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Stupidity Embodied

Joel's <a href="http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000070.html">Incentive Pay Considered Harmful </a> article mentions Microsoft's "Ship-it" award.  Well, my company just recently introduced the "Walk-The-Talk" award.  (I am not making this up).  The following is the official company email I just received today (I've edited out the company name):

====

"Walks-The-Talk" is a forum to recognize employees who  exemplify our Corporate Quality Policy and is administered by the Corporate Office of Quality. Nominations are completed and submitted by managers per the schedule outlined below.

All nominations are posted and selected employees are recognized in the next All Hands Meeting and their nominations are posted on the corporate Quality Bulletin Board in the corporate office.

Quality Policy
We delivers solutions that meet or exceed our customers’ quality expectations.  We achieve this by listening to our customers and empowering our employees to act with:
- Personal accountability and commitment
- Data-based decision making
- Rapid problem resolution
- Collaboration, partnering with each other and our customers
- Relentless continuous process improvement

Schedule:
- July, 2003: Sales, Service, Solutions Delivery (GSS)
- August, 2003: Software Systems Group (SSG)
- September, 2003: Hardware Automation Group
- October, 2003: Global Operations
- November, 2003: Corporate and IAS
- December, 2003: Sales, Service, Solutions Delivery (GSS)
- January, 2004: Software Systems Group (SSG)
- February, 2004: Hardware Automation Group
- March, 2004: Global Operations
- April, 2004: Corporate and IAS
- May, 2004: Sales, Service, Solutions Delivery (GSS)
- June, 2004: Software Systems Group (SSG)
- July, 2004: Hardware Automation Group
- August, 2004: Global Operations
- September, 2004: Corporate and IAS

====

What I find the amusing, aside from the inherent stupidity of the award itself and the notion that we even have a Corporate Office of Quality, is that fact that even if you "exemplify [the] Corporate Quality Policy" consistently better than anyone else, you can only get nominated if it's your department's turn for nominations.

Joel hypothesized that "almost every company has some kind of incentive program that is insulting and demeaning".  Can anyone name an incentive program worse than the "Walks-The-Talk" award?

Codeman
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

I worked somewhere once where they had marketing blub you had to memorize.  And then if you repeated it to someone, say in an elevator or on the street, and someone from the company heard, you could earn $20!!!!!  I don't know if that's worse.

shiggins
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

This may not be so bad. Many companies don't even comprehend the concept of process improvement, or think that any time spent trying to improve the process would be better spent banging out code or whatever they do. The fact your company embraces process improvement is a big step in the right direction.

The other reason I think this incentive might work is that candidates are nominated, rather than selected through a brain-dead metric. What that suggests is that there is no easy way to fake your way to the top.

Sounds fair enough that every department should get a fair chance to receive the award.

I like it. Except for the name. That part is pretty stupid.

Big B
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

I temped at one company where an award was given monthly within each area within each department for "excellence".  This basically translated to, "You're next".

Gee thanks, I'm next in line to get the award.... and look, the ink is still wet because it was printed a whole 5 minutes before the presentation.

Lou
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Ya my company has basically the exact same thing, exept we call it the Core Value Awards.  You can nominate an employee if they personify one of our core values.
  I think it is good for companies to do this.  In our case we recently came up with a set of core values and a company vision.  These awards provide a metric for us to see evidence of the core value in our company. 
  Personally, I don't care.  I feel awarded enough with a paycheck.  But I think its better working at a company that recognizes the achievements of its employees than one that doesn't.

James
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

We have as they call 'On the Spot' award!

If manager passing around you spots you doing something 'wonderful', you can be selected for On the Spot award!

We have Employee of the month, Most Valuable Player awards as well.

And I am talking about Top Notch IT Company in India here!

...

Will post this anonymously!
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Not strictly pertinent but:

Years and jobs ago my boss had a 3 year old.  Nice enough
kid but he taught him to walk into the office and randomly select someone and say:

"Get to work!"

Productivity skyrocketed as you can imagine.

Same guy now has six and home schools in some quasi-religious/military style.  Absolutely terriying that these people exist.

I remember this incident 15 years later and it haunts me that I didn't walk directly into his office and toss him out the window.  Wonder where he lives... nah, never mind.

...
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

http://www.snpp.com/episodes/1F13.html

Dennis Forbes
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

I used to work for a dot com that had a CEO who would immediately latch onto all the latest business fads from best-seller rack down at Barnes & Noble, looking for the magic silver bullet that would make her a hero. You could quite literally tell which book she had been reading when she spoke.

One of the ideas that she latched onto was an employee of the month award which involved being presented with a $5 trinket (I won't say what it was, as it may identify the company - suffice to say, it was cheesy) at the monthly company meeting. To win the award you had to be nominated by your peers. It was a stupid, meaningless award that everyone dreaded getting and everyone except the CEO knew it.

It got to be a prank to play on someone - nominate them. If the got wind of it, they would try to raise the numbers to counter-attack against the instigator (this actually happened to me - and I managed to raise enough votes to have the instigator nominated! Sweet, sweet victory!).

