Everyone is aware (I hope) that the current economic situation is tough. As a country, we’re in debt. We continue to deficient spend. And we don’t really have any good answers on where to get more money or where to cut our current spending.
Maybe I should rephrase, we can’t “agree” on where to get more money or where to cut. We all have our opinions.
But this isn’t a political post – it’s about numbers and how we perceive them in our brains and how that might just affect your next incentive program.
First... Let’s Start With the Economy
The numbers are big. Very big. And we don’t do well with big numbers. Our human brains were designed to work with much smaller issues – how many people in my tribe, how many saber tooth tigers are chasing me... that kind of stuff. There’s even something called the Dunbar number that says we can’t effectively handle more than roughly 150 personal relationships. We don’t do BIG numbers well.
Our economic situation is similar...
The federal government will take in $2.173 trillion in 2011 and spend $3.818 trillion. We will take in $1.645 trillion less than we spend. And we owe $14.2 trillion already.
What does that look like in numbers we can all understand ... simple. Divide by 100,000,000 (as if we could understand that math either...that’s ONE HUNDRED MILLION!) and you get
- A family that is spending $38,200 per year.
- Their income is $21,700 per year.
- The family adds $16,500 in credit card debt every year in order to pay its bills.
- The family already owes $142,000 on their credit cards.
- After a long and difficult debate among family members, keeping in mind that it was not going to be possible to borrow $16,500 every year forever, the parents and children agreed that a $380/year premium cable subscription could be terminated.
- So now the family will have to borrow only $16,120 per year.
Starts to make a little more impact. Nothing changed but the number of zeros.
Our Brains Need Smaller... but not too small
Blame it on evolution or the public school system but we don’t handle the big (and the very small BTW) well.
And your incentive program may be plagued with the same problem.
Telling a sales person to sell $100,000 more by year-end may not have the same effect as showing them how making 4 more calls this week will result in one more sale. Those are numbers we can deal with. Those make sense.
Any incentive that is 12 months long and includes large numbers (read: goals) may not be as impactful as a shorter-term program with smaller goals (even if the sum of all that is the same.)
Work with the brain – work with your people to create programs that fit the way we think and behave.
Or... just keep putting goals out there that they ignore anyway – hoping someone they don’t know calls and orders one big humongous number of widgets so they can get the trip to Hawaii.