We now have the ability to take a closer look at work practices in Google, with Laszlo Bock's book "Work Rules!" Much of his top 10 are known to the outside world, but number 7 on the list took me by surprise. Bock recommends that companies should 'pay unfairly' and when we say unfairly, we mean really unfairly. He relates that at times, staff in Google were paid exponentially higher than others doing the same job. The difference was a stock award of $10,000 compared to another at $1 million.
Coming from work environments where a $25 gift card to Amazon is the norm for an 'attaboy,' such a huge incentive is startling. Bock explains that just like in professional sports, elite performers deserve elite bonuses.
Although logical to a certain extent, it flies in the face of some basic tenants of psychology about how employees are motivated. Here's my own top 3 of why this doesn't work:
1. There is an assumption that the employee actually controls their own performance. In considering the research on the Fundamental Attribution Error, how success and failure is viewed is very much in the eye of the beholder. If we fail, we tend to blame the environment. If we win, it was all us. I have not come into contact with a company yet who has figured out all the factors that drive a person's performance (from the individual to the environment or simply fate) - this could be the real secret of Google!
2. Even if this works magically on motivating and retaining the elite performers, what does it do to everyone else and is the benefit worth it? Keeping sports as an analogy, would you prefer to have a star player or a team of really good, motivated performers? Growing up in Denver in the eighties, the city would cringe anytime John Elway got injured. A highly productive team or system cannot be dependent on a few crucial people. More generally, this type of culture could create some very weird behaviors, as staff attempt to figure out how and why others were paid their bonus. Making things transparent could create even worse behaviors, focusing staff on the indicators that drive the bonus and an ignorance of everything else.
3. Money has always been seen to be a hygiene factor, rather than true motivator. One of the best videos I have seen was done in the RSA Animate series, bringing to life a lecture by Daniel Pink. Key lesson is that giving people autonomy, mastery, purpose beats out pay any day - check it out here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc
Google appears to be doing a lot right, but on this one, I'm not convinced and it goes against everything that I have researched and written about (check out chapter 4 from Misplaced Talent). As such, going to have to rate this one as being a BAD PRACTICE.
Image courtesy of Barry Haynes on Wikimedia Commons.