At these meetings, everyone had to get up and tell a "good news story" about their work. Boy did we ever roll our eyes (my stories were always weird made up things inteded solely for their entertainment value).

All this, ofd course, was just window dressing on a rapidly sinking ship.

Burninator
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

The best story ever about improving quality is Ben Hamper's from the book rivethead:

http://www.benhamper.com/files/rivethea.htm

Case in point: the management at the Truck Plant decided what the Quality concept really needed was a mascot. Conceived in a moment of sheer visionary enlightenment, the paln was to dress up the mascot as a large cat. Fittingly, this rat-in-cat's clothing was to be called the Quality Cat. Somewhere along the line, an even more brilliant mind upstairs decided that quality cat was sort of a dull title. Therefore, a contest was organized in an attempt to give the Quality Cat a more vital name. Hundreds of crafty welders, screw jockeys and assorted shoprats immediately began clunking their heads in an effort to christen the hallowed cat. Management announce that they would reward the most creative of these entries with a week's use of a company truck. Hot damn! The eventual winner of the contest was a worker who stumbled upon the inspired moniker Howie Makem. Sadly, my intriguing entry, Wanda Kwit, finished way the hell down the list somewhere right between Roger's Pussy and Tuna Meowt.

xyz
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

That's strange. Most of the people I know at Microsoft (myself included) really like the Ship It award.

It's a nice way to commemorate the achievement of getting a product out the door (often after years of effort) and is something of a historical record of accomplishments, since the plaque has one tile for each product you have helped to ship.

I don't see how it's demeaning at all.

Mike Treit
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

"I don't see how it's demeaning at all."

Because, for a product which brings in billions of dollars you get a trinket instead of many other possibilities such as...

    1. 1 week Paid vacation to Hawaii.
    2. A $xxxx.xx bonus.
    3.  etc...

See how demeaning it is now!!!!

Mickey Soft..
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Mikcey soft: You're confusing respect with money.
Some people think money = respect.
Others think trophies = respect.

Organizations will have some of each. A simple certificate is often a trophy, it might be a piece of paper or an article torn from a magazine. It's somethng you can point to and other people can see; the size of your bank account doesn't necessarily mean you did something specific.

A cheap trophy for doing nothing is a sign of disrespect. The hard part is to define the line between the two.

mb
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

What were they saying durin the 80's? If you give someone a better title they'll work harder and feel better about themself than if you give them a raise?

I think a ship-it award is ok - it's not rewarding or pointing out an individual, but as the previous poster said, commemorating an achievement.

Where I worked we had some sort of incentive program, where you you could nominate someone by sending some coupon somewhere. I thought it was a neat idea at the time, but the only coupon I ever got was from the guy who started the program. I forget what the prize was.

Whenever I talk about pay raises and pay cuts, something like 10% doesn't phase me much... A raise is either something that will change your quality of life, or won't. An extra couple of hundred dollars when you're already bringing home several thousand won't change your life.

All of these programs seem to assume that we want to be singled out and praised... And we do, I agree with Freud that we're all just children looking for the approval of our parents, but a mechanised, obvious and false approval system will be recognized for what it is by most people.

A much better system would be where the manager divided the year by the number of employees he managed - let's say 50 employees, and then once a week pulled them in to his office and praised them one to one, in private. And he did this in relative secrecy, or tied it to some other event that wasn't exactly arbitrary - each time someone reached a major milestone, and then praised them for it.

That is... if you had to force the manager to praise people, and you had to institute a system to do it. In reality the culture should support people praising each other's good work in an honest and un-forced way.

www.marktaw.com
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

What marktaw said.  It seems that in too many places folks think that if you put on some hokey award ceremony for an hour out of a whole frickin year, that's gonna encourage the troops to work so much harder.  And that's bullshit.  Encouragement is something a reasonable leader should deal out on a daily basis.

Sincere praise and seeing people use what I've worked months on are the ONLY incentives I value.

Alyosha`
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Yeah. Unfortunately, the reality is that most organizations are built on fear. When you're afraid of what happens if your project fails, your employees become your enemies - obstacles to the good performance appraisal, big raise, and let's face it, keeping your job.

A couple of months ago, someone described an organization that made it a policy to fire the bottom 10% every year and hire fresh blood. Well, I think most organizations have this policy secretly, they just disguise it as downsizing and subsequent growth.

So... it looks like as long as paranoia reigns, hokey incentive programs will continue to exist. They whip you on one hand, and then foolishly believe the carrot will motivate you.

www.marktaw.com
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Wait... I take that back. The carrot isn't to motivate you, it's more likely there to disguise the fact that upper mgt. really doesn't give a rats ass about their employees.

Wow, am I getting cynical in my old age.

www.marktaw.com
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

My reward system: 10% of profits to the employees at year end.

Now I just need some profits.

Oh, and employees!

theWeasel
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Yeah, a % program works sometimes... but underlying the % concept is to get the employees to actually care about the company, and that's what I think is at the root of this whole convesation.

How does money convert into emotion?

