Selective Benefits and Web Applications

The term “selective benefits” is usually thought of in relation to programs such as welfare as in this definition of selective Benefits:silver and gold - small - by eschipul

Selective benefits are provided on the basis of a claimant’s income and circumstance. An example of a selective benefit is the Child Tax Credit.

We are not all treated alike by the other humans. For example numerous studies have shown “attractive people are more likely to receive altruistic behavior.” Humans being a murderous lot, intelligence is a true selective benefit that may keep you away from being the one “naturally selected.”

Business leaders refer to selective benefits as differentiation.  Reward the high performers! And in business benefits that are transparent, such as hours worked, are usually not the first place you see differentiation. Salary and monetary rewards are the first areas to differentiate as this prevents problems with other employees (This varies by role of course, commissions are typically public info between a sales team to motivate others, but that is a different post).

But what of selective benefits in web applications? The differentiated web app I think of first is slashdot with its famous  meta-moderation system. Karma points are awarded to those who contribute to the community in the slashcode application. Listening to Jeff Bates & Rob Malda speak at MSU in 2007 they commented that “if you put a number on anything it will become a competition between users.”

And we are so obsessed with the number of followers we have, and others have, on social networks that we have sites to measure, manage and rank each other! And we treat these people differently because, well, having 3,686,570 followers as Ashton Kutcher does right now means he has HUGE influence!

From the perspective of the person who enjoys these differentiations, they also receive selective benefits like free admission to conferences, access to other influencers, acceptance into good old boy clubs, etc.

Frequently the alternative to a selective benefit is a monetary expense. You can join an association or buy a house in that exclusive area. If you can’t get a pass to an event, you can usually buy a ticket (but not always). In other words, fame and access in real life and in social media amounts to selective benefits that have a real monetary value to the person who possesses them. So technically speaking, this is more than a game.

I can’t help but notice that flickr, the nicest social network I know of, does NOT show follower counts on your photo pages. Nor do they make it easy to see how many of your photos make it into explore. You need another app for that.

So to improve a blog or social network, should you make “rank” easily visible to everyone knowing the people who rank the highest will enjoy selective benefits that have monetary value? Does this build community? Or does that even matter and the bottom line is monetizing the site?

What about things like recommendations and testimonials? Should you confer additional site access to “verified” accounts?

Should social media do more to extend “selective benefits” to individuals based on rank (followers, explore, interestingness, page views, linkbacks, etc…)? Aren’t we supposed to be “levelling up” as the kids say?

Thinking…

As a society declines, it becomes more polarized

“As a society declines, it becomes more polarized as factions stake out turf they can cling to. polar bear by eschipul-smallHere, you have a choice. You can either embrace the widening middle ground now opening up between the polarities or exploit the passions on the extremes. Organizations that follow the latter course will look and feel more traditional and be able to cash in on the loyalty of a fervent customer base. The problem is that this direction has a short life span: it is not where the society is headed over the next twenty to thirty years. RenGenners can be found in the middle ground. But hitching your star to the RenGen movement means committing to innovation.”

Patricia Martin, RenGen, 2007

Difficult times we live in folks. Don’t go polar. Stay cool. It’s gonna be alright. Really.

Limits, like fears, are often just an illusion

“Although I am recognized with this tremendous honor of being in the basketball hall of fame, I don’t look at this moment as a defining end to my relationship with the game of basketball. It is simply a continuation of something I started a long time ago. One day you might look up and see me playing the game at 50…. Oh don’t laugh… never say never. Because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.”

– Michael Jordan’s NBA Hall of Fame Acceptance Speech 9/11/2009

Candor in a Recession is Even MORE important

First a quote from Jack Welch on Candorbroken tracks by eschipul

“There’s still not enough candor in this company. [By that] I mean facing reality, seeing the world as it is rather than as you wish it were. We’ve seen over and over again that businesses facing market downturns, tough competition, and more demanding customers inevitably make forecasts that are much too optimistic. This means they don’t take advantage of the opportunities that change usually offers. Change in the marketplace isn’t something to fear; it’s an enormous opportunity to shuffle the deck, to replay the game. Candid managers – leaders – don’t get paralyzed about the fragility of the organization. They tell people the truth. That doesn’t scare them because they realize their people know the truth anyway.”

