Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The magic of incentives

Sitting late at office is a common trend found among (very) young Indian IT professionals. There are many reasons why it is so, probably I'll have another article on it later, as it by itself is a topic worth writing. Anyways, everybody accepts that its not really good for both - the employee, as well as the employer. Its the employer who has the most obvious repercussions, and each keeps reminding their employees in various ways to get out of office in time, not to sit late, and have a life outside. Well, the trend hasn't changed a bit in the past many years I myself have been observing it; people still sit late - most of them, browsing the internet, or even playing games. I'm not considering the ones who genuinely work, in this article, that again would need another account of itself :-).

Now, if you go and ask many of these folks why they sit late at office, they might have many reasons, but at the end, if you put all these reasons together and factorize and re-factorize them, you'll find that people don't leave office in time, because they don't have an incentive to! While, to sit back, they have enough and more.

If we take a look at any average human behaviour seen around, we'll see, that people really don't do anything if not for an incentive. There need to be somekind of a positive (extremely subjective term) motivation for a person to really do anything. I've seen real lazy dumbos happily jogging on treadmills and juggling dumbbells when their marriages got fixed (Well, they get back to the old nature once the wedding is over), I've seen stingy busters spending a fortune to impress pretty ladies... when does people get so excited, that they break all their basic instincts and get to do something? Its when they have an incentive to do it!

In one of my previous projects, I tried out something to get my people to leave office in time. This was the deal - there is something called 'performance measures' in our appraisal system - its a measurable entity to track your performance during the appraisal cycle. At the start of the cycle, a goal is set by the appraiser for the appraisee, which would help him/her with her career/skills. For eg: "Knowledge building & sharing" could be a performance measure, with a goal of say 5 points, set by the appraiser for the appraisee. The appraisee could learn something new and write a technical article for the knowledge shop, and win a point; he/she could deliver a session on some new or useful topic, and win a point etc. The target would be, to meet the goal or surpass it by the end of the cycle. Now, one would surely try to meet this goal, as there is the incentive of a reward attributed to the achievement, as it is linked to the appraisal system.

What I did in my project is, I declared another performance measure for my people (ofcourse, of very low weightage compared to the other 'serious' ones) - "Adherence to official working hours". I assigned a certain target score (goal) to each, based on their individual 'adherence patterns'. I would easily get attendance information (time-in & time-out) of my reportees from the system, and applying a formula to the data would get me the score for each person. Every three days initially, and then weekly, I kept informing each of them their deviations, and how it impacts the incentive they are going to receive at the end of the cycle. Along with that, I helped them ponder and discover evening-activities which they previously had probably overlooked to have no incentives.

In a matter of time, the new incentives worked their way up, and all my people were at office only during the official working hours - they came in time, and left in time. The wastage of time during the day decreased and productivity increased as people focused to finish work during regular work hours, so that they could get back to their life outside in time (which had incentives in and out). People were more happy than before as thier lives were more balanced, and that in turn, reflected in their quality of work.

Managers, do try to invent incentives in your project management practice - they are a wonderful way to motivate your team, to direct them, and at your intelligent command, to create a positive effect.

Tail piece: Check out nature - do you think any animal would possibly exist today, except for may be those single-celled bacteria who split into two, if the 'process of procreation' didn't have an incentive of being 'entertaining'?


  1. Yes you are quite right Tedy, the real world works on incentives:)
    And a well-thought-out incentive can often work wonders.

  2. Came here via some blog. Very interesting piece. And the last observation is spot on :)I have noticed that most people staying back do so as going back to their rooms is pretty boring. At the work place, they can hang out with friends and use the other facilities like gym etc. We do not have the concept of off-time built in us. We have spent our entire life studying and with tuitions. So it is no wonder that people do not know how to relax.

  3. Yeah incentives and the phenomena of using full on potential till the deadline is close. I dnt knw why, by these two forces brings out the best in people...And has been the case since we were in school. Studying a day before the exam or studying wholeheartedly for ur fav. subjest to score good marks...

  4. Tedy KanjirathinkalAugust 1, 2008 at 2:30 PM

    @nithin: bingo

    @silverline: thanks for stopping by :-)
    yeah... probably its a part of the land's culture - after all those hectic academic years, probably we have no clue on what to do with all those free evening hours!

    @ancy: absolutely! the adrenaline rush (padikkaanulla/joli cheythu theerkkaanulla choodu) is a great incentive to do things quickly. Infact, thinking about that, I suddenly realized that this is something I too leverage on - "packing up for a trip" - I pack up only on the morning of the trip, at 4:00 AM - that's the moment when I'm fastest in packing :-))

  5. Incentive .. nice thinking article ,which puts in perspective the value of incentives correct what about those who have to sit it out matter whether he/she is a outgoing buff who enjoys his/her evening