Tag Archives: Reward

The Don Rickles School of Praise: When There’s Too Much of a Good Thing

Last week I wrote about the business case for being nice. I stand by the article and the cited research flaunting the benefits of leadership based in trust, warmth, and mutual cooperation; however, with the passing of legendary comedian Don Rickles, I’d like to honor his memory by providing a counter argument—the business case for not being so nice. More specifically, why we should be more discerning when doling out praise.

In today’s culture, leaders are encouraged to instill confidence, build self-esteem, and offer regular praise so as to encourage employees to believe in themselves. This “feel good” behavior creates a nice environment, but “nice” is not synonymous with “engaging,” “productive,” or “dynamic.” In fact, research shows that praise may actually undermine success.

I always rib people, but nobody ever gives me a hard time. I don’t know why. Maybe they’re afraid of what I might say. There’s probably a lesson in that somewhere, but I don’t know what it is.—Don Rickles

A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that when people are praised for ‘doing their own thing,’ they lose interest in the activity once the praise stops. Where they may have once felt satisfaction with the intrinsically rewarding enjoyment of performing the activity, the praise replaced the intrinsic reward with a contingent, external incentive, thus reducing the appeal of the intrinsic reward. As a result, expecting praise can soon make that thing seem not worth doing if you are not receiving the praise.

In another study published in Educational Leadership, people praised for personal attributes (being smart, talented, etc) were more easily discouraged with complex tasks and they stopped making an effort much sooner than those praised for ‘working hard’. Also, when praised for effort, participants overwhelmingly chose the more challenging task, while those praised for intelligence chose the easy test.

And according to Dr. Peggy Drexler, a research psychologist and professor of psychology at Cornell University, unpraised individuals show higher levels of confidence, while the overpraised are more likely to lie or exaggerate to make their performance sound better. Praise becomes addictive; once they get it, they need it and cannot function without it.

They always use the word ‘insult’ with me, but I don’t hurt anybody. I wouldn’t be sitting here if I did. I make fun of everybody and exaggerate all our insecurities.—Don Rickles

Before you are completely turned off from delivering praise (and decide to follow the Don Rickles’ style of ‘compliments’), the lesson here is not to withhold support or encouragement; what’s key is making sure the praise you deliver is accomplishing your intended purpose and being conveyed in the most impactful manner. A few ways you can maximize your praise include:

  • Be selective with praise. A compliment is more meaningful when it is kept sacred. If you do it all the time, it has less potency and creates an atmosphere of dependency. As David “Father of Advertising” Ogilvy says, it should be just uncommon enough to make each instance a momentous occasion.
  • Focus on what is within a person’s control. Don’t bother heaping compliments on characteristics that come natural; emphasis what they can consciously influence and control.
  • Avoid applause for easy tasks. A study found that people praised for an achievement that comes easily believe either 1) the praiser is not smart enough to realize how easy the task is or 2) the praiser thinks the prasiee is not smart.
  • Don’t over-praise for doing something they should be doing anyway. Recognize them for going above and beyond or finding a new way to complete a task, otherwise you are just reinforcing the minimum expectations of the job.
  • Deliver razor-sharp praise. Ambiguous, broad statements like, “You are great,” are worthless. Compliments should be specific and describe a detailed account of what they did well.

Don Rickles, derisively nicknamed Mr. Warmth, was always quick with an insult. He could disarm the most caustic audience with the most politically correctless jab. The greatest praise he offered was a verbal barb… and people begged Rickles to make fun of them. Of course, context matters so we should not try to emulate his form of tribute. Instead, use praise to build people up, but, at the same time, don’t rely on it as your primary form of communication. Keep it pointed, make it meaningful, and (I cannot stress this enough) don’t think “What would Rickles say.”

The Business Case for Team-Based Incentives with Atlanta Falcon’s Owner Arthur Blank

You getting Super Bowl fever? As a perpetual supporter of the underdog (unless my Steelers are playing), I’ve been reading about Atlanta Falcon’s owner Arthur Blank. Even if you aren’t into football, you will appreciate that before purchasing the Falcons in 2002, Blank was co-founder of The Home Depot.

It may seem commonplace today, but when it was first introduced The Home Depot revolutionized the home improvement business with its one-stop shopping, warehouse concept. Blank then spent 19 years as its president before becoming CEO and co-chairman.

In learning about Blank, an interview last week exhibits one particularly admirable aspect of his leadership philosophy that gives strong hints as to why he has been as successful as he is. After the Falcons won their spot in the Super Bowl, Blank announced that he is flying all 500 Falcon employees to Houston for the game. When asked, “How big is that bill?” he responded:

It’s not about money. It’s about these associates, who were the ones that support our players, our coaches and our franchise… We are a family of businesses that share a set of values and we want to be able to celebrate this with everybody. All the Falcons associates are going because they’re all a part of what it takes to produce a winning team on the field.

This is motivating to the staff on two fronts. Monetarily, they are each receiving a one-in-a-lifetime experience that is far beyond most people’s budgets—between the flight, a ticket to the game (pricing starts at $3,500 per seat), hotel, and food it could easily cost $8,000 per employee.