Jack Welch quoted on pg 120 of Absolute Honesty

I believe candor is particularly important for American businesses right now given we are in the middle of the great recessions. Officials continue to give us ridiculous platitudes (Bernake? Baroo?) when observations of the facts say otherwise (see Ghost Fleet of the Recession).

My observations of candor within our company over the last 12 years has been that the two biggest dangers and misuse of candor are:

  1. People who use candor as an excuse to be rude.
  2. People who falsely accuse others of using candor to be rude.

In my experience #2 is more dangerous as it is the most effective way for a squeamish or low performing person to combat candor within an organization. So don’t be rude. Yet also hold your ground on speaking the truth. It’s just that important. And as the quote says, “leaders – don’t get paralyzed about the fragility of the organization … because they realize their people know the truth anyway.”

Don’t Sandwich Constructive Feedback Because People Aren’t Stupid

The “Sandwich Method” of feedback was the first method of constructive criticism I learned as a young manager right out of university. You know it – 1) say something positive then 2) give the constructive criticism and then 3) close with a positive statement. Example:

Mary, you are doing a great job on the ACME Products account. But I hear your project team missed the deadline for the latest ACME blog release and the client is upset. And by the way, your hair looks nice today!

bunnyIt is true that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. The difference between the analogy of “sugar and medicine” and “sandwich feedback” is that medicine is “a” – not a person, “b” – good for your current illness only and “c” – not a long term human relationship. So with all of my focus on candor and directness for competitive business advantage, why then do I fall back to sandwich feedback methods?

Because the sandwich method is mostly about the person giving the feedback. It’s easier to give feedback in a sandwich because although you know you have to give the feedback, it is hard to give negative feedback. So the path of least resistance is to say nothing about an employee who is late. You say nothing until all of the other employees come to the conclusion the late employee is your favorite who gets paid to do less and can get away with anything. Silence indicts the leader.

One step up from ignoring the issue is the ineffective sandwich method. The domain of the partially courageous.

Why is the sandwich method of giving feedback so bad? Because people aren’t stupid. That’s right – if you work with stupid people you can probably use it forever. But it does NOT work with smart people. The authors of Absolute Honesty explain it this way:

people aren’t stupid and if you always deliver feedback in a sandwich, they start to realize that the purpose of the message is the zinger in the middle. They then start doubting your truthfulness about any of the good things when you tell them because they’re always wondering when the zinger will come.

and

Not that there is anything wrong with acknowledging someone’s strengths when giving feedback – we just think it’s better to avoid making a sandwich and get to the point. – pg 91

and

Experience has shown us that, when giving criticism, the direct approach is the best as long as it’s given in an environment where positive feedback is abundant. – pg 92

To repeat, if you use the sandwich method of giving feedback then people will ignore the good things you say waiting for the negative. And they think of you as a minor league liar for saying positive things you probably don’t believe (even if you do!). So get to the point. Give lots of positive feedback on a daily basis. But when giving negative feedback say it and move on. And keep it discrete from positive feedback.

“You need fast dialog and fast conversation to get at the mission. Candor.” – Jack Welch 2005, Houston Forum

and

“From the day I joined GE to the day I was named CEO, twenty years later, my bosses cautioned me about my candor. I was labeled abrasive and consistently warned my candor would soon get in the way of my career. … and I’m telling you that it was candor that helped make it work.” – Jack Welch, Winning, Pg 34

And in closing – candor is the way to move up in a competitive organization. Especially one fighting off the great recession. Not rudeness mind you, but honest candor where you respectfully call things the way you see them. You don’t waste time with sandwich feedback loops so folks know you are honest. By speaking directly you are treating people respectfully. People believe your compliments and they respect your feedback. Honest.