Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Psychology of a Bonus

It is an interesting thing to note that a person could be making $200,000 per annum and get a $10,000 bonus and be near nirvana as a result. I was employed by a multi-national, world wide company for 30 years. For twenty years of that time I was a salaried employee as were all of my fellow employees. The company we worked for believed in paying you well. There was no such thing as a peformance bonus. You were given a yearly performance evaluation. If you were fortunate enough to hit on all of the metrics in this performance evlauation you got a salary increase. There was a complicated, human resources developed, career grid. Every position had a level and a salary guideline. If you went from being a paper clip counter 1 to a paper clip counter 2 you got a very nice salary increase. There were 4 levels in each position. The gist was that there was a 56% spread across those levels. If entry level was $10,000 per year then the spread across the level you were in went to $15,600. Go to the next level the entry on that level would be $13,000 and the spread would take you to $20,280. All I know is that I started with the company in 1972 at $7800 per year. When I left, 30 years later, I was making $180,000.

Along the way, I was invited to serve as a member of a task force that looked into adopting a bonus program. Our division, within the company, was to be a test market on the effects of implementing such a bonus program. If it seemed to have a synergistic effect on employee performance then it would be adopted all across the company. The career performance evaluation method was to be retained and this was to be an opportunity for a bonus to be paid out quarterly. It took us 20 meetings at 20 locations across the country. We retained consultants to help us with the analytics and we rolled out the finished product approximately two years later.

The bonus was designed to provide you with an additional 10% added to your base salary. It behooved you to be the bosses fair haired child still to get good peformance evals. It was strange to see the level to which the sales force reacted to this bonus program. There were all sorts of little pockets of schemes across the country designed to tweak the sales numbers to drive optimal bonuses. Most employees lost sight of the fact that 90% of their compensation was performance based along such ideals as ethics, teamwork, sharing of information, etc. Instead people in teams would conspire against fellow employees to drive this 10% bonus system. If their conspiracies were egregious enough they could be disciplined, put on probation and receive no salary increase or bonus.

I was not ever able to see how this effected the overall ability of our sales force to drive more business. The sad result was that due to other issues the company decided to sell our division to another company. There were mass layoffs and I and many of my colleagues who had helped develop this bonus structure never saw enough proof that it was all worth the time and effort to create it.

Thus I conclude after thinking about this issue that there lurks within us some strange corner of reason that bonuses play to. It is sort of like "found" money. I recall the character Clark Grizwold, played by Chevy Chase in the movie Christmas Vacation. A sizeable part of his income had to be his salary. That seemed to provide more than adequately since he had a very nice home and numerous amenities. However, he dreamed of his Christmas bonus and the swimming pool it was going to provide for his family. One can only assume that he was willing to put in the extra hours, take on extra assignments, and whatever else it took to max out this bonus.

I suppose that this "found money" analogy must be what drives people to play online poker, buy lottery tickets, spend a week and a wad of money in Atlantic City to win the bonus. The very next lottery ticket I buy will be my first. That truly is a tax on the stupid. That is a whole different post to this Blog. Lot of tricky psychology wrapped up in this whole American scenario of the bonus.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Goat Man

When I was a teenager, I used to spend summers working with my father all over south Alabama, most of Georgia and into Mississippi. His business was cleaning and repairing shopping carts. We traveled around mostly secondary roads into places like Demopolis, Sylacauga, Clanton, Enterprise, etc. We also spent time in the larger cities as well. It was pretty boring and hot, merciless work for which I earned minimum wage.

I clearly remember the few occasions where we would run across the “ Goat Man ” traveling down a secondary, less traveled road. He was always to the side of the road and taking his time and did not seem to ever back up traffic. He was quite a sight with his little herd of 20-30 goats just ambling on down the road pulling a ramshackle old wagon on his way to no where and in no hurry to get there. He always inspired an image of speculation as to what he was all about. Some thought he had some sort of mystical power, I guess somewhat like a wizard. Others thought he was a holy man with a commanding evangelistic style and could save your soul. I guess in the fashion that Neal Diamond used to sing about Brother Loves Travelin Salvation Show. I think the sum and substance of the Goat Man was that he was a penniless, vagabond. There were many characters like him that seemed to find their way through Mayberry on the Andy Griffeth show. Sheriff Taylor always seemed to escort them on out of town as a few chickens and hams disappeared in their presence.

The speculation as to who he was was part of the fun and lore of seeing him. Back in the 60’s we did not have 15 round the clock news and information channels on the cable. As a matter of fact there was no cable TV. There was only a flimsy antenna that could bring in three of the major networks if you were lucky. Thus the speculation was just that, rumor and fantasy for the most part. Nowadays there could have been a reality TV show starring the Goat Man in the same vein as Honey Boo Boo. Perhaps he could have been a presidential candidate.

Wikepedia paints him as somewhat of a kook. His real name was Charles (Ches) McCartney. He had run away from the family farm in Iowa at age 14. I was raised on a farm and left around 14 yoa. I can certainly see the temptation to leave because it was hard work and the lure of the open road would have been tempting. He lived off of his goats and donations from strangers. He was a friendly sort of person and did a little preaching when the mood hit him. It was reported that he smelled very badly. Speculation would be, did he earn the moniker of “ goat man “ from the company he kept or because he smelled like one? He died in 1998. He claimed to be 106, but it is more likely that he was 97. He met his demise in a Georgia, nursing home. He married and had a son who preceded him in death along the way.

I remember moving to Tallahassee in 1972. After a short while living here and driving the streets I encountered a bearded man in a crown and a cape with a gold cross hanging around his neck. I soon learned that this was King Love. His real name was Kamal Abdou Youssef. King Love was born in Egypt in 1933 and matriculated to the states via New York, Tampa and ultimately to Tallahassee. He was a physician and had practiced pathology it was rumored and had somewhere along the way gone off the reservation. His mission in life was pretty simple. He would find a spot on a street corner and dance and shake a tambourine or beat on a drum and would espouse that love was the answer to all the world’s ills. Well, it was hard to argue with him on that accord.

He was obsessed with then Governor Bob Graham. He spent his social security check at Kinkos making up bulletins and flyers which he would toss across the fence at the Governor’s mansion. The security staff kept a close eye on him but never had to shoot at him. I had a golf partner, close friend, who was a practicing ER physician. He told me of an occasion when one of the nurses came to him and told him that King Love had been triaged into one of the exam rooms. He had to come immediately to see the King. The urgency was that he seemed depressed. This nurse declared that seeing King Love depressed was just too sad to deal with . My doctor friend had to do something immediately.  King Love died some time back in federally subsidized housing of natural causes here in Tallahassee. Culleys funeral home gave him a free funeral and burial. There were a surprising number of Tallahasseans in attendance.

I am not sure why I am blogging about this today. Maybe it is because it is rapidly becoming summer and my mind travels back to past summertimes when living seems to get a little slower and laziness descends on us. We are all about the hustle and bustle of whatever it is that we do. To have actually seen these two folk legends in my lifetime causes me to speculate as to what made them compelling? It is sort of like the bumper sticker that used to be popular, “ Why be normal ?” Indeed, why? We see these sorts of folks that seem to be caught up in their own little lives. They live in their private little dillusional existence and seem to get by while all the rest of us are pressing hard to make the buck to pay the rent and pay the utility bill and in my case buy some green peanuts for Nancy, my wife, who loves to boil her own peanuts in the summer time. I think, at least in my case, that there is some envy in play.