HRExaminer Radio

HRExaminer Radio is a weekly show devoted to Recruiting and Recruiting Technology airing live on Friday’s at 11AM Pacific

HRExaminer Radio

Guest: Paul Hebert, Writer, Speaker, Consultant
Episode: 154
Air Date: February 19, 2016


Paul Hebert is a writer, speaker and consultant focused on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. Over the course of his career, Paul has worked closely with clients to design influence, marketing, motivation, incentive, loyalty, recognition and reward programs to increase effectiveness and reduce costs.Paul’s mission is to humanize the business relationships companies rely on to drive greater employee, channel and customer loyalty – and ultimately business results.

He is dedicated to creating true emotional connections often overlooked in our automated, tech-enabled world. Through the use of proven motivational theory, behavioral economics and social psychology he has driven extraordinary company performance for his clients. Paul is widely considered an expert on motivation and incentives.

• Interviewed by the BBC on executive motivation and pay
• Quoted three times in USATODAY as an expert in incentives and channel travel programs
• Published in Loyalty360 magazine
• Contributing writer on the Fistful of Talent blog


Audio MP3





Begin transcript


John Sumser: Good morning, and welcome to HR Examiner Radio. I’m your host John Sumser, and we’re coming to you live this morning from beautiful downtown Occidental, California. Today we’re going to be talking with Paul Hebert, who is one of the world’s great experts on motivation, incentives, engagement, and that gooey human stuff that has to do with how people feel about the way that they work. Paul, how are you?


Paul Hebert: I am fabulous, John. I appreciate the time this morning, thank you so much.


John Sumser: Well, it’s great to have you, this is going to be a fantastic conversation. Why don’t you introduce yourself to the audience?


Paul Hebert: I’d be happy to. First of all, as John mentioned, I’ve been working in the incentive reward influence space, is the the way I like to refer to it. Ultimately what we want to do, or what I want to do, is influence somebody’s behavior, and that’s what companies want in a lot of cases. Been doing this for about 25 years. I actually started off a little bit differently, I have my degrees in Statistics and Mathematics, so I started out working on the B1 Bomber and the Space Shuttle for Rockwell. You can blame me for $500 hammers and $200 toilet seats because I was estimating parts for those vehicles. That’s a very boring job, believe it or not, and a friend of mine was in the incentive space and we talked a lot.


I got hooked into it years ago, worked for some of the majors out there, working both marketing and sales, so I’ve seen both sides of that equation, had my own firm for awhile. One of those things where be careful what you wish for, you might get it. When I started doing my own consulting I found out I can do it, I wasn’t built for it from an engagement standpoint, from a happiness standpoint. When you’re a loan practitioner, there’s only 2 calls you make everyday, one is to collect money from people that owe you or another call to make sure somebody starts paying you. It got to be lonely, too. Now I’m still consulting. Right now I’m looking for a company that I can work with to grow how they engage their audiences and how they can drive their business through connecting and influencing behavior. For that kind of life, that’s where I’m at today.


John Sumser: You were in logistics? You were in logistics [crosstalk 00:02:39]?


Paul Hebert: Not so much [crosstalk 00:02:40]. No, my job was actually to estimate the cost of building parts for the Space Shuttle and the B1 Bomber, this was back before the B2, actually. My job was to go find out, go out into the plant and sit down with the the guy running the milling machine on the titanium, because we were working at that time on the wing carry-throughs is what they called it was all made out of tin titanium, and I’d have to figure out what the process was they went through. I’d have to then calculate the cost associated with that process, bring that down a specific learning curve based on how many pieces there were going to be and what kind of turn around time they wanted, and from that I could estimate the cost of that run of that part. That was my job. I would get a, “Here’s a part,” go out, do the research, come back, do the quote, send it in. It was fun, I mean it was interesting John. I had to get a top secret clearance, I had to work on the missile stuff that was dropping out of the bottom a B2s and things. It was fun, it was interesting, you’re driving carts around this 20, 30, 40 acre plant, it was huge. It was fun.


John Sumser: I’m surprised you don’t think of it as logistics. That was in the tactical Air Force, I worked on similar things in the strategic Air Force in the A-wax part of the universe. That business of calculating the cost and duration of spare parts, reliability, sustainability, those sorts of things, that was all part of a discipline of a logistic engineer where I came from. The reason I know is because I’m a certified professional logistics engineer.