This also happens to be a major theme of a book I happen to be writing, so if I seem particularly lucid on this topic, it's because I've been thinking about it a lot lately.

www.marktaw.com
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Mike Treit wrote, "That's strange. Most of the people I know at Microsoft (myself included) really like the Ship It award.  It's a nice way to commemorate the achievement of getting a product out the door (often after years of effort) and is something of a historical record of accomplishments, since the plaque has one tile for each product you have helped to ship."

Well, that is probably one of the reasons Microsoft hired you (i.e. you are easily satisfied).  ;-)

I have never worked for a commercial software company, however, I have received more than my share of software project t-shirts, coffee mugs, key chains, etc.  Imo, the only recognition programs that actually work are those that:

* Financially reward the person/group that is being recognized
* Can be put on your resume (and will be confirmed by HR if anyone asks about it).

One Programmer's Opinion
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Anyone who knows me would probably disagree with the notion that I'm easily satisified :)

There seems to be an assumption that something like a ship award is given out as a cheap alternative to actually rewarding the employee. If that was the case, it would probably be lame and demotivating, much like generic motivational posters and other corporate office schlock (see Peopleware for a great discussion on that topic.)

The assumption that a ship award or equivalent is always given as a cheap cop-out instead of really rewarding someone for their efforts is way off-base though. I'm sure many (if not most) companies might do that, but it's not universally the case.

And of course there are those of us who find the experience of shipping a great product to be about way more than just money...

Mike Treit
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Been pondering this thread for a little while.  Thinking about every job that I've had since I was 16. The jobs that I was happiest at, and had the highest morale did not have profit sharing. They did not have shorter work days. They did not have higher pay. They did not give out fancy plaques or statuettes. In fact, I made less money and had to work harder at the jobs that I loved.

The owners/bosses/management just respected the workers. They made it clear what they expected upfront, and if it wasn't delivered, you were gone, or demoted to a position that you were capable of. If you delivered, you got more responsibility.

Simple.

Spam
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

During my college days I won a little plastic dinosaur for being the "hustler of the month" at a pizza joint.  Everybody knew how ridiculous the award was, so it kinda made it cool.  I still have that little sucka.

      
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

At my company they don't give out awards. But the VP of R&D did mention to all of us that "this company's greatest asset is our customers."

Too bad it's not the employees.

Yoey
Thursday, July 24, 2003

It is demeaning because it assumes that people do not care about their work enough to try and do well at it without someone dangling a carrot in front of their face. Is this really so difficult to see?


Thursday, July 24, 2003


And it's even more demeaning when certain people are continually treated with "special favors" for doing nothing. 

Joe AA
Thursday, July 24, 2003

Here's an incentive program that was introduced last year where I work, and is still going strong:

The "Bright Idea" Award: This is given every month.  You get to keep a toy Star Wars lightsaber for the month that you are the winner.  Then you get to choose the next winner, at which point you bestow the toy lightsaber on them.

The "Extra Mile" Award: You get a pair of sneakers, tied together at the laces, which you are allowed to keep for a month.  Then you choose the next winner, and pass the sneakers on to that person.

I do think these are both demeaning.  In my view, if you really value productivity, the only award that counts is money.

I think there's another one, but I have forgotten it.

non-award recipient
Thursday, July 24, 2003

I am a little bit saddened after I read some of the comments.

I don't think most people start out their career thinking only money matters. But after working under the Coroporate Culture for a few years, we now think anything from our company, other than money, means nothing. I just wish that our attitude towords life would not be negatively impacted by this.

Also, recognition and incentive is not the same thing. Recognition is good -- think Order of Canada, Presidential medals and awards...

Perhaps recognition is used as incentive afterall...

Rick Tang
Thursday, July 24, 2003

only money matters? Maybe if they gave bonuses that completely covered by holiday shopping bills, but otherwise... why do I care about $500 because I did something the way they wanted me to, like memorize their sales pitch? Unless I'm seriously in debt, that $500 isn't exactly sorely needed, and honestly, not worth the effort.

www.marktaw.com
Thursday, July 24, 2003

I believe the problem is when you're spending your time finding brilliant ideas to problems, someone who believes they can judge you comes up with something only worthy of grade school.  I don't mind being manipulated, but it has to be imaginative.

sammy
Thursday, July 24, 2003

> I don't mind being manipulated, but it has to be imaginative.

Man... I wish JoS had a quote of the week, because that would be it.

www.marktaw.com
Thursday, July 24, 2003


One place I worked... we had a Barbie award.  You got to display the doll in your cubicle, and you could only get rid of it when someone else did something as blonde as your deed.

Joe AA
Friday, July 25, 2003

Only money matters ... that's the whole concept of Capitalism, isn't it?

Or, only profit matters.

I see a mismatch between the idea that incentive is demeaning and capitalism is good.

Again I don't see any problem in genuine recognition.

Rick Tang
Friday, July 25, 2003

> Because, for a product which brings in billions of dollars you get a trinket instead of many other possibilities such as...

    1. 1 week Paid vacation to Hawaii.
    2. A $xxxx.xx bonus.
    3.  etc...



That's what your PAYCHECK is for.  Shipping the damn app is what you GET PAID FOR.  The plaque is a "thank you" card, not a substitute for compensation.  Sheesh, you must a wonder to work with

Bella
Sunday, July 27, 2003

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