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?

The Cost of Complaining

It seems so normal to sit around the office complaining about others. While it might feel great to blow off steam and get others to sympathize, few of us consider the incredible cost to ourselves, our colleagues and our organizations of indulging in this behavior. This week, I have been acutely aware of the impact of complaining as I indulged in complaining myself and witnessed the impact of other’s complaints on my team.

The cost in terms of time is enormous. While many of us may justify a rant about another department or colleague as troubleshooting or clearing the air, the truth is that most of the time we repeat our complaint to whoever will listen and far past the time when the offense occurred.

In addition to sapping time, complaining also saps energy and potential.

The more we complain, the less hopeful we feel about being able to change a situation. How often do we just shrug and say, that is just the way that Sam or Sally or that department is and there is nothing we can do to change the situation. As a leader, the repercussions of complaining are amplified based on the position you hold. But, independent of position of authority, chronic complaining can destroy teams and make work miserable for you and everyone around you.

The effect on the recipients of the complaining is even more deflating. When they inevitably hear about the complaints or feel the animosity from others, they lose energy, focus, and motivation. The tragedy is that many people don’t feel that their efforts are wanted or appreciated at work and so they invest their energy and passion where it will be appreciated. When we focus on the things we don’t like about someone, our animosity and frustration grow. We discount their strengths and talent and are not able to see their potential.

The following advice about complaining from Robert Biswas-Diener in “The Three Types of Complaining” is invaluable.

  • Avoid dampening your mood by complaining only rarely
  • Complain only in instances where you believe it will effect real and positive change
  • Consider whether affirmation or some other strategy will work instead of complaining
  • Limit your exposure to complaining by limiting your exposure to complainers

Energy is the most important asset that we have as individuals and organizations. How does complaining impact your energy? What strategies have you found that reduce complaining in yourself and your teams? A great article to read for ideas is “The Next Time You Want to Complain at Work, Do This Instead.”

Playing together builds teams


Annual Temple Tech Olympics – Photograph by Michele Schinzel

We just held our second annual Olympics for Temple Tech. It is a time for our team to step away from normal work and play with each other in a relaxed setting. The day is organized by volunteers and is funded by my office. What a great investment in building our team. It was such a fun day!

This year we had better weather and more people came out to spend time playing games, eating, and socializing. Last year was our first time holding the event and many people did not attend because they said they did not have time. The fact that more people came was an indicator to me that it was more acceptable to attend this kind of event and step away from our normal work.

I spent the entire day at the event signally how important I believe playing together is in building relationships and teams. It was wonderful! I personally participated in the cornhole tournament and played volleyball, scrabble, and bananagrams. I was able to catch up with team members from across the organization and heard about family vacations and adventures outside of work.

The relaxed setting allowed several people to personally thank me for the impact that my style has had on the group, which I appreciated.

My favorite encounter was with Jay Holt, who shared his incredible experience skydiving, which he credited to the Wiser Way training that we did as a group last year. He talked about wanting to make stepping outside of his comfort zone a regular habit and that skydiving was his first big step toward doing that.

Our jobs in IT are stressful much of the time because we help people who are experiencing technical problems, have an inexhaustible demand for our services, and run the systems for the entire university that need to be available all of the time. We work in teams solving problems and getting projects done all of the time, so we are used to working together and enjoy solving problems and building solutions that serve our students, faculty and staff.

Playing together is such a delightful break from the normal interactions that will strengthen our ability to work together under stressful situations. It builds connections and stronger relationships, gives everyone a needed break, and promotes having fun at work. As we wrapped up the day, the planning group was already talking about what they will do next year to make it better and my leadership team was talking about how to encourage more team members to take a break and join us.

 

See Stress as an Opportunity for Growth

Photo by Christian Kortum (CC2.0 License)

As part of my transition to Philadelphia, my husband and I just bought a house. I love the house because it is in the trees and every time that I drive into the neighborhood, it feels peaceful and like I am coming home.

Last week, I moved from my rental in the city out to the house in the suburbs. It is something that I have been looking forward to for months.

The transition has been more stressful than I anticipated.

