When a Win-Win…Is Not

Special thanks to Noelle who participated in a Being a Trusted Advisor program Charlie and I led recently. Noelle told a similar story in class that was the inspiration for this post.

I had an experience with US Airways recently that shed light on the difference between what I’ll call a Sears Win-Win* and a Real Win-Win. In short, the difference boils down to incentives.

The Story of an On-Time Departure

It seems that US Airways is placing a lot of emphasis on on-time departures these days.  Works for me! As I was getting settled on a recent flight, I noticed that the flight attendant working my section was particularly smiley and up-beat, urging everyone to get buckled up and ready to go in a most effervescent way.

I acknowledged her demeanor as she paused near my row. "We’re working hard for an on-time departure today and it looks like we’re going to make it!" she beamed.

"Wow," I said, a bit taken aback by the commitment and the positivity.

Then she added, "And there’s $50 in it for me if we leave the gate on time!"

(Apparently, US Airways implemented a new program in 2009 where employees below the director level can earn up to $150 per month in incentive pay when they achieve top-three rankings for on-time performance, mishandled baggage reports or customer complaint numbers.)

"Oh," I said.

And then we left on time…and arrived on time.

Why Motives Matter

On the surface, this sure looks like a win-win: I won because we left and arrived on time; the flight attendant won because she got her bonus. The corporate incentive program worked! Or did it?

I say it didn’t. Not really. It clearly achieved a desirable result (me arriving on time). And that result came with–what’s the word I’m looking for–baggage (me feeling like chopped liver). Which is why I call this a Sears Win-Win, not a Real Win-Win. If we look throught the lens of the Trust Equation, my friendly flight attendant’s Self Orientation was sky high. And therein lies the problem: the source of her interest was her own benefit, not mine.

How Do We Make the Ending Happy?

Here are some conclusions I draw from this story:

  • Incentives are great. And they’re not enough
  • When one or more parties in a business transaction leaves that transaction without feeling cared about, it’s a loss, not a win.
  • Motives aren’t only spoken; they’re exuded
  • Real Win-Win’s are motivated by caring, not by numbers.

Which begs the question, how do you incent–and incite–someone to care?

Any answers out there?

*Reference courtesy of Frank Zappa

13 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *