Jul. 9, 2012

Throw the Dog a Bone



        I touched on this subject when addressing one of my other blogs; but think it is relevant enough to reexamine.  Managers and employees alike need to be aware of this common leadership mistake.


        Managers have been continually moving away from the old school methodology and adapting a more politically correct or less confrontational managerial style.  On the surface this would appear to be a "better" method.  In reality, we leave ourselves open to not only making serious mistakes but leaving ourselves helpless when we don't carefully examine the choices that are left for us to follow.


        "Throw the dog a bone" is a term that reflects an award system that is being used to prevent conflict and get universal "buy in".  The problem with this type of reward system is that it cannot achieve its objectives.  No matter how hard a manager tries, no decision on significant issues will get universal approval.  The problem is that if the reward system isn't wisely administered the manager might now face the original employees who don't approve and another group who, while they agree with the course of action, are now upset over the tactic.


        Let's look at some examples. Often we see employee of the month awards.  These are obviously designed to build morale among the employees and show administrations appreciation for the hard work individual employees are exhibiting. The problem develops when it is used by the administration to deliver "pats on the back" to only those employees who are always in agreement with administrators policies.  This quickly leads to a lack of respect by other employees who are contributing just as much to the organizations success but are perhaps less congenial.  One of the largest dog bones is often dealing with employee pay or bonuses.  This must be carefully considered.  Hertzberg showed that money is seldom a true motivator but could be demotivating if viewed as insufficient.  Managers, on the other hand, always think they will benefit by "Throwing the dog a bone".  I have watched several organizations award across the board bonuses thinking they will gain support and raise morale.  Exactly the opposite will be achieved.  Why, because the workers who know they deserve a bonus will be insulted and those who don't deserve one will now feel their unacceptable work is enough to get the benefit.  In addition, very qualified employees who have been working diligently will quickly realize that these bonuses are one time charges that will not be reflected on their retirement income.  The result will be distrust among the employees.


"Throw the dog a bone" types of awards are extremely damaging to an organizations ability to grow.  This is true because they continually result in aggravating employees.  It is sort of having a piece of sand in your shoe. It doesn't keep you from walking but is an irritation that is always there. As employees see more and more bones being thrown their way they lose the incentive to excel. 


        Unfortunately, the manager always sees this as rewarding their workers.  Those close to the administration will reinforce this feeling of well being by approving or at least never disapproving. Conflict levels are reduced because the administration isn't taking the unpopular motivational techniques needed but at the same time progress is lagging.  I once needed to fire an employee and after it was done I had easily 30 employees come to me in private and congratulate for taking the action that was necessary. On the other hand, I have never had anyone come to me and say that the "employee of the month" choice was a great selection.


        Workers know when management is being fair.  They sense an administration that is trying to pacify the pack by throwing them a bone.  If a decision doesn't radically change policy management has to examine it carefully to make sure that it isn't being perceived as bone thrown to mollify the work force.  Once the employees begin to feel the  reward system is not genuine management will never regain their trust.


Another rant by "The Grumpy Old Man"