After spending a year and a half sleeping through the constant noise of the city, I couldn’t get to sleep the first night. It was so quiet. The unfamiliar sounds in the new house sounded so loud against the absolute stillness. I finally feel asleep around 3am and woke up exhausted. In my anxiety to catch the train, I smashed my hand in my back door as I was rushing out of the house and was bleeding as I figured out how to pay for parking at the train station. When I got to campus, I realized that I left my cell phone at the house.

After work, I stopped at the hardware store on the way home. I successfully navigated to the store without my phone directing my every turn. Getting home though was not as easy and I ended up driving in circles as I tried to figure out the winding roads and rely on landmarks. When I finally got home, I spent several minutes searching for my house keys because I was tired and flustered.

That was the short description of the first day in my new home. I’m still adapting as every small task requires focus to complete. I have to establish a whole new set of patterns and habits. In addition, there are constant irritants of things not working as I expect them.

Through the stress, I have been asking myself what lesson I am going to learn from what is happening. That focus on growth has shifted my thought process. I have been observing how I am reacting and the stories I am telling myself. I have been able to stop myself from going to blame and anger and frustration.

I was able to fully put this principle into practice on my latest incident in the new house. I was quite pleased with myself for figuring out why the garage door openers had no power until I realized that I had locked myself out of the house. After assessing my predicament, I determined that I would be able to get into one of the doors by removing the hinges from inside the garage, but I didn’t have any tools. So in my stocking feet, I walked next door to introduce myself to my new neighbors and asked for help. Fortunately, my new neighbor had the tools I needed and was also kind enough to come over to help me break back into my house. I was able to laugh about it even as it was happening, realizing that it was a memorable way to introduce myself into the neighborhood.

Through all of this, I have had an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I am still able to learn and change. Growth requires putting yourself outside of your comfort zone. Recognizing the stress that comes with change as a growth opportunity has been helpful for me. My challenge to you this week is to ask yourself what you are going to learn the next time you feel stress.

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?

 

Waking Up to the Power of Intention and Contribution

It has been over a year since I became the CIO at Temple University and it has been an incredible year of self-growth as well as positive change in the organization. The Wiser Way program that we created has a been a big part of the culture change to empower and develop leaders at all levels.

Subash Reddy Karra just finished the Wiser Way program and described the personal effect that the program has had on him in this way, “Before I was always focused on what kept me up at night. Now I am focused on what gets me up in the morning.” He also described how the first exercise of crafting a mission statement initially felt like a joke. That mission statement is now guiding his daily habits and improving  his life as he lives more intentionally.

I have had several meaningful interactions with Subash recently as he reached out to me to express gratitude for the effect that I have had on him personally. One of the new habits he has established as a result of the program was sending a personal gratitude letter at the end of each month. I was the lucky recipient of his letter this month. On Thanksgiving morning, he sent a beautiful letter that lifted me up so much. Here is an excerpt:

“Thank you for putting in place changes that are always empowering employees like me (professionally/personally) and stretching me to dream bigger things to accomplish that I could never have thought of in the past.

The work you do not only impacts CS employees but also Temple University and we can only hope that the impact you make creates a chain reaction in others to do the same. Thank you so much for letting me be part of that experience with you. If you ever need an example of people coming around to the power of intention and contribution, please count me as one more example.”

We continued the conversation during the final Wiser Way session. Subash talked about several changes that he made in his personal life as a result of the program. He returned to regular yoga practice and instituted planning rituals to establish personal and professional goals. He indicated how the flexible work policies that we established allowed him to make these foundational changes in his life. He described himself as moving from a zombie state to waking up.

As I listened to Subash relate his gratitude and the extent of his personal change, I was astonished. Subash has always been a valuable and productive leader on our team. The culture we are creating is unleashing more of his incredible potential and he is feeling so much more joy and energy.

Subash’s journey is inspiring to me and gives me the courage to continue my work of developing positive leaders and organizations. That is what gets me out of bed every morning!

I would love to hear your personal transformation stories. How have you applied the tools and concepts from the Wiser Way training?

 

Practicing Vulnerability as a Leader

Photo by Gerd Altmann

I saw Brené Brown speak at the Philadelphia Conference for Women and was truly inspired. Brené’s work has been very important to me personally and is an integral part of “A Wiser Way” leadership program that we have developed at Temple. The week before I saw Brené speak in person, I taught a couple of Wiser Way sessions that introduced Brene’s “Power of Vulnerability” TED talk. As part of each session, I shared a painful personal story. I was nervous about sharing my story, because I was afraid that I would get emotional and cry. That has happened in a couple of instances to me in a work setting before and I have been mortified because I have labeled it as unprofessional.

