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Ryan E. Day

Quality Insider

Man Bites Croc?

Applying root cause analysis to reward programs

Published: Thursday, April 28, 2011 - 09:25

Let me begin by saying that I have a great deal of respect for Mike Micklewright’s achievements and contributions in the realms of business, training, and writing. I feel the need, however, to explore the nature of his reasoning in reference to his “Croc of the Month” article published in Quality Digest Daily on March 10, 2011.

In fact, my hackles went up from the first paragraph and little alarm bells rang in my head throughout the entire article.

Micklewright’s disdain for reward systems in general is well known, and though I’ve had reservations concerning his opinion on the subject, I feel that this particular piece unduly “smushes together” several concepts and warrants review.

“Smushed together” stuff

Not exactly a technical term, but helpful in describing a fault in reasoning whereby an explanation combines more than one concept as if the concepts were inextricable from one another. The “smushed” concepts are then used as a singular point of reference for further explanation. The problem with “smushing” is that if one of those concepts is based on faulty assumptions, the logic that follows may also be faulty.

In this case,
• Reward systems
• “Of the Month” (OTM) systems
• Short-term good behavior
• Real-world innovation
• Altruistic principles
• Competition
• His daughter’s hurt feelings

... are all “smushed” together to support the opinion that reward programs in general, and OTM type programs in particular, are counterproductive and too emotionally taxing to be of value.

“Unsmushing” it

In the “Croc” article, Micklewright writes that OTM systems are counterproductive due to their very nature and not due to poor understanding, implementation, and execution. I heartily disagree.

In a certain respect, all human beings behave in response to some form of reward. Even those who follow altruistic principles do so to achieve a certain outcome (a reward).

Before children can fully grasp the concepts of “good solid principles for the betterment of our community, our place of employment, and ourselves,” they can learn that certain behaviors and principles, e.g., punctuality and truthfulness, are to be expected of them. Furthermore, good things will come if they embrace them. Conformance to standards of behavior benefits the instructors and the students.

As people mature, reward programs can still be used to reinforce these ideas.

If reward programs foster competition, that’s a good thing. As long as leaders do not reward achievement at the expense of principles, competition fosters effort.

Effort in the pursuit of a goal is a good thing. Not winning is sometimes part of competition.

OTMs give good leaders an opportunity to recognize individuals who usually do not garner any special attention: a child with learning disabilities but a sweet sense of empathy for her classmates, a janitor who works tirelessly and maintains a great disposition, a manual laborer who shows up for work every day without fail and is willing to be a workhorse without complaint. An effective leader uses an OTM as a tool to shine the light of appreciation on these individuals.

In most cases, people do have some positive characteristics and performances that can be rewarded with public recognition. There are enough days in the year to touch each one with that small reward.

If, however, educators pervert “Of the Month,” “Of the Week,” or “Of the Day” programs into their own little “Educating with the Stars” show, the program is doomed to fall victim to the educator’s ego and subjective favoritism. That does not, however, mean that the program is without merit. It just means that educators (and managers) don’t always do a good job administering the program.

Being a parent myself, I understand the turmoil that inferior educators can cause, but it is possible for emotions to cloud judgment and reasoning. Perhaps some root cause analysis could be revealing.

Reward programs were never meant to be the be-all, end-all of training and instruction; they’re just one tool. Every tool in the shed has the capacity to do harm, but properly utilized, OTMs help children and employees earn rewards that reinforce the principles that we all strive to teach.


About The Author

Ryan E. Day’s picture

Ryan E. Day

Ryan E. Day is Quality Digest’s project manager and senior editor for solution-based reporting, which brings together those seeking business improvement solutions and solution providers. Day has spent the last decade researching and interviewing top business leaders and continuous improvement experts at companies like Sakor, Ford, Merchandize Liquidators, Olympus, 3D Systems, Hexagon, Intertek, InfinityQS, Johnson Controls, FARO, and Eckel Industries. Most of his reporting is done with the help of his 20 lb tabby cat at his side.


Reward system

I think you have to consider what you really want out of the reward system and create the right path to get there, otherwise you may find yourself in a situation where "you get what you want, but you may not want what you get."  An example of this would be a safety program in which an entire team gets a reward, let's say, a case of beer for having no OSHA recordable injuries in a month.  If there is one injury, everyone in the facility does not get the case of beer that month.

The goal would be to improve safety, of course.  But the real result is that people hide injuries in order to get the beer, or more importantly, make sure their peers get the beer and that they are not rebuked because they "lost the safety beer" for everyone.  The people who created the reward program may not even be aware of this behavior, or worse, look the other way because they are rewarded, financially or otherwise, for the "results".