I read Michael Crichton’s book “Next” a few years back. The book focuses on gene therapy and the use – or more accurately –the misuse of genetic material.   Early on in the book the concept of a Chimera was brought up. 


A Chimera is a mythical beast with parts from many different animals whose sighting foretold shipwrecks, storms and other natural disasters .  But in the DNA world – a Chimera is someone with two sets of DNA contained within one body.  The DNA of someone’s liver could be different than the DNA of their blood.  Sounds weird eh?  Theoretically, you could take a DNA test using cells from your cheek and it wouldn’t be a match for your children – ones you’re sure are yours.  Maury Povich would have a field day with a couple of Chimeras on his show.

But this idea of Chimera came on the heels of a recent discussion with a client about the difference between recognition programs and incentives programs. 

Well it occurred to me that the Chimera is a perfect icon for the types of programs many companies put together in their quest to have a single program that “does it all.”  Programs that have the goal of an incentive such as an individual objective, but the rules of a recognition program like earning awards based on relative performance, the time frame of an incentive (shorter term) with the award being a recognition item.

In other words the program has elements of both – but the effectiveness of neither. 

While on the surface it might seem that a Chimera has all the positive qualities of the menagerie in its DNA – I submit that the Chimera is weaker for its complexity.  When a program strives to achieve too much it achieves less.  Recognition and incentive pull on very different parts of the brain and combining them causes a real identity crisis within the program.

Incentive programs typically connect with the transactional side of your brain – the logical part.  Recognition hits the social side – the emotional side.  Putting these two halves together you short-circuit the response mechanism.  Participants don’t know how to feel about the program and the sponsor (that’d be you) – lose all the effective elements of each kind of program.

Look at your reward and recognition program?  Does it try to hard to be all things to all people?  Did it come about based on the input from a variety of people who may (or may not) understand the difference in objectives when considering recognition over incentive?  Did you use the words recognition program, incentive program, contest, or scheme interchangeably in the subject line of the emails that flew around during it’s gestation?

If so – Congratulations you just birthed a Chimera!

Moreau_2Let’s keep the DNA for each type of program separate.  Do you really need to create your own little Isle of Dr. Moreau?  Go right ahead – but I charge a lot to come in and rid your company of these little abominations.