Yikes! When Rewards Undermine Your Intended Outcome

Over the last several months, I have been working with a passionate group of team members to design a recognition program to reward  staff who exemplified the Wiser Way principles of curiosity, collaboration, positivity, execution and integrity. We wanted the program to enhance the positive and other-focused culture that we have been actively working on.

The team was incredibly creative. We named the program “Feather in your Cap” and designed feather bookmarks and pins that people would get when they received recognition from a number of peers for each principle. We had visions of electronic badges and gamification that would encourage people to participate in the program.

Our first hint that something was wrong was when we reached out to a small group of team members to help us collect feedback on the idea. We showed them the program and asked them to lead the discussion at their tables at the all staff meeting where we rolled out the program. The feedback was clear. The staff was  concerned about how the rewards would be distributed and whether people would feel demotivated by not being recognized. The biggest concern was fairness. People thought it was going to be a popularity contest. Some suggested committees to make sure the nominations were evaluated consistently. Many people said they just wanted monetary rewards.

The design team was discouraged. We made a few tweaks and thought hard about how we could address staff concerns and make the program be more positive. The leader of the group found a video about rewards that go bad. As we met to discuss the feedback, I had a moment of insight. We were rewarding the wrong behavior and instead of promoting, we were undermining the culture we had been so intentionally creating. The rewards were promoting self-focus and competition instead of the Wiser Way principles of curiosity, collaboration, positivity, execution and integrity.

So we did a pivot.

We shifted to entire focus to appreciating others.

We named the new program “Cheers for Peers” and removed all physical rewards. In the new program:

  • Everybody has the opportunity to give appreciation to everyone
  • Each person controls how engaged he/she want to be
  • Focus is on giving, not getting and on others, not self
  • There is opportunity to foster a positive environment

We created a channel on our portal to allow anyone to submit a cheer anytime they want for anything big or small. There is a public gratitude board that shows all of the cheers. There is also a tab that privately shows each individual how many times they have recognized others, the badge they have earned for cheering others, who they have recognized the most and who has recognized them the most. The most important rewards are the feelings you get from recognizing others and being recognized.

After we had developed the new program, we brought the same small group together to see their reaction. The response was incredibly positive with none of the concerns from the previous iteration of the program.  

The day after we showed the small group, we opened up the channel quietly on our portal and immediately they started sending cheers across the organization. We will be rolling out the program across the organization this week and it feels so much better than the original program we designed.

I have learned how easy it is to get the incentives and rewards wrong. And how important it is to test ideas before putting them into practice.

Have you ever had a similar experience when the incentives you implemented undermine the intended outcome? How did you know and how did you adjust?

Creating Momentum for Organizational Transformation

The IT world has been shifting drastically. Everyone knows about cloud computing, but most people do not understand that the way software needs to be developed to be truly cloud-based, is substantially different than how software has been built for decades. Quick development cycles and continuous updates to software are now required. To make this shift, some organizations are transferring the LEAN operational principles that propelled Toyota to produce high quality and reliable cars to software delivery. In software development, the LEAN principles are referred to as Agile Development or DevOps.

LEAN principles can be effectively applied to almost any process to make it better. The main idea is that for work to happen in the fastest possible way, it needs to flow through the system continuously without stopping and not come back into the flow of work because of poor quality.  To integrate these principles requires a transformation in how an organization acquires and builds software and the infrastructure to support it.

The challenge is how to create enough energy and momentum within your organization for this transformation.

To introduce Agile and DevOps practices within ITS at Temple, we have done several things to increase the awareness, understanding, and support for this transformation.

We looked for experts. My leadership team went to visit Pivotal, a company that trains organizations on how to make this shift. After that visit, we sent several team members from different parts of the organization to the SpringOne conference, where Fortune 25 companies who have adopted the Pivotal methodology and tools converged. The team came back energized and awed by what they saw and excited about what we could do. The conference also helped them understand that this shift is not about technology, but about people.

We spread the word. After these evangelists started talking to their teams about what a difference DevOps could make at Temple, we sent 27 attendees to a local one-day DevOps conference. The participants came back with a better understanding of the principles of DevOps. They were also encouraged that other organizations were struggling with how to apply these changes as well, understanding that we weren’t as far behind as we feared.

We started experimenting with the principles. My leadership team made a Kanban board of our work across the organization to try to get an understanding of our work in progress. The visual display of our work traffic jam was powerful. Although I have been studying these principles for years, this exercise drove home to me that I had not done my job of focusing our teams on the most impactful work for our organization.

