Incentivizing behavior-A A +A
The Point Being
Friday, September 27, 2013
WHO hasn't had that dangled before him/her? An incentive I mean. Whether it's Nanay promising extra servings of dessert after one has finished the food on one's plate, Ninong cajoling with that mysterious birthday gift in exchange for a hug, or the supervisor dangling overtime pay after one has handed in the report, at one point or another we've all been promised something in exchange for something else.
Incentives are measures that motivate us to get into motion and achieve what matters. Two vital elements constitute an incentive then: the motivating measure on the one hand; and the required action or result on the other.
Apparently, that's all the P50 million PDAF made available to the Senators after the impeachment of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012 was -- an incentive. Not a bribe, but an incentive according to Senator Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada in a telephone interview as reported by media after his September 25 privilege speech titled "The Untold PDAF Story that the People Should Know".
So if the P50 million PDAF is the motivating measure, what was the desired behavior?
Senator Estrada protested that it wasn't a bribe "because that came after the fact or after the conviction". He said he availed of the allocation to respond to local government requests for assistance. But it just doesn't compute.
The responding-to-LGU-request line sounds more like a justification, and a pathetic one at that. Hear that local governments? The Senator is willing to accept incentives in your name. That sounds suspiciously like "the devil made me do it" excuse that we've all heard before.
The Senator also parried the question whether an incentive after the Corona conviction was wrong by saying "I said in the latter part of the speech there is a flawed system already that's why we have to fix the system." Estrada's September 25 privilege speech closed with a reference to "ingay at sigaw ng sambayanan na baguhin angbulok na sistema". Is that like saying "well, it's wrong but I can't be held accountable for it because what I did was symptomatic of a rotten system"?
But what was the desired behavior for which the Senators were being given a hefty incentive in the first place? Estrada alluded to it when said, "It can't be that whenever there's a crisis in Malacañang, the executive will use pork barrel funds as bribes or rewards. That happened during the time of GMA [former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo], that's why she wasn't impeached."
That's the whole point isn't it? Pork barrels are meant to control official behavior -- in effect, one branch of the government manipulates and rewards another branch into doing something that will advance the interest of the former. So much then for the much-vaunted ability of the three branches of Philippine government to check each other's behavior and performance.
And to excuse itself, a member of the Philippine Senate is invoking the following logic: Don't blame me; I did it for local governments. Don't blame me; the system is flawed. Don't blame me; everyone else is doing it.
The last time I used this kind of logic (something to do with getting caught lying and skipping the afternoon nap in order to extend playtime with friends) my Mama had me kneel in front of an altar on a spread of uncooked mung beans/monggo, for an hour. Senator Estrada will probably just be flamed on social network sites and other media forms for a few more weeks.
(It begs the question, if the PNoy administration can afford to provide incentives to impeach Corona, would it be similarly willing to consider some form of "incentives" to end the conflict situation in Zamboanga City, which has gone on for nearly three weeks, and bring succor to the civilians there?)
Going back, I really think Senator Estrada should have known better than use "incentives" to explain himself.
There are many things not clearly understood about the use of external incentives as an organizational and human resource practice. Even the popular belief that "the higher the incentive, the more the effort, the better the performance" is suspect. The reality being that sometimes incentives work, and sometimes they don't.
A couple of observations made about incentives, among a slew of others, are noteworthy. Incentives work when people view the rewards/incentive as attractive or desirable; and when they can clearly see the connection between the reward/incentive and the desired behavior. Moreover, not all incentive-based behavior change stick for the long-term; many work only in the short run.
So it's not necessarily about money all time; the desired behavior has got to be meaningful as well. And we've got to appeal not only to external but also to internal motivations to make sure that the behavior change endures.
At one level it has something to do with self-knowledge and self-mastery, too. Do we know ourselves well enough to know what our external and internal motivators are?
Oh, and just to be transparent about the whole thing, I'm easy to motivate. I have a signboard that says, "Will work hard for exciting andgood change that benefits many (but the prospect of getting to scuba dive works, too)"
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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on September 28, 2013.