No Pizza for You!

No pizza!

Recently, a Maryland middle school hosted a party with pizza, soda, games and a DJ titled “Academic Achievement Celebration.” Based on the theme of the party, it should not have been a surprise that there was a performance level threshold to achieve to be invited to the party–which was straight A’s on the report card. Students who received lower marks were reportedly not allowed to participate in the pizza party.

Some saw the event as an appropriate reward for a job well done and an incentive to work hard, while others branded this as exclusionary and unfair. There was concern for the students who would not attend that they may feel bad for being left out of the fun. A large number of parents preferred to give everyone a trophy versus recognizing top performers, and created a fair amount of noise to change the performance criteria for attending the party.

Yes, let’s take away incentives for high performance, reward everyone and see how that works out.

Now, let’s fast forward ten years into the future when the same middle school students graduate college and enter the workforce. Are they going to be motivated and have the drive to out-perform their peers? Perhaps it’s President’s Club, Quarterly bonus, high-performance rating, promotion, compensation, or a new job that

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is at stake–do they tap into their talent and work ethic to win the prize over the competition? Or are they just waiting to get their slice of pizza like everyone else? How can we be the leaders in science, math, innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship if we remove competition and high-performance recognition from our schools? After all, the U.S. put the first man on the moon as an outcome of winning the race to space against the Soviet Union.

More and more, we see HR organizations changing their recognition and rewards programs to cater to the Millennials, and I understand why. The people joining the workforce today bring with them boxes full of trophies (deserved and undeserved) as well as an empty box they are expecting to fill up at their new place of employment. Somehow we sucked the competitive spirit out of our youth, and we will pay for it later in business.

Growing up, I learned many things from my father that I apply in my life today.

Work harder than everyone else and you will be rewarded. Winners never give up; they just dust themselves off and keep trying.

However, the greatest lesson I learned was not how to win but how to lose. How to fail but yet still become stronger and better. I remember him saying that life is a series of hurdles and failures, but it’s how you overcome the failures and hurdles that will determine success. And everyone needs to understand the difference between winning and losing.

What does your rewards and recognition program look like? Are you recognizing and developing high performers or rewarding everyone? The easy answer is to cater to the new workforce as the Baby Boomers exit, but is that the best approach to drive the success of the business? This is an emotional hot topic, and very easy to debate both sides, but one that needs more discussion in board rooms.

I believe the competitive drive is alive in all of us whether taught to us at an early age or not. It is the responsibility of every leader to inspire their team and tap into those competitive juices–to reward and recognize top performers while helping others strive to be the best. Also, to help your employees fail, and then help them get back on their feet to overcome that failure.

Your homework is to go back and audit your recognition program and see what side of the fence you land. Look at your leadership programs to see what attributes and leadership philosophies are being taught. Find that balance between what motivates different generations and how they are recognized, but do so without losing the competitive drive across the organization.

If you do not know where to start, try hosting a pizza party.

FOT Background Check

Dan Carusi
As current Vice President & Chief Learning Officer for Deltek, Dan Carusi doesn’t know which he likes more – teaching or learning.  A father of two, Scout leader and coach, Dan is often learning as much from the kids as they are learning from him (or possibly more).  With more than 20 years of experience, Dan is responsible for overseeing Deltek University and the Talent & Learning organization, where he oversees all aspects of talent management, curriculum development, operations & delivery, global employee & customer education and Human Capital consulting – often using what he learns from the kids as tools for teaching, with the end goal of making life-long learners out of everyone.  Teach Dan something at “email”, LinkedIn or @DanielCarusi.

3 Comments

  1. Toby Wells says:

    So I am known by many of my colleagues as a top performer and was a straight A student. I for one think the concept of rewarding only the top performers is total bunk. The only result of this kind of arrangement is a sort of forced disengagement by the rest of the work force. Yes a small few may drive harder, but all the rest will toss their cards in the air and walk away. If you do the mathematics on who brings in more revenue for your organization (those few top performers, or the collective of the rest of the company), you will likely see that the lions share of revenue is generated by the common employee. The workforce aside…implementing this in a school is downright irresponsible. The mandate of any public school is not to ensure that a select group of students win, it is to provide as much education as possible to as many students as possible. Inspiring educational disengagement is not only the opposite intended effect, it is also irresponsible on the part of the staff (not to mention exclusionary against all but the most privileged demographics). To succeed schools and businesses must take on a ‘we win together, we fail together’ attitude (united we stand, divided we fall); this holds true for performance management as well. We should be articulating performance on the level of the collective, via MBO alignment. Meaning….everyone gets Pizza.

    Reply
  2. Dan, I am in total agreement with you – let the games begin! From your post I gleaned, nothing was handed to you, you lived and died by your performance or lack there of. During my early career in the FBI when recognition and rewards were given, it was done privately, so as not to “offend” those that were not being recognized. Near the end of my FBI career, it changed – for the better and very public recognition with all levels of employees attending the event – result – several audience comments around this focus resulted in “what is she doing to deserve this?…how do I get recognized?…” focusing on the other persons accomplishment and their next steps. I understand the comment post by Toby and appreciate that point of view, always good to have all perspectives, including mine – as I would never hire someone who has not proven themselves, strived to achieve more and is enthusiastic hard-charger with a good attitude! BTW, I tried to connect with Toby who has a Foundation on LinkedIn, but couldn’t connect directly, there it’s a “Private group. To request membership, click Join and your request will be reviewed by the group manager.” Interesting! I just wanted to see the pizza, but I can’t see it let alone have a slice!

    Reply
  3. Alan Oathout says:

    Dan, this connects so much with a book I’m currently reading…”The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt. Haidt considers the research into how we form our moral judgments, why we hold them so dearly, and what makes us sure that the other guy is nuts.

    One of the dimensions Haidt explores is the concept of “Fairness”….which has two major distinctions, depending on how you’re wired: To those like Toby, Fairness = Equality. Its a focus on the collective, and an emphasis on not marginalizing any sub groups. The other way of describing Fairness…one that you and Alan M allude to, is Proportionality. Rewards commensurate with effort.

    Haidt likens this to the Hive and the Bees. If your main concern is for the good of the Hive, then certain individual bees will experience uneven outcomes. If you construct your world so that no individual bee is ever at a disadvantage, it may “hold back” the optimization of the hive.

    They are both reasonable ways of describing fairness, but they lead us in different directions.

    Reply

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