Individual Bonuses Are Bad Management

Gojko Adzic provides a nice post on Mary Poppendieck’s presentation at Agile 2008 on bonus, compensation and motivation: Paying programmers: are bonuses bad and what to do about it?

In software development, it is very hard to establish the effects of individual contributions and good teamwork is key to the project. Most individual compensation schemes, according to the presentation, absorb vast amounts of management time and resources and leave nobody happy, but team compensation strategies are not easy to implement. Mary presented results from HP’s experiments during the beginning of the nineties, when HP allowed 13 local organisations to experiment with team-incentive plans. All programs were discontinued by the 4th year, due to constant changes to the plans which were needed to distribute available money among the teams and a wide dissatisfaction with the plans by employees.

Use profit sharing schemes instead of bonuses to tie people to the organisation goals.
keep in mind the norm of reciprocity — if people feel that they are being treated generously, they will reciprocate it with increased discretionary effort.

As usually Mary Poppendieck provides good advice: Mary Poppendieck webcast on Leadership in Software Development. The idea that bonuses are bad management is one of the more difficult management improvement ideas for people to accept. See related posts for much more on the problems with them and what to do instead.

Related: Interview with Mary PoppendieckThe Defect Black MarketDeming on the problems with targets or goalsIncentive Programs are IneffectiveProblems with BonusesMeasuring and Managing Performance in Organizations

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  1. Pingback: Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog » Righter Incentivization

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