something.

For example, this year I made a strategic decision to back off on some teaching to allow more time for product development. That meant sacrificing current income in order to have the potential for a better future.

The result was not guaranteed, but the risk vs. reward tradeoff was a good one for me this year.

I have also made some heavy investments in my speaking career that are already starting to pay off and are bringing me more speaking engagements on my topics of trust and leadership.

Having a plan helps me know which calculated risks might be the best moves to make. The plan is never perfect, nor do I adhere to it with shackled rigidity. I believe we need to be flexible and alert to possibilities we may not have considered.

Still, operating with a backdrop of a well-considered plan has been quite useful in my life. I recommend the practice to you, and here is a link to the system I use, called “Renewal.”

Giving chances, allowing ourselves and others to try things, is a formula for enabling growth. We need to feel empowered to take a chance when it is prudent and encourage others to take responsible risks as well.

Sometimes we also need to give second chances in order to reap the true payoff. If we are too quick to pull the plug when an attempt at something goes sour, then we limit the learning experiences that come from overcoming failures.

I believe we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. We need to fail more intelligently and make corrections to maximize the life lessons. It is all about learning.

For example, walking and talking are easy for most people. Recall what it is like for a child to learn to walk or talk. It is simply a series of numerous failures followed by support and more chances that allow the eventual learning to take place.

But what if you had a stroke and had to learn these skills all over again? Thankfully, most of us never have to endure that agony. One person who did, and wrote insightfully about it, was Jill Bolte Taylor.

Jill wrote a wonderful book entitled, My Stroke of Insight. Here is a link to a TED Talk she gave on her experience. As a practicing brain surgeon, she suffered a massive stroke that destroyed the left side of her brain.

In her book, she described the painful process to regain full control of her functions, with the dedicated help of her amazing mother. She literally had to relearn how to walk and talk while using only the right side of her brain.

In the process, she discovered a kind of inner peace that is available to us all if we simply train ourselves to access it. I recommend this book to anyone who struggles with depression. It is not only about getting a second chance, but about the amazing personal skill of modifying our own thought patterns.

Giving second chances to ourselves and others is also an empowering activity. We allow the person to take ownership of the situation and figure out how to do better in the future. With this approach, people can take a creative and uplifting road to improvement rather than dwell in defeat.

The Connection of Risk and Trust

There is a direct link between risk and trust. If you trust someone, it is axiomatic that the person could disappoint you. You take that risk when you trust him or her.

Trust without risk is like a meal without food.

If you find one, the other has to be there. For example, it is impossible to drink a glass of water without trust.

If each of us would concentrate on taking intelligent chances with the right strategy and then extend chances if things go wrong, we would find the world to be happier and more productive, because we would be learning more all the time.

Key Points

1. Risk is present in most actions. We often overlook the risks involved in daily life.
2. Risk and trust are joined at the hip.
3. Taking calculated risks is good for us.
4. If there is no risk, there can be no progress.

Exercises for You

1. Name five risks you took before breakfast today.
2. Count the times a coworker or superior makes a risky decision in a single meeting. You will be amazed. It will open your eyes.
3. What system do you use to sort out the risks and get them lined up so you know which ones need the most attention?
4. If you took a risk that did not work out, how can you more quickly recognize the mistake?

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763

New Book in 2014 – Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change For more information go to http://www.astd.org/transition


Is Bribing Employees Ever OK?

December 16, 2012

bribeIs it ever a good leadership to bribe your employees? I recently asked that question in an online leadership class. We got into a very interesting discussion that highlighted the difference between four words that are often confused by managers. Those words are bribe, incentive, reward, and reinforcement. The world will not come to an end if these words are mixed, but since they represent different concepts in motivation theory, it would be wise to use them correctly.

All four of these words have the connotation of influencing people to do the things we would like to have them do. The distinction is that two words typically apply before an action is taken while the other two words usually apply after the action.

The word bribe is a well-known and loaded word. In common usage, it means we are offering people something they want in pre-payment if they will do something that they would not normally do. For example, in some cultures it is expected that airline passengers going through customs will give the customs officer some kind of “tip” in order to process their bags without hassle. That is a bribe, although we would never use the word in front of the customs officer. We have all heard stories of individuals arguing with a policeman about a potential speeding ticket and trying to offer some kind of bribe to have the ticket waived. These individuals often find a bribe is not only unsuccessful, it can lead to dire consequences.

The second type of pre-agreed payment is called an incentive. This is where a leader will challenge people to do more than expected, and they are promised a specific payment if they do it. Usually with incentives, there is no stigma associated with doing something wrong; it is merely an encouragement to do more of what is right.

Sometimes the incentives are built into a compensation plan such that they really don’t appear as separate incentives, but certainly have that same feel. For example, commissions paid for certain levels of sales are types of incentives. They are a promise made ahead of time to pay a certain amount based on the employee performing at a certain level.

