Unnecessary incentives

In my years in industry as an individual contributor, manager and so-called, senior executive, the issue of employee incentives often came up. Not just when discussing sales people, but all employees. Management was always looking for how to incentivize people for even higher performance, while balancing that against the idea that these people were already getting paid.

On my drive in this morning I heard a news piece on what has to be the most unnecessary performance incentive to which I have ever been exposed. The Philippine government, in partnership with private individuals, is offering a cash bonus of some $200,000 to the first Filipino athlete at the Olympics to bring home a Gold Medal to the Philippines. Apparently the Philippines has never won a Gold Medal. Closest they came was a Silver Medal in boxing at the Atlanta Olympics.

Let’s think about this rationally (or even irrationally). Is there any amount of money you could offer an Olympic athlete to get them to perform better than their best. Is money really likely to provide a greater incentive than to stand on that center platform in front of the whole world? If money really mattered, why would professional athletes compete in the Olympics where they do not get paid?

I appreciate that giving money to people who might need it is a nice thing, it is impossible for me to believe that this incentive is going to impact the person’s desire or ability to win a Gold Medal. What’s the lesson for managers: If you are going to offer an incentive, make sure it is relevant and necessary or don’t bother.


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