Paul Hebert: Well, there you go.


John Sumser: We ought to have that conversation sometime, but today we’re going to talk about motivating people, not parts. You told me how you got here, what’re you doing right now? What does a day look like for you right now?


Paul Hebert: What I’m doing right now is I’m working with some clients that are in the industry itself, and we’re trying to figure out where’s the industry going, meaning the incentive reward recognition industry. In the last 10 years we’ve seen an explosion of discussion about how to recognize employees because either it was Aon, or Gallop, or somebody came out and said recognition will drive engagement, engagement drives profit, therefore recognition, and that’s easy to do so go do that. A huge number of companies hit the market doing recognition. They vectored in from a very technological standpoint. The industry was very surprised by that, I would suggest, that they were very much build to suspect technology solution, now you got SAS coming in that’s be able to launch right away.


The industry’s changed quite a bit in the last 10 or 15 years, so I’m working with clients now about where is the industry going to go? I’ve seen the curve so far, and because I’m a techy, geeky, I like all the new toys, I got one foot in where it might not be. Spending a lot of times right now with clients going through what the history, identifying what the inflection points were, then what caused that, and then see if we can hopefully predict a little bit into the future where it might end up. It’s an interesting discussion all around, how technology is changing, what does that mean for the industry and for the entire ecosystem that’s been built around rewards, recognition, incentives, and it’s a very scary place right now for a lot of reasons, but mostly for the technology.


John Sumser: The industry has changed, the technology has changed, the conversation has changed, and engagement has not. What’s going on? Why is it that all those things change and engagement stays the same?


Paul Hebert: Again, some of this is going to be fact based opinion, based on the research I’ve done, some of it’s just plain old opinion. In my mind, when I look back on everything that’s happened the one thing you didn’t mention in all of that is human beings haven’t changed. One of the things I’d argue with Dan Pink about is the fact that we’re in Motivation 3.0 or Incentive 3.0, and that we’ve changed. We haven’t changed, as human beings we are no different than we were a thousand, 10 thousand years ago, from a psychology standpoint on what actually drives us to make decisions and decide to work or not work. I think we’re spending a lot of time and energy changing everything around what human beings do, and not spending enough time learning how to actually leverage human being, the psychology. In other words, the maintenance manual on your brain is getting ignored while we look at everything around it.


When I talk to my clients it always gets back to, “What are you telling your managers on how to connect with people? What are you talking? Are they trained on how to actually do recognition?” I know that sounds dumb, but when you actually recognize somebody you have to tell them what it was they did, why that’s important to the mission, values, and the point of view of the company, how that connects to them personally. There’s a lot of these little nuances to that process that’s better than, “Hey, nice job, Paul,” and you walk by. That’s worse than not saying anything. I think that we’ve spent a lot of time and energy on the process of engaging employees, and not spending enough time on actually getting managers and employees to engage. That’s my point of view from a 50,000 foot standpoint.


John Sumser: Could I summarize that as all the technology of the world isn’t going to solve the problem of having a crummy boss?


Paul Hebert: Yes, at the end of the end. I’ve had this argument with a lot of people, and I may even have written an article for HR Examiner at one time, that we don’t measure managers really well on how well they manage. We measure them very well on functional outputs and we look for all of those little things that we can put into a box and they’re binary. When you start talking about human beings it gets really fuzzy, like you mentioned right at the beginning it’s squishy, right? It’s a very difficult job as a manager, being a good boss is hard. That should be the hardest job to get is to be a boss, but usually we just promote the person that’s best at the job. It’s like promoting the best sales person to sales manager, never a good idea. It’s probably your mid-tier performer that’s probably your best manager at some point. Yes, having a bad boss, that is the net-net.


John Sumser: I imagine you’ve looked at all of this fulgural about the candidate experience and how to improve the candidate experience and the change in the way that people relate to their jobs because employees have a better upper hand of some kind. I wonder if you think that’s true, first of all? Then I wonder if there’s some change in the way that you might interview a boss going forward? If you’re looking for an environment to work in where you’d be motivated, are there certain things that you want to know about your boss?


