In 1977 my love affair with anger began. The Clash released three singles. White Riot, Remote Control (released without the band’s permission – and you can bet that made ‘em mad) and Complete Control – three minutes ten seconds of blistering fury. Like many kids caught up in this exciting edgy time I argued with pretty much everyone about pretty much everything. In the coming few years my Mum died oh too early by far, my first serious girlfriend left me and I resigned from my first so called proper job. Was I angry? Too fucking right I was.

Life rolled on. I saw fit to dial out the anger so that it became something akin to a passion. Eighteen years ago I married Carole (she still puts up with me) and I’m an extremely proud dad. Far less angers me than before. On some days I enjoy feeling quite relaxed, happy and peaceful.

Not today. Today, it feels like 1977.

Just as I and others crawled from the punk rock wreckage all those years ago, we now crawl from another wreckage. The financial wreckage caused by a culture of bad behaviour, and driven from the heart by the dreaded bonus payment. How folks railed against the short termism and greed that drove us into the banking crisis and subsequent market collapse. Like a two chord punk chorus I hear:

Hands were wrung

Heads were bowed

We will learn from this

We MUST learn from this…(to fade)

This month I read an article in HR Magazine. It’s titled “Restructuring of bonuses will mean they will be harder to earn”. Huh? The article starts:

“UK firms are putting more emphasis on bonuses as the economy emerges from the downturn, but bonus structures are changing, meaning staff have to work harder to get them. According to a new report from the Hay Group, employers are making short-term incentives harder for employees to earn, and subjecting them to greater scrutiny at the highest level.”

OK, so having seen first hand the value destroying, anti-collaborative behaviour that short term financial incentives drive, we’re gonna do it all over again. With a twist. We’ll let these sweet bonus carrots dangle a little further away. That way folks will have to focus even harder on the carrot, and from there I put it to you a stronger focus on the value destroying behaviour necessary to bag the carrot will emerge. Not happy? Furious more like!

The case to ban financial incentives was one I first became really active on back in December 2008. We ran a workshop with some bright enthusiastic minds in and around BT. The purpose of coming together was to uncover the most effective ideas needed to improve customer service. Banning financial incentives was an idea agreed on by all in attendance. There were other exciting ideas around clearer dialogue and communication but it was the “don’t incentivise me, just pay me” discussion that flared. Since then I’ve looked in all kinds of corners (University of Miami, Harvard, the studies of Dan Pink to name a few), and discussed with all kinds of folk. And I find lots of useful practical examples of why these bonuses don’t work. I’ve pulled this journey together into a white paper (not a white riot) which you are welcome to take, read, argue with, whatever you like. As well as examples, it cites behavioural references which you may find useful. Or in true punk style, you may not give a damn. If you really like, we can have a “who can swear the loudest?” competition to decide whether there’s anything in this bonus = bad behaviour lark. What do you think? Joe Strummer must be pogoing in his grave!

So how the hell am I gonna calm down now? Well I kept on reading and looking and I found two further interesting conversations. The first, called “You’re Getting a Bonus so Why Aren’t You Motivated?” was started on the Harvard Business Review by Eric Mosley, CEO and co-founder of Globoforce. I don’t know Eric but I know one of his colleagues, Derek Irvine. Derek talks a lot of sense, and crafts interesting arguments. One of the places he writes is at HRzone and I recommend you catch up with what he has to say about recognition. Back in the room, the article Eric wrote generated an interesting discussion on the subject and it’s well worth a read. The other interesting conversation is emerging on a LinkedIn discussion group called Employee Communications and Engagement.It’s called “How Do You Recognise Your Employees Besides Giving Them an Award?”  There’s some simple, honest and powerful suggestions about how to do recognition sincerely. If you’re on LinkedIn track it down and take a look.

So, I’m calmer now. The perma-rage of the late 70s and early 80s doesn’t cling like it used to. I’ve just seen my daughter leave for her last day at infant’s school. Before she left, Keira kissed me and told me she loves me. She’s excited. I’m proud and humbled, like so many dads, by their daughter’s kindness. And I haven’t had to buy it.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

12 thoughts on “Destroy”

  1. Hi Doug, great points here! Thanks for converting your anger into an impassioned blog post with a white paper that I found really useful and full of helpful references. As you say, Dan Pink is providing some excellent new insights and ideas in this area, backed up by years of scientific research into human motivation ( You’re right – it’s time for a new way!