When employees perform better than expected, for any number of reasons, leaders often give them extra compensation after the fact. These payments are called rewards. Often, the compensation is a token amount in recognition of the actions by the employee and are not intended to fully pay for the extra effort. Instead, they are a kind of thank you for going the extra mile.

The area of rewards can be a minefield, and there are numerous books on the potential mistakes when trying to reward people. For example, if a leader rewards an individual for a job well done, often other people feel slighted because they expended as much effort or provided more benefit to the organization than the person being rewarded. There are numerous other problems that can come up that can be devastating. It is not uncommon for well intentioned supervisors to create ill will by applying rewards poorly.

A final category is called reinforcement. Like rewards, reinforcement is something that is usually applied after actions have been taken. Reinforcement is more general than rewards. It seeks to make people feel appreciated and thanked for the things they have been doing. Usually reinforcement takes the form of verbal or written praise as opposed to tangible gifts or direct compensation. Reinforcement takes hundreds of different forms and can be as simple as a “thank you” or as complex as a group-wide celebration.

The words discussed in this article are sometimes used inappropriately. One might refer to what was intended as an incentive as some kind of bribe. Or someone might think of a form of reward as being simple recognition. It is instructive to realize there is a difference in behavior modification between promising an incentive ahead of the act versus providing a reward after the act has been completed.

To be an accurate communicator, it is important to use the right words for each application. If one of the four words described above is used in the wrong context, it can send mixed signals about a leader’s intent. That will cause a lowering of trust within the organization, and it will eventually show up on the bottom line.
Be careful when using these words to use them accurately. The concepts involved in behavior modification are critical to having people experience higher motivation as a result of reinforcing actions by leaders. They are powerful concepts, but they can be easily misused.


Creativity: 7 Pathways

September 16, 2012

I read a quotation in a student paper a while ago that was interesting, “Demanding creativity is like yanking on a seed to pull out the flower” (by the famous author “unknown”). The optics in this quote really work for me. I have been referred to as a creative person at times, and I even won an award for it once, yet if you stand over me with a scowl on your face, my creativity will dry up faster than a drop of water in a red hot frying pan. Most people have a creative side that can be brought out if properly nurtured.

The benefits of creativity and innovation are well documented. Unfortunately, while all leaders yearn for higher creativity, their behaviors often squash it. This analysis provides some pathways to encourage more creativity that are simple and powerful. Here is a list of seven ways this can be accomplished:

1. Let people play – Natural creativity is closely linked to the concept of play. Just observe children who are about 3 years old, and you will see some of the most creative people on the planet. Reason: The world has not yet taught them that certain things are impossible. They see clearly with their imagination.

2. Give them the tools – We typically use “Brainstorming” to get creative at work, yet the technique has been so watered down over the decades since it was invented, it has lost most of its potency. Put Brainstorming on steroids using Morphological Analysis, which is a technique where you put dissimilar concepts on two axes and then brainstorm ideas at the intersections of the resulting matrix. This forces the mind to conjure up connections that we habitually ignore.

3. Do not legislate – You cannot force creativity. By trying to nag people into getting creative, you can actually reduce the chances for novel ideas. Most people are more creative at specific times of the day. Allow people to pick the times when they experiment with new ideas.

4. Create an environment of innovation – This is done by encouraging people to tinker and rewarding them when they come up with unusual approaches. If leaders in the organization overtly promote creative behavior, then it will spread.

5. Measure it – The old adage of “what gets measured gets done” is true for innovation. The measure can take the form of documented new procedures, patents, new product announcements, and many other forms. I once knew a manager who found a creative way to measure creativity. He placed a cork bulletin board in the hall with a fence around it. The sign on the board read “Sacred Cow Pasture.” Then there was an envelope full of silhouette cows made of different colored construction paper. Workers were encouraged to uncover a sacred cow, write it on the cut out and pin it in the pasture. The management team would then set about eliminating the sacred cow.

6. Reward good tries – Not all ideas are a smashing success from the start. Leaders need to encourage people to try, even if there are failures along the way. The failures are really successes, because they uncover other ways it will not work. This points the direction to what eventually does work. Thomas Edison had to find nearly 10,000 things that did not work before he figured out how to make the incandescent lamp a reality. That kind of deep curiosity and dogged determination needs to be rewarded. Impatience and a short term mindset are the enemies of innovation.

7. Brag about your innovative culture in public – When leaders point out the great creative work going on in all areas of the organization, not just in the lab, people tend to get more excited about it. This leads a dramatic increase in innovation similar to spontaneous combustion in a pile of tinder.

The secret to innovation and growth is to develop a culture where creativity is nurtured rather than forced. Follow the seven tips above, and soon your organization will be known as one of the most innovative ones around.