In 1977 my love affair with anger began. The Clash released three singles. White Riot, Remote Control (released without the band’s permission – and you can bet that made ‘em mad) and Complete Control – three minutes ten seconds of blistering fury. Like many kids caught up in this exciting edgy time I argued with pretty much everyone about pretty much everything. In the coming few years my Mum died oh too early by far, my first serious girlfriend left me and I resigned from my first so called proper job. Was I angry? Too $%@*ing right I was.
Life rolled on. I saw fit to dial out the anger so that it became something akin to a passion. Eighteen years ago I married Carole (she still puts up with me) and I’m an extremely proud dad. Far less angers me than before. On some days I enjoy feeling quite relaxed, happy and peaceful.
Not today. Today, it feels like 1977.
Just as I and others crawled from the punk rock wreckage all those years ago, we now crawl from another wreckage. The financial wreckage caused by a culture of bad behaviour, and driven from the heart by the dreaded bonus payment. How folks railed against the short termism and greed that drove us into the banking crisis and subsequent market collapse. Like a two chord punk chorus I hear:
Hands were wrung
Heads were bowed
We will learn from this
We MUST learn from this…(to fade)
This month I read an article in HR Magazine. It’s titled “Restructuring of bonuses will mean they will be harder to earn”. Huh? The article starts:
“UK firms are putting more emphasis on bonuses as the economy emerges from the downturn, but bonus structures are changing, meaning staff have to work harder to get them. According to a new report from the Hay Group, employers are making short-term incentives harder for employees to earn, and subjecting them to greater scrutiny at the highest level.”
OK, so having seen first hand the value destroying, anti-collaborative behaviour that short term financial incentives drive, we’re gonna do it all over again. With a twist. We’ll let these sweet bonus carrots dangle a little further away. That way folks will have to focus even harder on the carrot, and from there I put it to you a stronger focus on the value destroying behaviour necessary to bag the carrot will emerge. Not happy? Furious more like!
The case to ban financial incentives was one I first became really active on back in December 2008. We ran a workshop with some bright enthusiastic minds in and around BT. The purpose of coming together was to uncover the most effective ideas needed to improve customer service. Banning financial incentives was an idea agreed on by all in attendance. There were other exciting ideas around clearer dialogue and communication but it was the “don’t incentivise me, just pay me” discussion that flared. Since then I’ve looked in all kinds of corners (University of Miami, Harvard, the studies of Dan Pink to name a few), and discussed with all kinds of folk. And I find lots of useful practical examples of why these bonuses don’t work. I’ve pulled this journey together into a white paper (not a white riot) which you are welcome to take, read, argue with, whatever you like. As well as examples, it cites behavioural references which you may find useful. Or in true punk style, you may not give a damn. If you really like, we can have a “who can swear the loudest?” competition to decide whether there’s anything in this bonus = bad behaviour lark. What do you think? Joe Strummer must be pogoing in his grave!
So how the hell am I gonna calm down now? Well I kept on reading and looking and I found two further interesting conversations. The first, called “You’re Getting a Bonus so Why Aren’t You Motivated?” was started on the Harvard Business Review by Eric Mosley, CEO and co-founder of Globoforce. I don’t know Eric but I know one of his colleagues, Derek Irvine. Derek talks a lot of sense, and crafts interesting arguments. One of the places he writes is right here at HRzone and I recommend you catch up with what he has to say about recognition. Back in the room, the article Eric wrote generated an interesting discussion on the subject and it’s well worth a read. The other interesting conversation is emerging on a LinkedIn discussion group called Employee Communications and Engagement. The discussion is called "How Do You Recognise Your Employees Besides Giving Them an Award?" There’s some simple, honest and powerful suggestions about how to do recognition sincerely. If you’re on LinkedIn track it down and take a look.
So, I’m calmer now. The permarage of the late 70s and early 80s doesn’t cling like it used to. I’ve just seen my daughter leave for her last day at infant’s school. Before she left, Keira kissed me and told me she loves me. She’s excited. I’m proud and humbled, like so many dads, by their daughter’s kindness. And I haven’t had to buy it.