Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Incentives - Everybody gets it...

It was sign written in Hindi, probably an untrained hand, and it said “Ek kilo meat ke saath, Ande free…”. Which translates into “Eggs free with One kg meat”. I couldn’t help but smile.

It was a small shop, likely to be run by somebody who isn’t a marketing graduate. But the owner certainly understood basic the principal of “Incentives”.

For some very primary ingrained reason, humans respond “better” to incentives.

A cranky child wailing at the top of the voice, has an incentive to do so…attention from Mother.

We all love to shop when we get a discount…an incentive to pay less.

Teenagers rebel, to satisfy the incentive of “being their own self” and “imposing their own free will”. A break from the past, where parents were the masters.

Of course, every organization has incentives built into the system.

You may have a job to do, but you’ll do it much better when there are incentives built into performing the job.

Incentives aren’t always monetary, although, it’s easier to create a monetary incentive, for example, Bonuses offered by organizations and discounts offered by retailers. The more powerful incentives are of the ‘Moral’ or ‘Social’ kind.. Which appeals to the inner self, and satisfy at a much deeper level.

When trying to understand somebody’s behavior, Ask yourself “What is his/her incentive…” in behaving so.

Or, if you’d like a certain behavior or action from somebody, attach an incentive to it.

Here’s a great video that demonstrates the power of incentives: The Piano Stairs

PS: I recommend the book “Super Freakonomics” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. A great collection of some very interesting case studies.
The piano stairs blog post from the authors:

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Breeze Around You

Have you noticed people walking in nice cool breeze seem to be chilled out.

The exact opposite happens when the surroundings are uncomfortable, like a railway station. Too much heat, too less space and not enough information.

Every organization advertises a good work environment, described in many forms…conducive, productive, relaxed, creative, growth oriented !

It’s fairly well acknowledged that a good work environment is essential for many different reasons.

By a very simple generalized equation:
Good Environment => Good Thoughts => Good Actions => Good Results

Clearly an over simplification but lets play along.

What makes your environment?

Some Rules - Policies, procedures to be followed
Physical workplace – your cube, cafeteria, coffee room, parking lot
People – co-workers, managers, peers, friends
And you!

A place, work or home, with too many and too strict rules and procedures isn’t a fun place to be. Perhaps that’s why, schools of our times (70’s and 80’s) weren’t as much fun as they are today. Kids today are so much smarter!

People around you make a huge impact on your environment. They interact with you…share opinions, experiences, misery.

In general, we view the environment as an external to us…something that we don’t have control over.

But it isn’t exactly so…

Each one of us contributes to environment around us. What is throw around us, is what we’ll see everyday.

Something, as simple as, greeting others with smile and warmth, sets the tone of your day…and future interactions with the same people.

We own our environment.

Doesn’t mean we control all of it…but we certainly own our outlook and responses to whatever the environment throws at us.

A workplace will have all kind of people, that’s what makes it interesting and real. Some of them will fall into this category called “generally frustrated”. This set of people always find a reason to be frustrated, whatever be the event. If we decide to make them a key player in our environment, hang around with them…it’s only natural that we’ll get to see some their perspective…and you’ll start finding the dark lining in the silver cloud. Unfortunately, negativity rubs on easy.

We have a choice to limit our interaction, or simply refuse to listen to the frustration.

Making your environment positive, vibrant and productive may require some effort as well. Over time it’s easy to slip into a routine which isn’t so…for example, spending weekend after weekend, buying groceries and watching real family activity, no creativity…no Re-charge of your body and mind!  Monday and rest of the week may not be very different.

So choose to make the environment you’d like to live in.

Choose to set the cool breeze around you.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lead and Lag…

I think, it’s time for some theory, and I found this subject to be much less talked about than it deserves to be…so here we go.

One of my friends recently wrote a little joke…she found a machine that goes from zero to 120 in one second! Unfortunately, it’s a weighing machine and not a race car.

Many of us, including me, check our weight religiously. We possibly can also remember how the weight has moved in last week, month and years.

Can we also recall, what our diet was just yesterday? How many calories we added on an average per day, in last week, month or an year.
Extremely unlikely!

While we focus on the outcome measure (weight), we don’t have as much attention to the real impacting measure (food intake).

In this example, Weight is a Lag Measure and Calories Consumed is a Lead Measure. While an eye on the Weight (Lag measure) is important, the focus should really be Calories/Food intake. (Lead Measure).

Everytime I go home and enjoy my Mom’s cooking, I know I’m going to gain weight, because I know I’m going to eat more.
Understanding of the movement in Lead measure, will help us know what the outcome is likely to be.

Besides, food intake, you must also spend time at the gym know what exercises help.

You can have multiple or combination of lead measures which contribute to the same lag measure.

Another great example is, the “marks scored” by the kids. It is a favorite topic around March and April, and most kids are constantly encouraged to score more. Kids get rewarded for 25 out of 25 and parents feel proud of the genetics.

What if, we change our focus a little, and reward the kid for regular hours of study everyday? What if we track the Revision and practice hours? And reward the kids for doing so.

It is highly likely; the kid will get better grades and more importantly, will create more learning.

Lead measures are also the “Drivers”, and keeping up with good lead measures should get you to good lag measure score.

We are perhaps, tuned to the phrase, “Result Orientation”, and mistake it for a sharpened focus on the outcome measures. If you are truly result oriented, and would like to achieve good results consistently, you’ll have to focus on lead measures.

Also, keeping track of food intake or exercise hours is way more difficult than hopping on to the weight scale. Lead measures are usually more difficult to keep track of than the lag or outcome measure. Which is another reason, why most people find it convenient to focus on the lag measure.

While the concept is talked more in context of performance management in business, I think, it can be applied to more situations at home and community.
Try it out…and see the difference.

Disclaimer: Neither the subject or the examples are new. There is a ton of material online and books that may talk about this subject. My attempt is only to explain it my words.