We invited everyone to participate. We announced a retreat to develop the strategic vision for how ITS could adopt Agile/DevOps principles. Everyone was invited. The only requirement to attend was to read “The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win.” Several people commented that although it was fiction, it accurately described how we feel overwhelmed as we juggle the unending stream of requests and the unplanned work that happens when things break.

Over eighty people came to the retreat and it was an energizing and productive day. We created a shared vision for Agile and DevOps at Temple, learned about the principles together and brainstormed ideas about how to move the culture and operational change along. This is the shared vision for Temple ITS that the attendees created at our retreat.

Culture
We are educators, who support an inclusive environment that is respectful, people-focused, and fun!

We encourage learning and recognize people’s positive intent. With trust, we grow from our mistakes by continually supporting a quality improvement mindset (LEAN principles).

Innovation
We strive to be innovative in technology, cost efficiency and creativity. We advance our mission by creating opportunities to explore improvements and expand our personal development. We lead by supporting a rapid development environment.

Optimization
We optimize our time by identifying and automating repeatable processes to efficiently utilize our technical resources. We seek to minimize redundancies, rework, and defects to strengthen our resolve to follow LEAN principles. We use agile processes and choice architecture to present different alternatives in process and user experience to our customers.

Collaboration and Communication
We operate everyday with clear communication, collaboration and information sharing. We build and foster all of our relationships by inviting internal/external stakeholders to be a member of our team and encouraging feedback with authenticity in our discussions.

We have already instituted changes with daily leadership stand-ups, created Wonderful Wednesdays to encourage innovation and experimentation and started to visually track our work. As we head into a new year, we have so much energy about the possibilities, and the really wonderful thing is that the transformation is being championed by the group and not just me.

I can’t wait to see what the new year brings!

Changing Lives through Tech Training

Jamal receives his diploma upon graduating from the Temple Tech for Philly program.
Photography By: Marissa Weekes Mason

Earlier this month, I attended a graduation of 14 adults who completed the first step in the Project Home/Temple Tech for Philly joint program designed to give people, in the neighborhoods that surround Temple, marketable technical skills so they can change their lives for the better.

Project HOME is a Philadelphia non-profit organization empowering individuals to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness through affordable housing, employment, health care, and education. Temple University started as a night school in the Baptist Temple as a way to improve the economic situations of the laborers in the surrounding Philadelphia neighborhood. That story is core to the purpose of Temple; to find and polish the “acres of diamonds” that are in our backyard. I came to Temple because that purpose resonates strongly with me.

The idea for the program sprouted over a year ago when we met with the Project HOME IT team to discuss whether there was any need for some of the refurbished computers from Temple for Project HOME residents. As we talked about their needs, it became clear that we couldn’t put computers into the neighborhood unless there were trained technicians who could service them. It also became clear that teaching marketable job skills would have a much larger impact than distributing computers.

Erich Smith from Project HOME and Jonathan Latko from Temple took the idea and ran with it. They designed the Tech for Philly program to give participants concrete technical skills and experience. The first step is 10 weeks of intensive study learning how to configure, support, and repair Windows computers. The second step is passing the CompTIA A+ certification exam. For participants who successfully complete the first two steps, the final step in the program is an internship at Temple to get hands-on experience and training. Project HOME provides the connection into the community, facilities, and funds to pay the participants for their time. Temple provides the equipment, instructors, and internship opportunities.

The first graduating class from the Temple Tech for Philly program. Photography By: Cindy Leavitt

A lot of thought and effort went into recruiting and selecting participants who had the aptitude and desire to learn. The program requires incredible commitment from the participants.

I volunteered to co-teach two classes on networking. My co-instructor and I struggled about how to cover all the concepts that the participants were expected to know in the few hours in class. Other instructors said that they had the same struggle. This meant that much of the learning was left to the participants outside of the class time. In addition to lots of reading, the participants got to practice what they learned on computers they built for themselves using refurbished parts from the Temple computer recycling program.

The sense of accomplishment and joy was inspiring to watch as the participants received their diplomas. They had worked so hard and were proud of themselves. An especially touching moment was when the graduates presented a computer they had built to the lab manager as a thank you for the many hours he spent helping them learn.

Without exception, everyone from Temple and Project HOME who had attended the first meeting came up to me at the graduation to marvel at the outcome of that initial outreach. And the instructors talked about how much they enjoyed seeing the intense desire to learn from the participants and how meaningful it was for them to be part of their journey.

When we are involved in transformational learning, whether as a student, teacher, or organizer, it changes our lives for the better. It gives me great satisfaction to be a small part of this program.

How can you be part of transformational learning in the coming year?