Building performance, brick by brick.

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If there is one thing that all businesses have in common as they look at plans for 2012 it is that we all would like improved performance from our teams.  There is no one way that guarantees improved performance. 

You can try financial incentives.  One of the things that Jack Welch is often quoted as saying is that you don’t get the behaviour you ask for you get the behaviour that you reward.  So if you ask your sales team to be warm and friendly to their clients, but incentivise them purely on how much money they bring in, don’t be surprised if they sacrifice warmth for bonus.  According to the Welch theory if you incentivise them on service levels as well as sales targets it should work out better if you truly care about both factors.

Jack doesn’t know everything it seems.  Financial incentives are not always the right answer anyway for improved performance.

Dan Pink, NY Times journalist and author of Drive : the surprising truth about what motivates us (, shatters our preconceptions about cash bonuses as a way to get better results from people. 

Through a series of experiments Pink has proved that once you step outside the region of mechanical activity – shifting a pile of bricks from one place to another for instance – and into more complicated behaviour – like selling stuff to customers – then financial incentives often panic people and their performance levels decrease.  Having a large amount of money at stake, instead of motivating them, makes them worry about failure and so they underperform.  The higher the financial incentive, the less it works it seems. 

Even with mechanical activity however significant improvements are not necessarily achieved by incentives.  As long ago as 1909 Franck Gilbreth studied the process of laying bricks – one that people had been carrying out for thousands of years – and by carefully studying the process more than doubled productivity without increasing anyone’s workload.  For details see,_Sr..

Gilbreth believed above all that all aspects of the work place need to be constantly questioned and improvements constantly adopted.  Gilbreth called his improvements in bricklaying techniques “Therbligs”. 

Ours is an industry in constant change.  Our need of Therbligs grows as the pace of change continues to increase exponentially.  For increased productivity you need to change working processes as well as review the incentive programme.

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