Been awhile since I posted the 3rd installment in this series – “Design for the Many – Not the One”. But, alas, I did not forget you, gentle reader. I’ve just been busy. Crazy busy. I’m convinced that activity on social media is inversely correlated to one’s book of business. Want to hire a consultant? Check their blogs and Facebook posts (twitter is too easy to automate). If they are posting a lot – they aren’t busy and that may be a clue for you. Just sayin’.

So here we are – Part 4 – Control Is Critical.

What do I mean by control?

Let me tell you a story.

In my past life I was in sales. I was pretty good at it. I hit my goals regularly. I earned our top “recognition” awards every year. As sales person the company paid us based on the profitability of our “book of business.” We earned a percentage of what we called “contribution margin” – the result of taking the selling price minus the cost of the sale (example: paper for a printed piece or outside labor) and the hours spent internally at my company to deliver the project. Some call that net profit but my company called it contribution margin.

Using a printed communication piece for example I’d get and estimate that included the cost to buy the paper and printing from a printer (say $100) and the hours a copywriter would spend on it and the internal team to manage the process up through mailing. Assume that was another $500 in hours. Then the company would add another, 33% on top of the $600 ($100+$500) to get to a total estimate to the client of $798 ($198 in profit.) I was paid a percentage of the $198.

Now… Riddle me this Batman – how much of that calculation did I, as a sales person, have control over? Think about. Think some more.

I didn’t negotiate with the printer. I didn’t talk to the copywriter, I didn’t manage the team that coordinated the fulfillment. The ONLY thing I had any control over was the selling price (as long as it didn’t go below the 33% suggested by the company.) I could increase the selling price to get more margin. But I couldn’t lower any of the costs that went into the project. Yet I was paid on the spread between total cost and total sell.

Needless to say, this created an adversarial relationship between the sales force and the internal staff. I had no control over my income. If I were going to influence my behavior I’d pay sales people on the difference between suggested selling price and actual selling price – the thing I could control. And then I’d pay the internal people a bonus based on the difference between the calculated costs and actual costs – things THEY control.

Control Is A Good Thing

Program design is about identifying the things your audience can control that will ultimately lead to your company hitting their goals. Programs that don’t think this issue through end up being more about luck than effort. When a program audience earns an award for things outside their control they will:

  • Check out – why bother if they can’t make a difference
  • Check in – get too involved in areas of the process they have no business being involved in – increasing your costs and reducing employee engagement and client satisfaction.
  • Game the system – find a way to cheat you. Heck – you set up the game they can’t really win so why not find a way to change the game so you can win.

None of the above are good things.

A key part of any program is to make sure the reward structure attaches to things people can control – ie: their behaviors.

Too often programs focus exclusively on outcomes when the real goal is to influence behaviors today – and in the future. Rewarding behaviors your audience can control will ensure that people act ethically in a program and not resort to cheating just to earn an award.

Key take-away from today’s post… Be a control freak in your program design. Everyone will appreciate it.

Next up – MATH! 

That’s right – the formula that sums up this entire series. Don’t worry. No TI-84 Graphing Calculators needed!