However, I was introducing the concept of vulnerability and how important that was in being a courageous leader to the group. I felt that it was important to practice what I was preaching. I also wanted to demonstrate what it looked like to step outside of your comfort zone and sharing a painful personal story was outside of mine.

So, I practiced over and over before the class until I was able to relate my story without crying when I was at home. However, when I shared my story with the group, I got emotional and cried a little. To be fair, this is genetic. I cry during all Hallmark commercials and Disney movies when a parent predictably dies.

The difference for me this time was that instead of feeling mortified for crying at work, I was okay with it. This allowed me to regain control of my emotions and continue with my story during the session. I had relabeled being authentic and vulnerable as being courageous rather than unprofessional.

That label made a huge difference in how I experienced that moment and how I felt after. I was relieved to have gotten through the presentation, but I wasn’t embarrassed or feeling overly exposed after the class. In fact, I felt supported as several people came up after class to thank me for sharing my story. And I felt very honored when many of the participants shared their personal stories with me.

Lyndsey Karp sent me this note after attending the session. “I’ve heard the Brené Brown video you shared before and been to a number of vulnerability workshops, but yours was especially impactful because of the personal story you shared. I personally struggle with vulnerability and it’s a difficult subject to cover especially in the workplace where it’s tempting to remain professional and closed off. Watching you share so openly was something I won’t soon forget. Your courage showed me that being open and honest with your peers doesn’t have to take away from your success as a woman in business. I’m determined to reach my goals in my career and learned from you that sometimes being vulnerable can actually help with that mission where I always worry it will hurt. I wanted to let you know that the experience resonated with me and to say thank you.”

Being vulnerable at work isn’t comfortable, but it has been empowering for me. As I have practiced being vulnerable and authentic, my confidence in my leadership ability and effectiveness have both increased. More importantly, it is creating a safe environment for others to practice being vulnerable, authentic, and creative. It is a lot of fun and very rewarding to work in that kind of space.

My challenge to you this week is to step out of your comfort zone and practice being vulnerable. I hope you will discover that being your authentic self is liberating and increases your effectiveness.

Examining Self-Doubt

We had our first Wiser Way book club and we talked about “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. It is a powerful, enjoyable, and thought-provoking book. As part of the discussion, we talked about the habit loops in our lives.

One of the participants talked about how he had a habit of self-doubt. I asked him to explain what he meant by that. He said that when he completes a piece of technical work that he confidently feels is done well, he has found that if he can have a bit of self-doubt, he is curious enough to recheck his work and has been able to find and correct errors.

This comment has stuck with me because I have defined self-doubt as bad and something to be avoided.

My definition of self-doubt is rooted in shame. It is when my inner voice starts saying, “Who do you think you are? You are not going to be able to do that. You are going to look like a fool!” For many years, it was my mental habit when I have felt challenged or exposed.

The difference in these two definitions of self-doubt is that one is grounded in humility and the other in humiliation. Humiliation leads to lashing out, blaming others or yourself, and limits your effectiveness.

One of the points in the book is that you cannot eliminate a habit, but you can replace it with another one. So, I have been working for several years to replace my habit of negative self-talk with openness and curiosity. This is similar to how my colleague described his habit of humble self-doubt. It means being open to learning and examining your assumptions.

When I am at my best, I have replaced that old script with a new one. It says something like, “I am not sure how this is going to turn out, but it will be fun to experiment. This is an opportunity to make a positive difference for others. What am I going to learn from this?”

The problem is that my old negative self-doubt habit crops up from time to time. I have found it in spades this summer around writing this blog. It has taken some time for me to recognize and replace the old mental habit. To do that, the most important driver for me is my belief that I have an obligation to help others be courageous leaders, which means I need to lead by example and be honest about how things are going. When I allow myself to be authentic and vulnerable, it not only is more effective, it is a lot more fun.

So, my challenge to you this week is to examine your mental habits related to self-doubt. Are they supporting you becoming the person you want to be?

