August 1, 2014

$50,000 and time served

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There is a company called SIB Development and Consulting in Charleston, SC where, after working there for 5 years, you are rewarded with a $50,000 cash bonus just for your 5 years of service.  (See the CNN Money article here.)

At first, this might seem like a wonderful incentive program.  Unfortunately, the program highlights what might be the greatest problem facing the business world:  the belief that people can be bought, and the alarming number of people who are willing to sell.

I’m not arguing against the entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen of the company’s founder.  Clearly, he’s demonstrated that he knows how to make money and grow a company, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

What is wrong is the premise of the incentive program or, perhaps more importantly, the willingness of people to buy into it.  What it essentially says is, “I know that, after about 2-3 years, you’ll want to move on but I’m pretty sure I can buy a couple years of your precious existence in exchange for fifty thousand dollars.”  From the employee side, the response is, “Yes.  Yes you can.”  Why is there such a reliance upon time served as the only measure worth rewarding?  Wouldn’t it be better to dole that $50,000 out according to the quality of work that was done, not for how long it was done?

That seems more pathetic than innovative to me.  You might argue that, by giving up a couple years, the people get a lot in return.  OK, maybe – if that’s your assessment then so be it, but let me throw in something else:  the program clearly values only time, and not performance.  The time of the superstar who helps grow the company is worth $50,000.  So is the time of the guy who coasts for all 5 years and manages to do just enough to stay employed.  While it’s nice to say that everyone’s contribution is equally valued, I’m pretty certain that people won’t see it that way once checks are actually handed out.  Oh, and by the way – why do people need to be bribed to stay with your company?  If the grass looks greener on the other side, maybe it really is – so perhaps it will take more than just cash to get people to stay.  Or, if they do stay, are they dedicated to the company, or just to the $50,000?

The company’s founder states his belief that loyalty doesn’t exist in business any more, and that his program just might help to create some.  I have a question, however – If you pay prostitutes really well for their services, and they keep coming back to you as a result, is that loyalty?

Of course not.  It’s the willingness to sell something precious out of either the need for financial gain, or desperation, or a lack of valuing your own worth.  In the case of SIB Development and Consulting, that asset is your time – precious, unrecoverable time that could be spent finding a way to make money at what you enjoy, rather than to just going through the motions in order to receive an arbitrary reward that has little or nothing to do with what you produced.

My opinion:  Although it’s not nearly as attractive on a recruiting poster, if you want to create long-term, sustainable growth and sustainability – Create a work environment that people simply adore, rather than one they have to be bribed to stay with.  My bet is that both the company, and the employees, will be better off.

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