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Why Incentive Plans Cannot Work. By Alfie Kohn, Harvard Business Review, September-October 1993, Boston, Massachusetts The popular belief among U.S. employers is that some type of reward or incentive program motivates employees at all levels, from the top executive down, to perform their jobs better. Author Alfie Kohn challenges the very bedrock of this belief. He claims that social psychological research in all kinds of settings, including workplaces, shows that "rewards typically undermine the very processes they are intended to enhance." Research suggests that rewards succeed only on a temporary basis. "When it comes to producing lasting change in attitudes and behavior, however, rewards, like punishment, are strikingly ineffective." Because managers look only at short-term improvements, they fail to spot the harm caused over the long term. Studies during the last three decades, Kohn states, conclude that people who expect a reward for doing the job successfully do not perform as well as those who expect no reward. In one example cited, a Midwestern company, at the request of its union, eliminated an incentive system covering a group of welders. In the short term, their production, as expected, fell. Over a period of months, however, the welders' production rose and eventually reached a level that was as high or higher than it had been. Kohn also notes that the studies showed that "the more cognitive sophistication and open-ended thinking required, the worse people performed when working for a reward." In spite of evidence to the contrary, executives cling to the belief that motivational problems are attributable to "the particular incentive system in effect at the moment, rather than to the psychological theory behind all incentives." To explain why rewards fail, Kohn gives these six reasons: 1. "Pay is not a motivator. " When people are asked…...

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