Leaders Don’t Bribe, They Lead

Leaders Needed for a World of Willing Workers

The pig-headed, self-serving and childish notion that it is against our national character to work together is cited as the root of the perceived need for measuring performance, and rewarding or punishing accordingly.

Of course, to a point, money is important, we have to live. But once the threshold of a living wage is passed, it declines in importance compared to fulfilling the higher needs on Dr. Maslow's Hierarchy.

Acknowledgement of our accomplishments only makes sense when we have the ability to understand what is our accomplishment and what is isn't, and only then when we truly have contributed to that accomplishment.

Erik Erikson, taught that level of maturity dictates how ratings and rewards are understood. In order for people to be motivated by external punishments or rewards, they need to appreciate the link between their actions and the consequences of their actions. But this does not fully occur until adulthood.

Our inner life is economic by nature, seeking to conserve energy for solving inner conflicts, the best way we know how. Our understanding of the outer world gets muddled by the internal conflict we are grappling with.

The infantile interpret any kind of recognition through the lens of "they like me/they don't like me." What they need are clear limits, to create a sense of order and security, not rewards. Not everyone is infantile, though modern politics undercuts that assumption.

A "teen" sees everything through the lens of fidelity vs. independence. They need coaching, and less limits, more freedom, so they can grow to understand the link between their actions and the results of those actions. Ranking and rewards is understood as a bribe to win their fidelity. If you continue just to apply limits, even limits related to measures, they will rebel.

Only when a mind is fully developed, self integrated to the point where it can see outside of itself without confusing what is seen with some inner conflict, can fully appreciate the link between actions, their effects, and any rewards. But at that point, presupposing relative comfort and security, ratings and rewards are far less effective than meaningful work: (see Stage 7 at the bottom.) Performance Measures, to the self-motivated, are expressions of power, tools of dominance.

Peter Block

Performance appraisal is that occasion when once a year you find out who claims sovereignty over you

Ratings and rewards do not really improve performance or make it more predictable. Quite the opposite! They take precious eyeballs off of what is happening in the moment "where the action is," the real place, where the work is done. Management, infected with a hot potato mentality, spends far too much time in offices and meetings, staring at computer screens, evaluating useless measures, expressing opinions about them, and assigning blame as if were fact: delusions easily tested by getting off their duffs, out of offices and onto the "workfloor," to see with their own eyes, whatever that workfloor may be.

Is it fair to hold people accountable for things over which they have no control? If the answer is no, then how do you tell whether or not what you’re seeing is in their control, or is governed by the natural variation built into the system. If it is governed by the natural variations built into the system then why reward or punish?

And, the vast majority of causes are systemic and can only be changed by changing the system, which can only be done by top management and owners, so why waste resources?

Why work so hard, just to shoot yourself in the foot? 

W. Edwards DemingOut of the Crisis

"The idea of a merit rating is alluring. The sound of the words captivates the imagination: pay for what you get; get what you pay for; motivate people to do their best, for their own good. The effect is exactly the opposite of what the words promise".

FYI: Stages of Development and their Central Conflicts according to Erikson (source businessballs.com)

  1. Trust v Mistrust: Infant
  2. Autonomy v Shame & Doubt: Toddler
  3. Initiative v Guilt: Child
  4. Industry v Inferiority: Pre-Puberty
  5. Identity v Fidelity: Teen Years
  6. Intimacy v Isolation: Young Adults
  7. Generativity v Stagnation: Mid-Adult (only here do we understand, but we don't care... we are driven by inner not outer motivators.
  8. Integrity v Despair: The Third Age
  9. The Black Sandwich, or oblivion.... (Okay, my input, not Eriksons)

About the Author

Dan Strongin works with medium to small companies, helping them master the art and science of managing.