More impactful, however, is the message of shared success that Blank is conveying. If the team does well, we all do well. These team-based incentives reinforce a company culture of collaboration and cooperation. As a result, team members are more likely to prioritize the shared goals and values of the organization over their personal agendas.

Not convinced? A 2010 study found that employees receiving team-based incentives are more willing to put extra effort into their tasks because they don’t want to let their teammates down. Armstrong and Ryden’s research found that companies with long-term, team-based incentive pay resulted in significantly lower than average employee turnover. And another study found productivity increases of 9-17% relative to companies with individual incentives.

If team-based incentives sound costly (and you aren’t able to send your team to the Super Bowl), don’t worry. Research shows that team-incentive schemes are 26-29% more cost effective than individual incentives. I’m no economists, but spending less and getting more for your money sounds like a competitive advantage.

As leaders, we need to make shared success a part of our culture. Impart the attitude that “we’re all in this together.” Make it a regular part of your communication and back it up with tangible incentives and rewards. The quicker you start, the quicker you’ll be on your way to your national championship.

Is Your Motivational Style Reliant Upon Being Supportive? A Competition-Based Culture May Be More Impactful

Leaders are always searching for new ways to motivate their team. Incentives help, as do training, inspiration, and goals, but there’s one resource you are overlooking—the power of competition.

I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.—Walt Disney

According to a new study, competition may be the key to increased performance. The research led by Jingwen Zhang compared the results of three groups: 1) competition-driven teams, 2) social support teams, and 3) a combination of support and competition. Overwhelming, the competition teams outperformed the support team by rates greater than 90%.

As much as society emphasizes the need for social support, you would think it would materialize into tangible outcomes but no, social support group had no significant bearing on progress. In fact, it may have caused participants to feel less motivated.

As part of the study, the researchers also measured the impact of social media and how it changes behaviors. To do so, all teams had access to online leaderboards. The competition teams could compare their performance to other teams and were rewarded based on the number of classes attended. The support teams did not know how well other teams performed but could chat online and encourage their teammates. According to Zhang,

Most people think that when it comes to social media more is better. This study shows that isn’t true: When social media is used the wrong way, adding social support to [a program] can backfire… However, when done right, we found that social media can increase [performance] dramatically.

To “backfire” Damon Centola, another researcher on the project, states that supportive groups can fail…

…because they draw attention to members who are less active, which can create a downward spiral of participation… Competitive groups, [on the other hand], frame relationships in terms of goal-setting by the most active members. These relationships help to motivate because they give people higher expectations for their own levels of performance.

For leaders, this means we need to frame social interactions as competitions. It should be healthy without a bloodthirsty mindset, and the policies, ethics, and positive culture of the workplace should be strictly enforced. However, a more competitive setting will help raise the bar for all. Zhang calls this a social ratcheting-up process where one person’s win inspires others to “ratchet-up” their performance. This is in contrast to social support teams who experience ratcheting-down—a low performer sets a precedent in which others now have permission to falter.

I think there’s something wrong with me – I like to win in everything I do, regardless of what it is. You want to race down the street, I want to beat you. If we’re playing checkers, I want to win. You beat me, it’s going to bother me. I just enjoy competition.—Derek Jeter

If your organization needs a competitive advantage, bolster competition. Encourage winning. Promote reliance. Incentivize victories. You can still be supportive, but don’t allow it to be used as an excuse or to condone underachievement. Utilize support to re-energize; let it provoke a champion attitude. And if you do it right, you’ll “ratchet” right past the opposition.

Why Leaders Should Be More Like Ebenezer Scrooge: A Five Step Process

a_christmas_carolThe story of Ebenezer Scrooge is one of my favorite holiday traditions. As much as I’d like to say that I read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol every year, in truth I read it once, really liked it, and have since made a ritual of watching Scrooged with Bill Murray. With every viewing of this movie plus the multitude of other renditions, I wonder why calling someone a “Scrooge” is such a bad thing.

As leaders, we should strive to be Scrooges. If this sounds wrong that’s because you are focusing on the pre-Christmas Ebenezer. That guy is a selfish, egotistical miser who says things like, “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be…buried with a stake of holly through his heart.” But this is not the message of A Christmas Carol, it is simply the beginning.

A Christmas Carol is the story of self-improvement. It’s about learning from your past, having foresight into your future, and making the changes necessary in the present. This is not a feel-good self-affirmation; it’s a motivator to introspectively pick apart our flaws and work towards becoming a better person.

We can’t be forced to change our ways. There is no Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come to serve as a catalyst for evolving. Our fate will not be on display to pressure us into an epiphany. All we have is inner drive. Unfortunately, the determination to change is not enough; our bad habits are too embedded into our psyche. Therefore, according to Prochaska and DiClemente’s Stages of Change Model, we need to follow these five steps to make positive behavioral changes that stick.

