July 15th, 2010 by Betty

I have talked with many business owners who offer incentives in some fashion.  I have also heard stories of how many of these have backfired or the owner is frustrated with the entitlement mentality that develops.  I will share my story.

Many years ago, one of my managers proposed an incentive he thought would highly motivate our sculptors on a particular project.  I thought it was a good idea and we presented it, in writing, to a few of our lead artists.  We told these artists that if they beat their time goals by 5% we would offer so much, if they beat them by 10% we would offer them a little more and if they beat them by 15% we would offer even more.  Beyond that we thought quality would suffer.  Their work had to be approved by our Art Director.

The project went very well.  The work was some of our best and the team beat their time goals by more than 20%.  As we had agreed in writing, I gave out checks to this small group of artists for the 15% bonus amount.  I had also recently given an end of year bonus that was quite large.  Right after giving out the checks the artists came into my office together.  They had checks in hand and demanded more.  I was shocked.  I thought I had been extremely generous.  I paid them more than our agreed upon salaries to do what their job descriptions required in the first place.  I had just given out other bonuses, too.  They took home several thousand dollars more than usual.  I, of course, said “no” to their demands and was hurt that they were not more appreciative of the extras I had given already.

On the next several projects, productivity and attitude spiraled down hill with some of these artists because  I was not offering the same incentive.  I assume they thought they should share in all profits going forward.  Of course, they didn’t think of paying for the losses and taking the risks, too.  Behavior really began to become unprofessional as time went by.  One of the artists wrote FU on the back of a groundform we fabricated.  Another took a knife to insulation in one of our newly constructed buildings.  Their attitude and behavior was shocking.  In the end, after several months, two of them were let go from the company.

I have never offered this type of incentive again.  Since then, I have read articles like the this one by Alfie Kohn that discusses why incentives don’t work.  Daniel Pink’s latest book Drive also discusses how some rewards do not motivate us.  Personally, I have been motivated by potential rewards.  For instance, I chose to study business instead of equine science, so I could buy my own horse.  Even so, I am still leery of offering incentives.

What motivates you?  Would you offer incentives?

9 Responses to “Why I Fear Incentives”

  1. Bryan Umbanhowar Says:

    First of all I am shocked that you would even post this on f/b about your buisness! Artist always feel under payed! IT’s a talent we have to be the best at what we do and once deadlines and pressure…..quilty is over looked! I have put my application in with your company. I was taught moldmaking from a sculptor, that was hired by Disney.

  2. Betty Says:

    Thank you for your interest in Taylor Studios. We appreciate all the talented resumes we get.

  3. Janice Says:

    This is why this blog is not posted as a favorite of mine. I find this to be offensive. All artist are placed in a category as unappreciative, misbehaving, whiny babies. There is always another side to the story. I was there when those incentives were offered. Perhaps there was a bit of favoritism to particular artists and they were a bit spoiled. I too was offered an incentive and I was very appreciative of it. Furthermore I too was disappointed and frustrated with the TWO artists hat misbehaved. Incentives are not why I chose to stay here for the last 12 years. The people I work with and the work I do is what I love. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly hard to make a living and support a family. Once an artist makes it to the top of a pay scale there is no where else to go. I am disappointed that this blog would be publicized without the entire story. We should all be careful to criticize and critique others without looking at ourselves. I wish only the best for Taylor Studios and ALL of its staff. I hope someday they can learn to respect and understand each other better.

  4. Betty Says:

    Janice I did not categorize all artists as you stated. It seems you are reading minds there. I am also not sure there was a critique either, just the facts as they happened to me. Yes, we don’t know their side of the story. You were disappointed in their behavior too. I agree that we should look at ourselves. I think the incentive was poorly thought out. Management could have done a better job of how we implemented it. I have read a ton since then and would not handle an incentive the same way.

    If you take a gander at the references this really has nothing to do with artists. I did not intend for this to stereotype artists. It is a discussion about incentives. I apologize if it came across otherwise. It applies to any incentive for any position. There are many different theories on how incentives affect behavior. Daniel Pink says pay is not an incentive as long as you are paid a competitive wage. I would like to think TSI offers a fair wage, challenge, great people to work with and work you all can be very proud of. I don’t think I need to offer incentives, just competitive pay and we will continue to try and improve the workplace. Whiners and misbehaviors need not apply and I don’t think we have any on staff. We have the best staff ever, ALL of them.

    I don’t understand why this post is offensive? What is the other side of the story?

  5. Jessica Says:

    Betty I agree with Daniel Pink when he says pay is not an incentive as long as you are paid a competitive wage. Being in Human Resources, I tried to see myself as an artist while reading your article. I did not find it offensive. I mostly found it shocking. After reading your article I can see why you would be hesitant to give pay incentives. I think it is human nature to always want more, but sometimes you have to look at what you have been given.

    Reading your blog reminded me of a gift card an employer of mine gave me for doing good work. It was the first time an employer had ever done something like that for me before. I felt appreciated and important to the company. Not once have I thought more would have been appropriate. I will probably never forget that gift card and how it made me feel. It made me proud to work for a company that appreciated their employees and I truly believe it enhanced my productivity.

    How can a company motivate employees without pay incentives? How can we reward employees without them feeling controlled, creating jealousy or leave them wanting more? I think we need to concentrate on creating a process that will take our high performance environment even higher along with increasing employee satisfaction.

    I know employees cannot be motivated by money alone. Taylor Studios is a team maybe with a little brainstorming we can come up with some solutions to making a good work environment even better.

  6. Betty Says:

    Well said Jessica. We just finished our second annual employee satisfaction survey. I haven’t studied the results yet. I think the fact that we even do it shows what kind of company we are. We want our staff to be happy to work here. This does not have to be done with incentives.

  7. Behind the Scenes at Taylor Studios, Inc © » Blog Archive » Why do we Blog? Says:

    [...] are informative (see Renee’s series on our design-build process), and some are serious (see Betty’s position on [...]

  8. Katie Says:

    I understand the intent of this post and think it is a very interesting topic. But I can see how it might make artists who have been here a long time feel a little attacked. I think it might have changed the tone a bit if you just replaced the word “artist” with “employee” in a couple places and added a clear disclaimer that not all the employees who received incentives reacted badly.

  9. Jason Cox Says:

    I didn’t find Betty’s posting offensive. I liked Jessica’s positive response. I think that if Betty would have called the artist’s “employee’s” they would have been upset that she didn’t call them “Artist’s”.
    I think Janice has unresolved issues with company policy and maybe even Betty that she needs to address and maybe she wouldn’t view Betty’s posting as negative.
    That’s all I have to say about that…

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