Changing Culture through Democratizing Data

Photo by john mcsporran — Creative Commons 2.0

Earlier this year, I met the President and the CIO from Coppin State University at a national CIO conference. The few minutes that I talked with these two positive leaders was incredibly valuable, illuminating, and hopeful.

Maria Thompson became the president of Coppin State two years ago. She had the vision that Coppin State would be a learning organization and that their decisions would be data driven. Under her direction and in partnership with the CIO, every single employee now has access to the most current data on a campus dashboard that shows five years of student success data.

Her leadership team looks at the data in every meeting and makes decisions based on the latest information. The same dashboard that the leadership team looks at is available to every employee from professors to janitors. This allows distributed decision making that is based on the same set of of information.

Ahmed M. El-Haggan, the CIO, provides training across campus that is focused on what the data means so that people can use it to make good decisions. His team purposefully selected a very user-friendly tool so that the technology was not a barrier to using the data.

This democratization of data is helping individual students.

Professors can see whether their students are enrolled and reach out to individuals who may be at risk. This is happening dynamically because the information is easily available. Before the data was democratized, if a professor wanted to get this type of information, a formal request needed to be made with several security signoffs that took weeks.

This effort has helped shift the culture across the campus to one that promotes empowerment, shared leadership, and deep learning. The president said that her job is a lot more fun now that the data is democratized.

I loved this story because it is such a concrete example of the power of transparency, trust, and training in creating a positive culture. So this week, think about how you can democratize data to shift the conversation and culture in your organization.

Getting others to join the ride

Biking in South Island New Zealand

Several weeks ago, I crashed on my bicycle when I slipped on a metal strip while crossing a bridge. I was rather lucky that I didn’t seriously hurt myself. I did earn a trip to the emergency room in an ambulance and got a single stitch in my elbow along with a bunch of bruises from my hip down to my ankle. But I could walk and was back on my bike the next weekend.

When others found out about my accident, many people shared stories about their accidents or near accidents on their bikes. However, the reaction to the accidents were very different. Many people talked about how they stopped biking because it was too dangerous and drivers were too distracted and rude. While others, like me, were back in the saddle as soon as we were able.

I have been thinking a lot about what is motivating me to continue to bike even though I have been hurt and know I could get hurt again. I have posed the question to several of my biking friends. Their answers included seeking a challenge, being addicted to endorphins, biking being easier on joints than running, and loving it. They also talked about what scared them about biking and that it was a constant risk-benefit analysis about how much they push themselves.

For me, I am happy when I am on my bike. I love to be outside, feel my own power, push myself, and be with friends. So, for now, it is worth the risk.

However, I have a lot of things I do when I am biking to reduce the risk of being hurt and increase my enjoyment. I avoid heavily traveled roads, I ride where drivers are expecting and considerate of cyclists. I seek out newly paved and smooth roads. I cycle with friends who are experienced and passionate about cycling. I carry spare tires and tools for when equipment fails. I travel to beautiful and remote places to cycle.

In technology, we are constantly venturing out to implement projects or initiatives that have transformative impact. The journey to success often depends on asking people to manage change. Much of the change that needs to happen has nothing to do with technology. It has to do with how we work together and get along and whether we can get others to join the ride with us. Change is inherently risky.  Like biking, there are some people who enjoy the challenge and risk and are willing to jump right in. I know I am one of those people. However, most people want reassurance and support, because they have scars from previous change initiatives.

Over the last year, I have asked the Temple Tech team to take a change journey with me as we implemented “A Wiser Way” training to develop self-managed leaders at every level. It has been amazing to see the changes that individuals have made and the positive impact that it has had across the university. As individuals have examined their stories and shifted the way they interact with each other, our projects are being successful in unprecedented ways. We are getting things done and having fun.

As we plan our journeys, we can do many things to encourage others to come on the ride with us. Paint a picture of why a change will lead them to a better place ultimately. Make the change enjoyable. Be prepared for the accidents and setbacks that are going to happen. Give people choices. Realize that people have different abilities and speeds, so we need to accommodate training wheels and racing cycles in our plans. Make bike paths and ensure smooth roads on the transition. Develop empathy for others. Do not overwhelm individuals with too much change. My challenge for you this week is to consider how you can make the ride smoother for your colleagues as you work on projects together.