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We all want the quick fix and easy do to cure what ails us in the business world. Unfortunately, it isn’t always that easy in the world of human resources. We’re dealing with people and people don’t respond uniformly to any action.
So when we talk about the world of incentives, recognition, culture and cold, hard cash, the incentive programs we design and put a huge amount of effort may not be making the most important change we need it to make: a shift in core values.
Tightly held values and the appeal of money
Our conversation stemmed from a recent piece he did on his blog about the role that money plays in relation to highly placed values and culture. He said in that post:
If you are seeking to change your company’s culture remember you are already starting with a culture – a set of beliefs held by your employees.
Simply adding incentives to change behavior may not work if the change you’re trying to reinforce with the incentive is contrary to a company sacred value – the participant (employee) won’t feel it the in the reward center of their brain. I’ve set this before – incentives are choice architectures – and this research would seem to say that when incentives are used to change strongly held beliefs they don’t register in the choice part of the brain – therefore – no real “choice” is made.
While the original study focused on tightly held personal beliefs, it isn’t a stretch to think that it could easily impact work. After all, some of what we do at work is driven by personal values and shared culture that is not easily shed as well.
What are incentives good for then?
So if using simple rewards isn’t enough to change culture, what exactly is the point of using them at all? If culture and values trumps all, how can incentives work in that regard.
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As Hebert mentions, it comes down to being cognizant about what incentives can accomplish. Incentives can help change certain behaviors and get people on the right track. But, culture is about more than just people behaving in the proper way. It is also about communication, constant reinforcement (through more than just rewards) and about being consistent.
And for those looking for change in an established culture, you have hard decisions to make. Either pushing through rapid change with a great deal of pain (including turnover) or taking much longer than you feel like it should (and we’re talking years, not months here).
One thing is clear: bribing employees through major changes is a losing strategy. For this, and more, listen to the full podcast.
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