We find ourselves half way through Q1 and for some organizations this means the 2011 bonuses have finally been paid out, while employees are hard at work realizing their targets for Q1 bonus opportunities. Some may find rancor among the ranks or perceive a slip in morale, good citizenship (OCB), or job involvement behaviors. Is it the February slump, or is there perhaps something deeper that might explain the observations?
A few years ago I attended a conference and the keynote speaker, Renée Baillargeon, an eminent psychologist discussed the ways in which children develop knowledge about their social world at much earlier ages than we have believed possible. Piagetian theory often placed a child’s ability to engage in complex social processing as not possible until well into the preschool ages. In fact, what Baillargeon’s work pointed out was that an infant’s capacity to process and predict social behaviors occurred much earlier and were delayed only due to our capacity to measure and assess them. Rather than assessing verbal answers she has developed a method which measures eye gaze and since this can be reliably measured in infants as young as 18 months there are now indications that social-moral reasoning is happening earlier than previously observed.
Recently she and her colleague’s published their results in Psychological Bulletin and have explored the question of whether infants have a sense of fairness. Their work suggests that the idea of what is fair, who has been wronged, and whether our responses are congruent to the event are directing our behavior and motivations from the earliest of ages. It gets me thinking about the implications when bonuses or other rewards are distributed throughout an organization.
In their research Sloane, Baillargeon, and Premack (2012) examined how infants responded when puppets that were asked to “clean up these toys” were rewarded for their working or slacking behavior. In many workplaces similar conditions exisit; a reward is offered to those who “clean up” and subsequently effort is then expended on cleaning up in order to attain the reward. We are pretty tolerant that all who expend effort should enjoy the reward, but we tend to bristle when someone we perceive to have not genuinely engaged in the task also enjoys the reward. I can recall when a client was discussing a decision she made in awarding bonuses. In her estimation the member of the team that was not present during that quarter due to a leave should not enjoy the bonus enjoyed by the rest of the team that was present all quarter. She was a bit puzzled however when that same employee gave notice a few weeks later, and in her exit interview indicated that being denied a bonus that the rest of the team enjoyed was a factor.
We have terms to explain these differences in perception when it comes to organizational decisions and justice. Those who argue that the worker was rightfully withheld a bonus since she technically did not work that quarter subscribe to an equality justice ethos; you are rewarded directly commensurate to the work you put in. The worker however appears to have subscribed to an interactional justice ethos; you are rewarded based on the interpersonal and procedural distributions you have influenced. The case might be argued that although she was absent during the quarter she was still responsible for some of the deals that had closed that quarter, she was still being cited as a member of the team to existing and potential clients and so her team benefited from their affiliation with her despite her absence, and she had not behaved in a manner to detract from the team or withheld support of her team despite her physical absence.
When the infants watched the two puppet giraffes either get a sticker for working or get a sticker despite slacking, Sloane et al (2012) report that the 21 month olds looked longest/perceived the greatest injustice when the reward was announced before the task began, and was then distributed evenly to both the worker and the slacker puppet. If no reward had been announced, but a directive to clean up was provided and then the giraffes, worker and slacker both, were given a sticker, the infants did not see as large an unfairness.
Might this guide us in managing Q2 bonus opportunities? If you find yourself managing fall out from 2011 bonuses or bracing for Q1 disputes think about whether you have systems in place to ensure that workers, not slackers, are being rewarded. If such systems are not realistic for current circumstances consider whether pre-announcing awards is such a wise idea. It may be better to promote organizational commitment to simply award “the stickers” without pinning it on certain efforts. Not your idea of a bonus? Call it something else, it will likely encourage the OCB you seek, incentivize those motivated by external inputs, and not detract from those whose contributions are significant but less visible. And most importantly, if you are thinking you will help yourself to your 21 month old’s valentine candy and think she won’t mind a bit, think again! Those kiddos are socially savvy!
It was an inspiring day. There were presenations about why culture matters, suggestions on how to message culture across an organization, and even opportunities to bring forward the culture-related-challenges of our own organizations for feedback and insight from the attendees. And the attendees! A great combination of experienced business execs, relationship focused human resource managers, and a few organizational consultants made for impassioned and informed dialogue.
