Upfront Incentives Work Better than a Carrot on a Stick

Upfront Incentives Work Better than a Carrot on a Stick


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When managers want good performance from their employees, the current tactic is to offer a reward to the best performers. This is the basis for much of the way people use rewards to drive behavior but what if you offered the reward upfront instead? One new study from the University of Chicago measured class test scores among Chicago elementary school teachers who were rewarded a bonus in the beginning of the year and teachers who were offered a bonus in towards the end of the year. The results? Teachers who were offered the bonus in the beginning had a 10 percentile increase in student test scores compared to the other class.

The better performing class’ secret lies in the way the incentive was structured; the teacher didn’t simply receive the bonus for not having done anything yet. Rather, the teacher was offered the bonus in the beginning and could only keep it if certain requirements were met. Teachers in this group were offered a $4,000 bonus in the beginning of the year and would lose money relative to student’s test scores. They could also earn even more money, specifically $80 for each percentile of an increase over the district’s math scores. This method of incentivizing teachers could be the necessary course of action to further motivate good teachers to stay in schools that need it the most and generate the most gains as possible.

via ScienceDaily 


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  1. What a load of crud! If this is the way that teaching and education is going then we are in big trouble. I support the idea of gamification but if it is used like this. Test scores coupled with bonuses that can be taken away will only increase stress and reduce rather than increase productivity. Also it will reduce collaboration. Back to the education drawing board for whoever came up with this idea.

    • Based on US students’ performance, I’d say we are already in trouble. 🙂
      The interesting tidbit from this is less its use in education, IMHO, but the question of how incentives like this are structured. Early vs late, “yours to lose” vs “yours to win”.

  2. I kind of disagree. If the incentive is upfront then what exaclty will motivate them to perform? and if they are rewarded again then will the company pay incentives twice? umm, not convinced and a very expensive experiment to try! 

    • The idea is that if teachers are not performing up to par then they will lose an amount relative to how much they underperformed and vice versa for exceeding class averages. They are being presented with the money upfront but are not explicitly receiving it at that moment.