By Stephen Balzac
July 21, 2011
The names have been changed to protect the silly…
History teacher Norman Conquest had a very difficult student, Sasha Pandiaz. Sasha was constantly disruptive in class, driving Norman up the wall. Finally, Norman decided on a simple solution: when Sasha misbehaved, he would be sent out into the hall for five minutes. If he misbehaved three times, he spent the entire class sitting in the hall.
Inside of a week, Sasha was spending the entirety of each class in the hall. Sasha, it turns out, didn’t like the class. Although Norman thought he was punishing Sasha, apparently no one bothered to inform Sasha of that. As a result, Sasha was quite happy to miss each class; the long-term negative of a bad grade in the class was simply too far off and abstract to change Sasha’s behavior.
Fred was the VP of Engineering at Root-2 Systems. Fred had the habit of indicating his displeasure with engineers in his department by assigning them projects that were not particularly fun or interesting. At least, Fred didn’t find them particularly fun or interesting. Unfortunately, the engineers did. Rather than feeling punished, they thought they were being rewarded! As one engineer put it, “I thought Fred was ready to kill me, but then he gave me this really cool project.”
Thus, for example, instead of realizing that Fred was punishing them for blowing off a meeting, engineers believed he was rewarding them for skipping a meeting that they thought would be a waste of time. As a result, they kept repeating the behaviors that were infuriating Fred. By the time he figured out what was going on, Fred was bald.
At Mandragora Systems, Joe took over a key product team. He regularly exhorted his employees to work together: “We’re a team!” Joe cried loudly and often. But when it came time to evaluate performance, the song was a bit different:
“What were you doing with your time?”
“I was helping Bob.”
“If you’d finished your work, why didn’t you come to me for more?”
“I hadn’t finished.”
“Then why were you helping Bob?”
“It was something I could do quickly and would have taken him all night.”
“If Bob can’t do his job, that’s his problem. Worry about your own work.”