Paul Butler: All about the ABCDs

Paul Butler

My brother-in-law is a sales director for a large global organization, and he shared with me an incentive program they operate within his business. They use an acrostic called “the ABCD’s” which stands for: Above and Beyond the Call of Duty. The senior leaders of the company are empowered to reward employees who went the extra mile in their work, by giving cash rewards on the next payroll run.

I have mixed thoughts about such a reward scheme. On one hand, this can be an effective way of amplifying a job well done. I’m no psychologist, but they often say: What you reward gets repeated. I’m also no animal-behavioral specialist, but I have observed when we reward our little dog with a treat for sitting down, lying down or giving us a doggie-high 5 on-demand, she wants to do it again, and again and again.

I wonder though: Are there downsides to such reward schemes?

Do other employees resent their one colleague being rewarded and recognized when perhaps it was really a team effort? By applauding the work of one, does it cause discordance within the team?

I remember when Henry, our son, was a very little boy, and we were walking on Santa Monica pier, and we came across an old fisherman carrying a bucket of crabs with no lid to contain them. Henry asked the weathered old man if he ever worried the crabs would climb out and run away. “Oh, no, not really,” he replied, “see, what happens is, if one climbs up too high the others just pull him down.”

Therein lies the challenge of the human condition in the workplace — if one person begins to climb too high, others are likely to pull him or her down. I call this a Ph.D. culture, and we’ve seen it so often within organizations.

People can often be jealous of another colleague’s success and become envious of what the other person has. A word we rarely hear nowadays for this blot on the human heart is called, “covertness” — wanting that which someone else has and maybe even hating them for having it.

Organizations are a collection of interdependent teams working together to serve their customers. Teams — by default — are a collection of individuals working toward a common goal. My observation about the human condition in the workplace is that we have to be careful not to celebrate individual performance at the detriment to the team or overall organizational result.

If we celebrate the “I” in people, we shouldn’t be surprised to see less “We’s.” The amount of times we’ve been bought in to build up teamwork to find the root of the problem lies within the reward mechanism. We’re trying to build up a mindset of “Us” and “Together” whereas the HR department has allowed a doggie-treat mechanism that rewards “Me, Myself and I.”

Can you see the dichotomy?

I can also think of many fine people whose work ethic is exemplary each and every day — their normal mode of operation is Above and Beyond the Call of Duty. These people seem to be driven by some internal force — you could say a spirit within them that calls them to do everything to the very best of their ability, regardless of external stimuli.
I have witnessed how these humble men and women can be embarrassed by rewards. They don’t understand why they’re being given such accolades and would work at such a level of excellence regardless of a little extra sprinkle on top of their paycheck.

I am broadly of the opinion that each and every employee should be able to earn a bonus over and beyond his or her basic paycheck for a job well done. I just think we have to be careful we’re not rewarding an individual when it really was the team and, therefore, he or she may get dragged down in the bucket, so to speak.

We also shouldn’t be surprised to see some people work every day at the level of an ABCD anyways, because they know whom their Master is, and He has the best and longest-lasting treats.

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].

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