Rules are irrelevant

I have a friend who writes about breaking news. He crafts meaningful stories about newsworthy events. Occasionally, when he posts an article, he’ll find a coworker has hurriedly thrown up a post, just seconds before. Out of respect for their work and an obligation to avoid overlapping content, he pulls his own article. Even though he started first, and labored to create an experience for readers, his article never sees the light of day.

Attempts have been made to put rules in place to reserve topics. Writers can inform others about topics they’re working on, in a shared space online. Unfortunately, even when he reserves a topic, he’s still surprised to find someone rushed to throw something up. Reserving a topic seems to create, not remove, the opportunity to hijack his research. What a horrible position to be in! Darned if you do, darned if you don’t.

It’s tempting to blame individuals for posting after someone else reserves a topic. It’s tempting to blame management for not enforcing rules. But blame doesn’t fix anything, it only builds resentment. How do we go about fixing this? Let’s start with why this is a problem:

  • Readers could’ve had two articles instead of one.
  • The article they get is the one that took the least amount of effort. The quality suffers.
  • When hard work goes to waste, morale takes a hit.
  • Writers are partially compensated by page views. And, in this case, the additional compensation is necessary for many to make ends meet.
  • People tend not to work together and trust one another.
  • The organization as a whole, even if successful, isn’t as successful as if they had everyone working together.

If people worked together:

  • Readers would receive better content.
  • The organization would be more prosperous.
  • Morale wouldn’t suffer from wasted efforts.
  • Trust would eventually be restored.

What’s holding this back? We have a clue in compensation:

  • Individuals who get more page views, get more money. Individuals actually have a reason not to work together!
  • The compensation is necessary for many to make ends meet. This really discourages collaboration!

Compensation is undermining rules that demand collaboration. That’s not surprising. Rules are only good intentions. What matters isn’t what we speak, write or hang on posters in the halls. What matters is what we do. Management has to find a way to align compensation with collaboration. I’m not going to speculate how to do this. But, I will say, if this happens, there’ll be happier readers, improved morale, and more money to go around.

We can make as many rules as we like. If they don’t align with incentives they’ll be useless. If however, we have aligned incentives, we’re much less likely to find the rules broken. With intelligent thought put into incentives, the rules can remain unspoken. And don’t get tripped up thinking incentives are only monetary; incentives can relate to anything that individuals, and the organization, value.