11 September 2007

How would you like your bonus paid?

I should say bonuses, since that’s what I’m about to argue for. An annual bonus encourages you to keep your mouth closed about your issues with the team and with the company until you get your bonus and then walk, suddenly (and looking like a mercenary), having now stewed in your smoldering dissatisfaction for four or six months.

When I get my receipt from the grocery store, it usually indicates on it how much I saved [okay okay, or “saved”]. It’s like every time I buy groceries I get a little bonus. Admittedly, it’s a bit of marketing flimflam. But it’s still a nice little hook, this reward for my fish- and bread- and wine-acquiring accomplishments. The part I like about the flimflam – the part that’s not flimflam at all – is that the grocery store genuinely does appreciate my contribution. If possible, they’d like me to know that I’m appreciated each and every time I deal with them.

I can’t say I’m not motivated by getting a bonus.* The two bonuses I like the best?
  1. Spot bonus. That thing I just did that was particularly beneficial got noticed and now suddenly I’ve got a trivial gift in hand. That trivial gift is directly related to something I like: dinner at the Stumbling Goat; credit at the Triple Door; an Amazon gift certificate (well, hard to go wrong there with anybody…). A spot bonus, even a little one, says that my good work is recognized and has instant gratification attached as well.¹
  2. Launch bonus. The project I just finished was a success. A small bonus goes a long way when acknowledging success. And success should always be celebrated. Sure, I am expected to succeed. But when I do, I should still be praised. Respectable success? A bottle of the Albariño I like. Admirable success? A bottle of 16 year Lagavulin. Marvelous success? A century-old Delamain cognac.²
When it comes to the annual bonus, I can’t say that on the balance I wouldn’t trade it for a raise. I am a sucker for stability and predictability.³ But I’m not going to say no to cash money. In fact, why make me wait? If the company is doing well enough to pour an overflow of cash into my cup, why not do it semi-annually? A bonus split in fourths looks a bit smallish, so quarterly is probably out. The semi-annual bonus is a good partner to a mid-year review with ye olde boss – which should be comforting news to an employee, not disconcerting. [What? You haven’t had a boss skillful or trustworthy enough that you looked forward to your review? Why not?] Formal bonuses and reviews, alternating quarterly. So you’ve always got either a bonus or a purposeful conversation coming up every three months. You can be sure that you will be regularly recognized for your efforts and that there will be a routine forum for your input.

It’s not so hard to ask you how you’d like to be bonused and then reward you in accordance with your express preferences. Mightn’t you be inclined to be more loyal then? More productive? More forward with your issues? More patient with management’s foibles?

You might, rabbit. You might.

* Though I am a few standard deviations off the norm since I calculate investment:reward ahead of time wherever possible when it comes to bonusing. I’d like to determine the real value of those bonus dollars in exchange for the time, effort, and possible crazymaking incumbent upon earning them. Sometimes the money just ain’t worth it. Sometimes those extra hours are getting paid out at less than half of what I’m normally getting paid. Sometimes those extra hours are getting paid out at less than minimum wage. And gosh, I surely would love to work for less than minimum wage! Thoinx! And could you also punch me in the groin? I love that too!

¹ If I’m not in a position to give you a monetary reward, I am going to write you up and send that recommendation off to you and your boss.
² So, I’ve actually been criticized for recognizing success. I pointed out the people who worked on the project and mentioned them as necessary to the success of the project. That’s it. Apparently, that’s a “love fest” worthy of public scorn. Ouch. No wonder I don’t work for that company anymore. On the same project, I was told that success is assumed so only home runs were worthy of recognition – this from a group that consistently failed across a big board o’ projects on the books.
³ Which is a better executive? The one prepared to take a big risk and goes for it, shooting from the hip? Or the one prepared to take a big risk and goes for it, having planned to adjust for the danger ahead?

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