March 08, 2009

Rewards, good or bad?

Every organisation I have always been part of had rewards of some sort. IF you behaved properly, a reward (and sometimes if you didn`t a punishment). Every chance I had to organise something on my professional life took that into consideration. I created prizes related to process improvement, to Knowledge Management, etc. I must say I remember reading some people against this kind of approach, but never paid attention to it. When working on my OPP and CBE PMA`s a found this book (Punished by Rewards - The problem with gold stars, incentive plans, A`s,praise and other bribes) that defended the opposite idea. He said people did not change because of those bribes. They just tried to cheat the system. Once again is something that relates to Deming, that was also not a fan of it. His argument builds on psychology, and is very well defended and rational. I used it as a criticism and reflection in my OPP, CBE, and PIUSS PMA. That came to my mind because in PIUSS several authors defend it a form of making a new culture stick. Create punishments and rewards for those who behave. Today reading something about KBAM I found the same kind of argument. I must say I think the logic behind the book is perfect. I can not argue against it. On the other hand, perhaps out of habit I still can`t think this is wrong. The only defence I can present, however, that if people are not changed by prizes or punishment at least you use those prizes to communicate, to indicate what is desired. This might raise awareness, might make people think about why this reward/punishment is been applied and if you can clearly communicate the reason....another possible advantage is that by giving recognition to someone who behaved in an specific way you could be just saying a "thank you"to someone who did something that the organisation understands is good and desired by it. And that can be used on a Six Sigma program or in a KM initiative. But I agree that people will not change just because of that, they can see that, reflect on it and perhaps change out of their reflection, but not because of the reward itself.


- 3 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. I also really like that book by Alfie Kohn, the logic of his thinking is quite clear and he supported his ideas with good research evidence, I even thought about purchasing it from Amazon but maybe in the future. One thing I have against it, possibly is that the author seemed to deny the use of reward as a management tool (a bit like Deming I suppose). I’d lean more toward what you said, use reward for raising awareness but rely the rest on intrinsic need management and leadership…. like a quote I read before (I think by Peter Drucker) “Leaders must lead!”

    09 Mar 2009, 23:14

  2. Paul Roberts

    Interesting posts from you both. I should like to throw in the idea that using rewards to raise awareness of desired behaviour or outcomes is a substitute for leadership. How much easier is it to let people know what you want by putting up rewards for good behaviour, hard work and great outcomes rather than leading through influencing people to achieve shared goals.

    Old habits die hard and the world is full of examples of organizations paying for performance or giving bonuses for hard work, so it is easy to think that if so many people are doing it, use of extrinsic rewards to motivate people in their work must be OK.

    For a long time people thought that the Earth was flat and those that proposed a counter view were persecuted…......

    12 Mar 2009, 09:47

  3. Paul, agree with your point. But I have a counter argument. Several organisations that gave bonuses failed, however several are there, succeeding using the same tool. Of course it is hard to isolate that specific practice on the overal result of an organisation, however it is a fact. Just using a similar image to yours, for a long time people have realized that you can raise your own food by putting seeds on the ground…

    12 Mar 2009, 21:25


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