Incentives in the Infinite Business


It’s the time of year when many companies are reviewing employee performance and bonuses for their teams and it has me thinking about how incentives play such a huge part in the actions and behaviours of colleagues and the culture that becomes an outcome of such. Interestingly, a story broke recently about a Maryland real estate firm that spread a $10 Million incentive bonus among its 198 employees for achieving a major organizational goal. The bonuses were determined by the length of an employee’s tenure with the firm, the bonuses averaged $50K with some bonuses reaching over the $250K mark. Distributed at the firm’s December 7 holiday party, the bonuses arrived in red envelopes that also held additional checks for each employee’s Christmas bonus. Here’s the amazing thing… EVERYONE from the sales department to the custodial staff got cheques from their employer. The President said “we are so proud of our employees. They are the foundation and the reason behind the success of our company”. Is there any more compelling way to tell all the employees how valued they are?

Incentives work, there is no doubt. When a company exceeds expectations, employees may go home with a little more change in their pockets. By incentivizing strong outcomes, business leaders tap into human capital, those individuals who may work hard toward reaching the next goal because the next goal has cash, or some other incentive attached to it. Who doesn’t like the recognition and the spending money? All of us are motivated by both. In fact, a great incentive program can help a company recruit a competitor’s employers and keep them around for a while. This makes a strong organization even stronger.
But what about those business who’ve made the shift toward the infinite game, like the Maryland real estate company? Many people, tracing the movement of business toward the infinite game, wonder what incentives look like in an infinite business. It’s a good question to ponder given the philosophical divide between finite businesses (in it to win it) and infinite businesses (in it for the long term). Do incentives have a place in an infinite business? The answer, in my opinion, is absolutely, yes.

In a finite business, mission and vision point to an aspirational end state or goal, a desired and measurable outcome. To be the biggest car dealership in Quebec, for example, describes a finite business’ determination to sale more cars than its competitors. If you operate with “being the biggest” as your mission – your end state – then sales incentives offered to the sales team help the business strive toward the desired end. On the other hand, in an infinite business model, the mission may sound something more like We strive to provide great vehicles to a great community. There’s no way to measure “great” in this statement. Instead, the company seems more inclined to enhance the overall well-being of the community. Again, this is an outcome with no measurables and no easily defined end date. So, who gets incentives in this setting? Well, perhaps everyone.

In an infinite business, incentives are necessary, but they are broadcast beyond the sales team and for more than a sales target. In an infinite business, like the real estate firm in Maryland, fidelity to the business is rewarded, not just how much an individual is contributing to annual revenue. In other words, the hourly worker who’s dutifully mopped the floor for two decades deserves recognition because they’ve embodied the idea that the business’ sustainability is a worthy pursuit.

Are you incentivizing the work of your sales team? Of course, you are. But are you also recognizing those who offer their best every day in helping the organization achieve its goals and objectives? If you’re in it for the infinite game –honour those who share your fidelity to the business’ sustainable mission and vision. Sometimes the employee pushing the mop understands where you’re heading better than the one who just beat the all-time sales record.

Infinite game…That’s where we all need to be. The real incentive is being part of something significant, long term.