17 Jul The HARD Truth About Rewards and Incentives
A long, long time ago I took a job in the Life Sciences industry.
I pursued that role for three reasons – and please remember, I was young.
I wanted – in order; an attractive salary, benefits, and a company car.
I got them – though the base I accepted, even by 1980 standards, was questionable.
$13,600 – and I ask that you not laugh when you hear that figure. There was bonus potential on top of that – not much, but it was something.
I considered myself wealthy beyond my wildest dreams – and given my station in life at that point, I was.
Then, still wrapped in the luxurious trappings of my new world – reality struck.
I had quotas to hit – profit goals – activity minimums – thresholds that, if I didn’t meet them, meant that the 3 things I most wanted were going to go away – quickly.
That job of a lifetime suddenly wasn’t so wonderful.
The company car looked a lot less appealing – as did the benefits. My salary didn’t help allay my frustration. It made it worse.
“I am underpaid,” I told myself.
My job – regardless of the baubles that were dangled in front of me – had become, well, just a job. In some ways I yearned for my days on a loading dock when I was in school.
Less pay but a lot less headache.
And then one day I began to realize a very hard truth.
No matter how much I worked – or how extravagant the pay and the benefits – my job might always be just that – a JOB.
And that was pretty depressing. Working for bigger carrots – more elaborate extrinsic rewards – might ease the pain. It didn’t eliminate it.
I did the math – and if my calculations were close to correct, I was going to spend somewhere around 100,000 hours of my life … on a hamster wheel.
So I began to think about a few things – and for some reason was reminded of a doting aunt that always asked me when I was a kid, “What are you going to be when you grow up?”
My answers then were rambling – and subject to the latest movie, TV series, or comic book I had happened to read.
But “what are you going to BE” for some reason resonated. I kind of thought I might have given up my “BE” for something else.
In the years that have followed I’ve found a lot of people have made that same trade – making the subconscious decision to spend 100,000 hours on the wheel versus investing them in a life of purpose. And that includes a lot of “professionals” that are highly educated but poorly situated in their career journey.
Finding my path wasn’t always easy – had I not encountered a few leaders who challenged me to actually think strategically about my life I’m not sure I would have.
Discovering what I was passionate about – and inventorying my skills in an objective way to find an alignment there – took time.
But getting to my “BE” meant finding a sense of purpose – and eventually, a career of meaning.
The salary, company car, and even the benefits began to fade into the background.
Today, when I work with leaders and companies on their incentives and rewards I try to remind them of the limitations that can blind.
The “packages” – at best – buy employee compliance. Nothing more.
Quid Pro Quo – you do the work for us and we’ll give you something in return – the “something” can be incredibly extravagant but it is still an extrinsic reward.
NO movement – and certainly no company builds greatness because its constituency decides to comply – even if they are overpaid for doing it.
I felt so strongly about the power of those drivers that I eventually codified them – and today The Starlight Principle is an essential part of many of our leadership and culture workshops.
Great companies do much more than sign their employees’ paychecks twice a month – they acknowledge that far too many “workers” toil too many years in a fog – hoping for a better life.
Hope is not a strategy – it’s often a complicated exercise in futility.
Leaders – REAL leaders – can change the calculus; transforming the hamster wheel into something more.
I still have pictures of that first company car – it was a Pontiac Catalina as I recall. It got me from Point A to Point B.
But it really never got me on the road to my career.