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?"
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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:
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Like most things, it probably does take talent to be among the first rank of those who make conjectures.
But being in the second rank is pretty good, too, and we can learn how to do that.
- Problem-Solving Preferences
- When people solve problems together, differences in preferred approaches can surface. Some prefer to
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- The bane of meetings everywhere, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been digressions. But there are reasons to expect the incidence of digressions in meetings to increase now. What reasons could there be, and what can we do about digressions? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
- And on April 15: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 15.
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- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.
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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.