  1. Precontemplation. In this first stage, we are Scrooge on December 23rd–making a change has been the farthest thing from our mind. The signs have been all around us, but we’ve fought or just ignored them.
  2. Contemplation. In this stage we’ve begun to think about the need to change a behavior. The impetus is different for everyone. For some it takes a particular event to wake us up, like Scrooge’s surprise visit from his deceased business partner Jacob Marley. For others it involves years of deliberation.
  3. Determination. Now we begin to mentally prepare for action. While Scrooge woke up on Christmas morning with a new outlook on life, we may download a new calendar app or buy running shoes. This stage involves mapping out our plan of attack and scheduling a start date. This culmination of willpower is the resolve to change and the fuel needed to attain your goals.
  4. Action. Time to activate your plan. Give Bob Cratchit a raise. Get medical assistance for Tiny Tim. Start moving!
  5. Maintenance. Day 1 of a new behavior is easy; true change takes persistence. Scrooge wasn’t just a more virtuous person on December 25th. As the book states, “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more… He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man…” Maintenance involves continuing to chase your goal every day, with every decision, and every deed. It requires that we uphold a high life-condition where our changed belief continues to manifest as action. Create short milestones so you can appreciate the sense of accomplishment and reward yourself along the way.

Want to be a better leader? Be a Scrooge—remain in a constant state of self-improvement. Want to be a better leader? Be a Jacob Marley—guide others towards elevating their skills and performance. And if you really want to be a better leader, be a Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Yet-to-Come—foster a culture where people can learn from their mistakes, understand the repercussions, and make changes before its too late. Or say, “Ba-Hum-Bug” and suffer the consequences.

Wu-Tang Clan on Long Term Planning

Wu-Tang Clan 2How far ahead do you tend to think? Five years? Five months? Five days? What about 88 years? That’s Wu-Tang Clan’s strategic time line.

If you are unfamiliar, Wu-Tang Clan is an all-star rap group. They’ve been voted “the No. 1 greatest hip hop group of all time” and Rolling Stone called Wu-Tang “the best rap group ever.” This nine-man band has cultivated a loyal following with their original sound and smart lyrics.

Recently, Wu-Tang made news with the release of a new album entitled Once Upon A Time In Shaolin. They don’t put out a lot of new music, so this was a big deal. What made it bigger is that Shaolin was auctioned off for $2 million dollars to one person. There will not be a wider release, you won’t hear tracks on the radio, and it will not appear on iTunes or Pandora. There is one copy and one person owns it.

When you buy a painting or a sculpture, you’re buying that piece rather than the right to replicate it. Owning a Picasso doesn’t mean you can sell prints or reproductions, but that you’re the sole owner of a unique original. And that’s what Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is. It’s a unique original rather than a master copy of an album.—RZA, a founding member of Wu-Tang Clan

WuTangClan-Album-Post11In exchange for the one-of-a-kind double-album with its silver-and-nickel-plated box and jewel case (valued at $55,000), the purchaser of the album cannot release it commercially for 88 years. This $2 million investment is the ultimate in long-term thinking. Maybe he’s a Wu-Tang fanatic who didn’t buy it to earn a profit (for the six-figure price tag, it’d be nice to recoup some of the expense) or maybe he just wants to brag about being the only one who’s heard the LP, but as a business man he’s in the rare position to be forced into an 88 year long-term plan.

Eighty-eight years might be a long time, but how many leaders are focused and working towards even a 10-year goal? They all say that there’s a long-term plan, and I think they believe it, but are their actions moving them closer to reaching the goal or is it a dream without substance?

All CEOs have aspirational long-term goals. They all want to make their companies better and stronger over the long term. Yet when it comes to priorities and plans of action, few have headlights that can shine further than two or three years.—Nitin Nohria, Dean of Harvard Business School

Wu-Tang ClanThe reality of the work environment is that the pressures of more immediate concerns plus the uncertainty of the future leads to a short-term focus. Annual budgeting forces you to think in 12-month cycles. Quarterly earnings expectations force you to think in three-month phases. And technology forces you to think in 2-minute increments.

These burdens are unavoidable, but that is not an excuse to ignore working towards a more desirable future. With a well-defined long-term plan, our day-to-day responsibilities should blend with the vision. To counteract your short-term impulses consider:

Redefining reward. Instead of succumbing to instant gratification, develop incentive systems and compensation schemes that reward long-term success. Employee profit sharing is one such method.

Changing your metrics. Set long-term metrics that de-emphasize quarterly or annual earnings. Also avoid public accolades of “quarterly success” that might send the message that you base career success on short-term wins.

Implement a “Heist Clause”. Wu-Tang’s contract stipulates that the seller may legally execute one heist to steal back Shaolin, which, if successful, would return all ownership rights to the seller. This heist can only be undertaken by members of Wu-Tang and/or actor Bill Murray, with no legal repercussions. Your heist clause may not be as legally questionable (or involve Bill Murray), but you need processes in place where people, besides yourself, can “heist” the vision in the event it becomes outdated or goes array.

Long-term goals are a necessary part of leading. Without them, you will work really hard to find that you are back where you started. Develop, communicate, and live by a vision defining where the organization is going. Reward people on the end goals and create an army of people loyal to the objectives set forth. This will solidify your success and give you time to create your $2 million work of art.