The Greatest Management Principle

A couple of times now, I’ve blurted out in class: “what gets rewarded is what gets done.”  All I have to show as a reward for this exercise has been a couple of blank stares, so by my own statement you would think that I would cease.  But no – I make a mockery of my own statement by persisting.  I thought I would make a final effort by offering a little background.

Many years ago (here I go again), I happened to pick up a pulp management book in a used book store.  (I wonder if a used Kindle store will be quite the same?)  This was one of those over-simplification type books that was meant to be light, quick reading while on an airplane, and sold for a couple of bucks – about the price of a bottle of pop nowadays.   I remember the title as “The Greatest Management Principle in the World.”  Of course, the greatest management principle was:  “what gets rewarded is what gets done.”  It’s almost so obvious that the author could’ve stopped after the first page, but then he wouldn’t have had a book to sell!  Aside from that, his target audience was current and future managers – a class of people that seem to include a disproportionate number of individuals that are dumber than a crate of anvils –  so he rightfully felt the need to expand the topic for about 143 pages.  The book went on to point out examples of managers rewarding bad things, like gossip, back-stabbing, record falsification, etc.  And guess what? – that’s what they got in spades!  Managers that figured out how to reward innovation, efficiency, real sales, etc got that.  No surprises here.  People that are rewarded with pay, bonuses, commissions, etc figure out what it takes to get the desired reward and go for it!

So, the book was aimed at management types, but the greatest management principle obviously applies anywhere that Pavlov’s work is valid; which would certainly include schools.  To the extent students care about the potential rewards, they’ll try to figure out what it takes to get the reward, and do it.  If getting the reward requires competitive rote learning, that’s what will get done.  If getting the reward requires teamwork and innovation, that’s what will get done.

Hey! – maybe I should write a book!


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