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March 25, 2010


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Paul Hebert

I agree experimentation is critical for an organization's success. I don't agree that incentives should be used - especially with a criteria of "success" as outlined in this post.

First of all - innovation and experimentation is a sloppy, haphazard and many times unknowable path. Adding an incentive over and above the value of the experience will weaken the outcomes you seek.

First of all - incentives for creativity and teamwork need to be very, very carefully planned and designed. In most cases, any incentive will reduce creativity.

Second - tying "success" into the incentive will remove any effort to follow paths that are even remotely thought to lead to unsuccessful outcomes - even if the path would provide valuable information and direction for future needs. Success in an experiment is any outcome - regardless of value to the organization.

I would be very cautious with putting any normal "do x get y" incentive into an experimentation type work process. Very little good will come from it.


This was an interesting surprise to my morning. Thank you for taking the time to write it, Paul. I know I have invited you to be a guest on my radio show twice and introduced you to many of my friends, readers and listeners through the show, my blog and through personal recommendations. I appreciate you coming back to my blog and critiquing my thinking.

I read it 3 or 4 times it was that interesting.

Your immediate critique of my point is ironic given your emphasis on soft emotions and the encouragement of an open democratic collaborative work environment.

Your comment reads that you immediately assumed that by incentive I meant ‘money’. Maybe it was your busy schedule or the fatigue from jet lag?

I realize you are very precise in parsing terms. Had I written this post exclusively for an audience that parses terms as precisely as I think you do and had this post been more of a formal manifesto rather than a place to share quick idea and thus more room and time to parse explicit definitions of the term ‘incentive’ into extrinsic and intrinsic and offer supporting research and documentation, case profiles etc to support the definitions and their use, I think your time breezily critiquing this would have been seen as unnecessary. I thought it was clear I understood that much more, including explicit definition of precise terms, were deserved for this discussion when I wrote: This is a simple idea explained in a few paragraphs.

Maybe it’s the fatigue from the jet lag of your recent trip that makes you forget the numerous conversations we have had on this topic. Maybe if you had read a bit more of my blog posts. And maybe had I taken another 30 or 45 minutes to be more explicit in the use of the term incentives then I would not have to take that time now. On the other hand, I think you for offering, even insisting, I be more explicit in response to your critique.

For me incentives start with the recognition and acclaim for the experiment, the success and those who participate in this process. It’s that intrinsic thing, again. And it’s my error in not being explicit in this post. ( I thank you for your comment if only to allow me to be more explicit in my definition of terms and remind me that passionate readers need precise terms used.) It seemed obvious to me that a culture that rewards those who take the risks to engage in the process of experimentation or innovation or throwing an idea out or working on it on their own is a culture that A. does not punish or offer negative feedback like criticisms for failure to articulate an idea clearly at first blush nor follow through on that idea to its fruition; B. that recognizes (that intrinsic incentive again) everyone’s role, direct and indirect, in the process of experimentation and its results. ( It seemed obvious we had discussed it. But, again, maybe it was the jet lag. ) By this intrinsic incentive of recognition, first and most importantly, they engage everyone throughout the organization in building that culture. That culture forms the basis for what the consumer experiences as the brand.

the next item your comment read that you had overlooked was the comment First of all - incentives for creativity and teamwork need to be very, very carefully planned and designed. In most cases, any incentive will reduce creativity.

I guess it’s my soft writing style in this informal blog post. But given the space and the purpose of this blog post my comment of

The step of aligning incentives from the individual to the corporate level is simple, but not easy. A lot of listening is involved. A lot more than you can imagine.

That seemed clear enough, again, given that this was a blog post not a dissertation.

But I pursued it one more paragraph with this:

The larger the organization the more complicated will be the discussions on aligning incentives. A key to that process is openness and transparency. A sniff of anything but these two and the whole process and results will stink. The sweet smell of exciting experiments, their success and the possible results of those successes becomes the stench of hidden agendas, petty grievances, jealousies.
Clearly I need to be more precise to avoid readers misunderstanding.

Thanks for stopping by. And thanks for reminding me that knee-jerk criticism is a sign of grandiose self-importance, lacks empathy, and shows arrogant attitudes. I never saw that in you during our conversations before. I don’t see you as having that. But it would be easy to read that in your comment.

And knee-jerk criticisms is the perfect way to kill engagement, participation in a democratic workspace. I know you didn’t intend that. And, honoring social appetite # 5, self-preservation, your comment could be read as that.