  2. Hello Sam. Thanks so much for your contribution. I’ve been working on the white paper for a while and wondering how best to….frame it? Then I read that piece in HR Magazine which just got me soooo riled up. And from there it was but a short hop to The Clash and that nailed it for me. I love your last sentence, great!

  3. Doug, terrific passion. You know how much we agree on this topic, already. I enjoyed your white paper as well. Can you stand one more story of egregious behavior as a result of incentives? Similar to your call centre story:

    Call centres will often set up reward structures based on call time or number of calls handled within a set amount of time. Yet such practices merely encourage representatives to get callers off the phone as quickly as possible, and not necessarily give the customer the level of service or help they truly require. So the representative is rewarded on essentially poor customer service and potentially a destroyed customer relationship.

    Brilliant. This is from an old post of mine that includes a Dilbert comic strip that summarises the point much more effectively than I can:

    Keep up the great work, Doug.

    1. Hi Derek. Lovely to hear from you and I can always stand just one more story….

      Sad tale indeed. Sad because it’s true, and sad because it gets repeated often. We learn so slooooowwwwwlllllly sometimes eh? Love the Dilbert – excellent fun!

      Keep on keepin’ on 🙂

  4. Hi Doug – one of the companies we’re talking to is in IT services and they removed all sales bonuses with only positive impacts apparently. Gotta be brave

    1. Hi Pete – great to hear that, I’m sure they won’t look back. Bravery is the new punk – love it!

  5. Hi Doug

    Delighted to find out that it isn’t just me who is getting riled by this bonus mentality! What really galls me is the manner in which bonuses have become “a contractual right” for that by definition makes them an entitlement and largely removes the performance element – as was so clearly evidenced by the banking fiasco. The bank fails but everyone involved still gets a bonus. Bonus as I recall comes from the Latin word meaning good, and organisational non-performance is not good and therefore it follows there can and should be no bonus!

    The other thing that really steams me is the disparity in the rates of bonus. Only a few weeks ago we had the CEO of Network Rail geting a bonus that doubled his earnings. Now I am b****y sure none of the lower-ranked workers is entitled to a 100% bonus! Yet this kind of inequity is tolerated and encouraged by the HR profession who don’t see anything at wrong with it – despite the fact that they claim one of their biggest challenges is employee engagement. How in heaven’s name can you expect to engage your employees if there is a two-tier remuneration system that creates an apartheid within the organisation?

    If that is not frustrating enough, it is this kind of thinking that creates the barrier to my developing my business, which offers a very practical, powerful solution to this problem. And with my kids have left the nest, I have to look for other places to find the solace that your young daughter gave you! 🙂

    1. Hello Bay, thanks for popping by. You raise a number of interesting observations. The “contractual right” feeling is a powerful and damaging one. I can recall a time when the global division of BT decided to pull the annual bonus. Given the financial position I think that was probably the right thing to do. However cracks began to appear. Many people round the water cooler had been predicting this change months earlier. It was implemented after the year had closed, that is to say after everyone had delivered against the bonus objectives. This action smacked of a lack of trust. Sales people (who were being bonused for selling revenue not value) were paid, handsomely. Managers weren’t.

      Then in support of your two tier point, the group CEO trousered over £300k despite failing all his financial targets. This enormous payout was based on improvements in customer service. Now I’m not going to say that customer service hadn’t improved, but most folk would agree that BT’s service is simply not good enough. Certainly not good enough to warrant the boss taking home such a huge payout.

      Indefensible? I think so. And yet we know this behaviour persists widely. Nevertheless I am encouraged by Pete Massey’s observation. Change has to start somewhere, and it has. Good news.

      Regards your business, keep showing your passion as you have done here, keep practising and keep on keeping on. In his furious pomp, the late great Joe Strummer wrote:

      “All the power’s in the hands
      Of people rich enough to buy it
      While we walk the street
      Too chicken to even try it

      Everybody’s doing
      Just what they’re told to
      Nobody wants
      To go to jail!”

      I encourage you to listen to the late, great Joe Strummer’s powerful one minute speech about people. Here’s the link:

      See you in jail 🙂

    1. Hi Vandy – good point. I think maybe we’re stuck because it’s so seductively easy to do the bonus thing. Yawn eh?

      Delighted to have a link back to you from here – the animation is cool. I was at that talk Dan gave so it’s a powerful reminder to me personally.

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