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When Pay for Performance Really, Really Sucks

March 5, 2012

It’s been a rough couple of days for us New Orleans Saints fans.  We started last Friday with a looming deadline for the signing of Drew Brees (not turning out so well either) and we wrapped up the day with even more distressing news when BountyGate came rolling into town.

Allegedly, anywhere from 22 – 27 defensive players, plus at least one assistant coach, participated in Bounty Hunting – putting their own money into a pool which was then doled out to players who did anything from cause a fumble, make a sack, or, the most disturbing allegation, caused an opposing player to either be taken out of the game due to injury or be carted off the field.

Now football is by its very nature a violent game and every player (and fan, c’mon) thinks or screams stuff like “kill ‘em” and “knock him out!”  I was at that 2009 NFC Championship Game in the Dome and everyone in my section was screaming for Brett Favre to go down (the phrase du jour was “Favre on the Ground.”).   

But I get a little squeamy now thinking that there was some nefarious, against-the-rules Bounty Hunting going on while my boys were on the field.

The NFL Rules say: “no bonus or award may be directly or indirectly offered, promised, announced or paid to a player to inflict injury on an opposing player.”   Our disgraced former Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams has issued an apology (meh) and it’s come to light that he didn’t call this/consider this a Bounty Program.  Nope – rather old Gregg called it a “Pay for Performance” program.

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Obviously, there are a lot more details to come out on this story and I’m sure there will be plenty of blame to go around. It’s easy to point out that this sort-of-stuff goes on all around the league and has for decades, unfortunately, the Saints are going to be the ones to wear the stink of this for years to come.   

What saddens me the most however is that people in positions of leadership apparently knew all about the Bounty program and did-nothing to stop it.  This includes the GM who was point-blank told by team owner Tom Benson to stop it as well as, apparently, head coach Sean Payton.  Shame on them.

People won’t remember the awesome work done by the Saints who overcame 40 years of lackluster history.  Rather, the memories of this glorious era will forever be tarnished.  A team that won the hearts of sports fans across the country just a few short years ago will now be called “dirty’ for years to come.

Win at all costs.  Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.

There’s fodder in here for the workplace and lessons to be gleaned for every manager who ever devised an incentive program or wanted to develop a creative way for his/her team members to be a tad more motivated.  When focusing on the results with nary a thought of the behaviors that are, ultimately, being rewarded or glorified, the performance that’s being sought can come with a hefty price tag and damage to reputation.   Individual contributors learn to focus on the result and not on how they’re getting there.  Leaders, with an eye on the prize, may find it easier to look the other way.  Justification for one’s actions can be sought by confirming, to oneself at least, that “everyone does it.”

At what price, however, does one seek to find that validation?

So yeah – thanks Gregg.  That Pay for Performance plan really did suck.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 5, 2012 10:54 am

    Hey Robin – great and sad tale to illustrate a powerful point. It bothers me that organisations feel the need to use money (beyond a regular good old salary) to drive behaviour. It feels like an admission of failure. It feels like ‘We’ve employed Doug, he’s arrived motivated and the culture round here will demotivate him pretty darn quick so we’d better dangle some financial carrots in the hope he can’t see beyond these to the real issues.’ And the fact that it’s going on among a team who have up to now been seen as role models really makes me wonder what on earth they thought the outcome of this would be.

    I hope that in addition to the pain of which you write, no one has been seriously physically injured as a result of the bounty hunt?

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