All the best. And good luck.

Paul Hebert

Wow - it would seem that the "Paul" you think you're having this exchange with is a different person - not one that will probably be back to comment.

Zane - I don't think I am who you think I am.

I have never been invited to talk on your show, have never commented on your blog before (that I can remember), never had a conversation with you, ever, nor have I traveled anywhere of any distance in the last year or two where jet lag would be a factor in my "knee-jerk criticisms."

I think you have me confused with someone else.

That person my have more insight into the subtlety of your communication style and understand the nuances of your words but when most people here the words "incentives for success" they think rewards (cash/non-cash) for hitting an established goal. My comment was designed to be sure we define the terms so that we don't have a bunch of folks designing incentive programs that reward teams and individuals with cash or prizes for developing "successful" products or processes - knowing that the research shows creativity and teamwork suffer when extrinsic incentives are used for innovation and creativity.

I don't think that your post made it very clear that you were looking at incentives from an intrinsic point of view - which by the way I do agree can be effective for driving innovation and risk-taking in an organization.

I can tell from your response that for you, "being right" is more important than developing conversation around this subject.

Do not worry, it won't be my practice to visit again.

But I would be curious to know - just who did you think I was since I'm not the person you thought.


To both Paul’s,

A bad week > bad day > bad decision. I owe you both an apology.

Mr. Hebert, thank you for both lessons. Thanks for coming back and setting me straight with a head-slap. I deserved it, needed it. You were more kind and patient than I deserved. Seriously. Thank you.

I hope you come back. But given my reward for your time, I understand if you don’t.

To the other Paul, obviously you weren’t the author. I apologize for thinking you were.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Introduction - Recognize THEM!

Chapter 1: Recognize THEM!

Here's Where Employee Engagement Went


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    a bigger challenge than I predicted. It’s not what to say that challenged me. It’s what NOT to say. I start reading and within 3-4 paragraphs, I’m nodding my head and saying Yes, yes, exactly. Bam. Bam, baby. Yeah, come on. Can I get a witness. Then I want to share verbatim Jackie’s translation of Gaga’s strategy. Here’s why. It’s a strategy with 7 steps that any, ANY, business can execute under its own terms and under its own budget no matter how small or large. Granted, I enjoy reading this strategy as it’s applied to Gaga. And Jackie's a good writer. But, what's really inspiring is understanding how even a car wash could apply this strategy with these 7 steps and find success. You could build a global empire selling gardening mulch if you followed these 7 steps. And you could lower your advertising and marketing budgets, to boot.

  • Kevin Allen: The Case of the Missing Cutlery: A Leadership Course for the Rising Star

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    Yes! Finally a leadership book and author who bring empathy, caring and listening to the front of the leadership room instead of insisting it sit in the back, laughed at or ignored with no champion and certainly no budget to help spotlight its role in creating engaged leaders. He had me as a reader and fan on the first page of his introduction. Here’s what he wrote: Years later, when I was made Executive Vice President at McCann Erickson Worldwide ... I came to realize that the gift of human empathy, which had guided me through those early days at Marriott, would allow me to steer literally thousands of people to row in the direction of McCann Erickson’s future. I’ve learned things the hard way, through trial and error, mostly error. Through it all, I came to realize people follow you because of who you are; because you have come to understand the deep desires and hopes of your people; and because, by connecting with them, you have created a culture and a common cause they believe in.

  • Chuck Blakeman: Why Employees Are Always a Bad Idea

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    I love this book. It's true that I say this about every book I review here. And why shouldn't I? Why waste time reviewing a book I don't love. That being said...Why Employees Are Always a Bad Idea: (and other business diseases of the industrial age) is one of my favorite business books for a long time. It starts with the title. It's eye-catching, provocative, right? Mentally, it's a head-slap, positing a theorem inside your head then pounding it home with AlwayandBad to let you know you're not getting away; you're going to have your mind changed. Right now. As I kept looking at the title, tilting my head like a dog - one side to the other - I began to smile. I read a kindred spirit. Here's a rebel, a true disruptor, someone who's willing speak up, take a stand; I like that. I might not agree with what I'm about to read, but his title made me smile without being cloying or clever so I knew I was in for a good ride.

  • Stephen Lynch: Business Execution for RESULTS: A practical guide for leaders of small to mid-sized firms

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  • Kerry Patterson: Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High

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  • Gregg Fraley: Jack's Notebook: A business novel about creative problem solving

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