I take a dim view of informal incentive schemes, having seen their divisive effects at a small software firm (120 employees). The president was enamored of competitions and awards presented at company assemblies. I don't think he ever realized that most of us viewed the competitions as petty annoyances, and the awards as evidence of one's visibility to upper management. The problem wasn't that the incentives were bad, but that they were arbitrary. Some got cash for their efforts, while others who contributed equally came away with nothing but a supervisor's commendation. Is it any wonder that we saw the incentives as just a cheap substitute for overtime pay?
You may recall a column Paul Hawken wrote for us a few months back on the subject of problems in business. Businesses will always have problems, he argued, so you shouldn't even try to eliminate them because you can't. Rather, the goal should be to make sure your company has good problems as opposed to bad ones.
Well, this month, we have a good problem: too many thoughtful letters from readers. That's certainly better than having too few, but it is definitely a problem in that we don't have room to publish all we'd like to. Instead, we'll have to settle for a sample, with apologies to those writers we don't mention.
What surprised us most was the overwhelming response to three articles in our April issue. We often get flooded with mail about one piece -- Jim Koch's "Portrait of the CEO as Salesman" in March, for example. But seldom do we have two articles, let alone three, that strike a letter-writing chord among large numbers of readers. It was also interesting to note how different was the response to each article. Our cover story, "Heartbreak Hill," clearly touched deep emotions, eliciting some of the most passionate letters we have ever received. We've decided to feature them in our new Focus section (below). In the future, we will be using this section each month to conduct a dialogue with readers about a specific issue raised in letters to the editor.
Passion of another sort surfaced in response to the debate between Tom Peters and Alfie Kohn on the role of incentives and competition in the workplace. By our count, 42% of the readers supported Peters, 14% backed Kohn, and the rest disagreed with both of them.