While there were several topics that warranted digging deeper, it wasn’t any of the presentations that have left me with a “aha” feeling. No, what has me doing that throughout the evening after the event is an exchange I witnessed as the conference was winding down. The day had been filled with moments of real leaders sharing experiences that had moved they or their organizations from middle of the road to break out. It was hard to sit in the audience and not ponder ways in which oneself or ones organization might be improved upon. At the end of the day a woman approached a table where I had been speaking briefly with two men who had participated in the program as speakers. She was radiant, presenting a mixture of pride and excitement along with some hesitation. After excusing herself she shared that she had been deeply inspired by the talks and that she was spending more and more time thinking about a dream she had been working to create for sometime. She started to share details of her idea, the ways in which this vision intersected several passions she had long held, thoughts she had to expand and extend the idea from a small launch to a comprehensive system of products and experiences. She had clearly already spent a great deal of time working towards making the idea a reality but she had not pursued it as a singular passion. She was sharing this with two people who had significant contacts and experience in some of the ventures she described.
The entire conference had been focused on social capital within organizations and ways we might leverage even single areas of commonality to deepen and intensify relationships. Here was a living opportunity to test what had been presented all day. When one of the speakers asked the woman if she wanted the opportunity to lead a new division within his company, spend her time fully devoted to the idea she was sharing, develop it and have equity stake in the results, what do you think happened? What would you do if someone offered you a chance to devote yourself full time to a dream you had nurtured for years? What if you had recently started a new “job”? Would that sway you in one direction or another?
The two speakers watched as the woman stepped back, continued her passionate description of her idea, and exchanged business cards. She had not actually introduced herself but was promising to send an email. Even though she was being invited on the spot to sit with a supportive VC she let the opportunity slip away. She completely missed the magic of the moment. And the two speakers, who had spent their days encouraging organizations to follow their passions and instincts and to create spaces for their employees to do the same, saw the vision slip away as well. Maybe she will follow up, maybe send a congratulatory email and thank them for their time. She might be the person that comes to mind for them in a month or so when an opportunity to combine social philanthropy intersects with her product idea. But chances are they won’t, because what will stay fresh in their minds is the way in which she missed the open door. Its hard to believe that someone who has spent years on a dream would miss the fairy godmother when she came knocking.
What lessons can I pull from her experience that might make a difference if a knock should happen in my life?
1)Say who you are and what you are about-She had the attention of her audience just by being genuine and sincere but she never said her own name so follow up would be hard to do!
2) Listen, listen, listen- Passion is infectious but if you are trying to connect with someone else around an idea you might want to actually hear what they have to say. It really might be encouraging rather than dismissive and you can’t assume you know what others think (she did a lot of this “I know, its crazy, but it is sooo much more than what I am saying”- Uh, no, actually they seem really receptive and interested, maybe you can let them speak now!).
3) Be present- Several times she was offered the chance to grab a quite corner and share her ideas, talk through ways she could make them real right now, and set up additional times for further discussion. For whatever reason she did not do this. Maybe it was another appointment, a call she needed to make, fear that she wasn’t being taken seriously, or fear that her idea was not going to be her own. Whatever the reason, she missed out on the gift that her presence in the present might have revealed. A theme of the day had been “may I serve” and the not-so-subtle example of Jesus Christ’s ministry resonated throughout the sessions. His followers were not inspired by him because he commanded a full days agenda or because he ran from one meeting or obligation to another. No, they were inspired by him because he was fully present to them and their needs when they needed it. His example is to take the person in front of you and be there with them, totally and completely. The woman at the conference could not believe that either of the speakers would be willing to do that for her, and she wasn’t willing to risk that to be present to them.
I would never say great things won’t come for the woman I met, and I can’t say that she made a wrong choice. I can say that if you want to realize your passions it won’t happen in isolation and that cultivating social capital takes risk and follow through. Speaking, listening, and doing the next best thing in this moment go a lot further than trying to make the plan perfect in your own mind before taking any action.
Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor, Entrepreneur, and Diversity Columnist.
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Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP, 2011-2014