Some of what's widely believed about managing people is often right. But some is worse than worthless. We're actually better off ignoring it. Here's a fourth installment of adages and beliefs that sound like common sense, but which are actually untrue or massively misapplied. See "Wacky Words of Wisdom," Point Lookout for July 14, 2010, for Part I and links to others.
- You get what you pay for
- Many believe that for any given individual, and any desired behavior, we can structure money-based incentives that effectively elicit the behavior. That is a false belief.
- Numerous studies have demonstrated the falsity of this belief [Kamenica 2012]. Even if such an incentive program did exist, it could be effective only with accurate communication of the program to the target individuals. And we all know how unreliable communication can be.
- Punishment deters bad behavior
- This belief is the inverse of the monetary incentives idea. It holds that disincentives can deter employees from any specific undesirable behavior. It's also a false belief. Although disincentives can deter some people from some behaviors, we overestimate the effectiveness of disincentives, and we often overlook their negative side effects.
- Research has demonstrated [Eschleman 2014] the shortcomings of disincentives. Moreover, the effectiveness of disincentives in deterring others is limited by communications constraints arising from regulations designed to protect the privacy of individuals who have been disciplined or terminated.
- People make choices on the basis of rational self-interest
- This belief is at the heart of claims that incentives and disincentives are effective. The effectiveness of incentives and disincentives depends on people making rational choices after being informed of them.
- In 2002, Daniel Kahneman, an Israeli-American psychologist, was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for foundational work he carried out jointly with Amos Tversky, who was deceased at the time of the award (the Prize is not awarded posthumously). Kahneman and Tversky demonstrated that people don't always choose rationally; indeed, in some classes of situations, they rarely choose rationally. Among other mechanisms, cognitive biases account for many of these phenomena.
- Whatever you're trying to do, teams do it best
- At every Some of what we believe is worse
than worthless. We're actually
better off ignoring it.size scale, enterprises have reorganized themselves around teams. Teams are effective for some things, but not everything, and not in every setting [Bacal 2015]. Probably the next level of sophistication about teamwork will involve knowing when not to organize as teams.
- Writing is an example. If documents can be segmented, then teams (actually groups of individuals) can write them faster and better. But when we need consistency of style and content, single authors do best. And so it is with much else that people are now trying to do in teams. Study the work you do as teams and ask "How is (or maybe, 'Is') the team structure helping?"
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
For more examples, see "Wacky Words of Wisdom," Point Lookout for July 14, 2010, "Wacky Words of Wisdom: II," Point Lookout for June 6, 2012, "Wacky Words of Wisdom: III," Point Lookout for July 11, 2012, "Wacky Words of Wisdom: V," Point Lookout for May 25, 2016, and "Wacky Words of Wisdom: VI," Point Lookout for November 28, 2018.
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Doorknob Disclosures and Bye-Bye Bombshells
- A doorknob disclosure is an uncomfortable, painful, or embarrassing revelation offered at the end of
a meeting or conversation, usually by someone who's about to exit. When we learn about bad news in this
way, we can feel frustrated and trapped. How can we respond effectively?
- Give It Your All
- If you have the time and resources to read this, you probably have a pretty good situation, or you have
what it takes to be looking for one. In many ways, you're one of the fortunate few. Are you making the
most of the wonderful things you have? Are you giving it your all?
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- Whether you're a CEO appealing to your Board of Directors, your stockholders or regulators, or a project
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for success now and in the future?
- Solutions as Found Art
- Examining the most innovative solutions we've developed for difficult problems, we often find that they
aren't purely new. Many contain pieces of familiar ideas and techniques combined together in new ways.
Accepting this as a starting point can change our approach to problem solving.
- Embolalia and Stuff Like That: I
- When we address others, we sometimes use filler — so-called automatic speech or embolalia —
without thinking. Examples are "uh," "um," and "er," but there are more
complex forms, too. Embolalia are usually harmless, if mildly annoying to some. But sometimes they can
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.