What’s the Alternative to Incentives?

Dan and Chip HeathIn the February issue of Fast Company magazine, Dan and Chip Heath write about the curse of incentives. They tell an interesting anecdote about a clever lawyer for the New York Jets added a penalty clause to Ken O’Brien’s contract that made it cost him to throw interceptions. His interceptions were the lowest in the league in ’85, ’87, and ’88, because he stopped throwing the football!

The thing that makes this interesting to me is that it’s an indication of how we can be pre-conditioned for things. I’m still reading Alfie Kohn’ book Punished by Rewards in which he outlines how rewards and incentives are not any different than punishments and penalties when it comes to the long term motivation of people. My personal experiences support the notion, yet I can’t come up with a better way to get people motivated. The Heaths simply say that people need to be managed better. What’s that?

I’ve begun my quest to try to figure this one out. Let me know if you have ideas or experiences that shed light on this. I work with an incredibly talented group of people. They are highly creative, intelligent, and driven. My job as their leader is to channel that positive energy into a world class organization. The only tool I’ve ever been taught to use is reward. If it’s not the right way to go, what is?

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