Paul Hebert: Yeah, absolutely, that’s a great question. Both of them. To answer the first part of that is I think candidate experience is just one step on the entire client journey. I mean, we talk about customer journey mapping and I think we’re starting to get into employee journey mapping from pre-identification when they’re just the branding out there in general for an organization. I know everybody’s going to laugh when I say this, but Zappos has a great PR when it comes to their brand, everybody knows what happens there, they see the parades. Now, is that a place for me? Absolutely not, I would go crazy there because I’m not a big guy that wants to walk around doing the dances in the hallway, but for people that are that’s a great self-selection tool for them. They’ve looked at that, and I think that’s very smart on their part.


That whole employee experience thing, I think, is important. Whether we start at it at candidate or we start it before that, but it doesn’t end. I think part of the problem is we stop that whole candidate experience once they get into the the job, and the manager now has no responsibility to pull that experience into the company. Then where’s the candidate experience when somebody leaves? I think some of the high end consulting firms have done a wonderful, wonderful job of leveraging their alumni networks. That’s where they get most of their business, right, so they follow them through the boards and they keep calling them saying, “Hey, hire us.” Yes, I think it’s important. I don’t call it fulgural, I think there’s a lot of obviously some charlatan out there that are just selling a process, but in general I agree with it.


The second half of that, I think as an employee you have a responsibility for your own engagement, I think we’re missing that part of it. I’ve written a couple of posts on [inaudible 00:11:55] where I talk about engagement is really a 2-way street. I have to want to be engaged before I can be, and I have to understand what that means for me. Yes, interviewing your boss, and I think that’s an element maybe that should come out from career pathing or something that you do in your college career where you learn how to interview. I do a podcast on what you wish people had told you, and one of them couple of people have talked about, “I wish somebody had told me to get a mentor when I first got out of college. I wish somebody had taught me how to network better earlier in my career,” because those things help you identify bosses that will fit with you. To answer your question, yeah I think we need to learn a better way to interview and identify where we fit because that’s part of our responsibility as an employee.


John Sumser: I think you’ll agree that the conventional wisdom is right, and how you feel about your job, while it certainly is a personal responsibility, has a good deal to do with who your boss is and what you feel about that relationship? If you’re trying to get your brain around, “Am I gonna be able to work with this guy or gal,” what questions do you ask that don’t make them mad?


Paul Hebert: That’s a good question, and I think there’s a big part of this, a little bit of social engineering on the front end is, who do you know that already works for them, can I talk to them before the interview, can I find out? Interviewing is a skill, right, both on the receiver and the giving side of things. I mean, my standard interviewing technique is, “Okay, I’ll ask as many questions as I can because people love to talk,” and just like you’re doing with me, and at the end of the interview if I’ve said nothing they’ll think it’s the best interview in the world. What I’ve always asked to people that I’ve ever interviewed with is, “Who has been successful working with you? Can you tell me what you liked about them, what you didn’t like about them? How did they become successful working for you?” You talk about their history as a manager, kind of behavioral interviewing for them. That’s how I’ve always approached it.


Now, nobody tells you that because they tell you you’re a subservient position when you walk into an interview. I think that’s changing a little bit, I think we’re getting smarter about it. I always try to find out what is that history. The biggest thing is what has been their trajectory to get to be the manager. Tell me about you career, because if they talk to me about how they worked 60 hours a week and that they had to beat out everybody else in the department, all of a sudden I’m not hearing a whole lot of collaboration, I’m hearing a lot of lack of work-life balance, all the things we talk about. Understanding how they got there, that’s going to color what they see as valuable on their team.


John Sumser: Got it, okay. Now, you’re doing the Paul Hebert thing, you’ve got a client and the conversation is probably along the lines of, “How do we improve the overall tone of the workforce, how do we improve motivation, how do we think about it and measure it?” Walk me through what that’s like.


Paul Hebert: Well, first and foremost it’s the old story, “We’re going to borrow your watch to tell you what time it is,” a little bit as a consultant. We have to go in and analyze what you’re doing. Most of the time what I see when we walk in, and I say we I mean me and I’ve got a few other people that are connected to me but not W2 type folks, but we go in and we do the analysis: What is your training as it relates to the whole motivation issue in your company. What is your culture? How do your managers get trained to be managers? Do you have systems in place that allow people to highlight opportunities and work that deserves recognition, in some cases they don’t. The big thing that we find when we go into research is do you have conflicting programs? We find in a lot, especially as the companies get larger, different managers, different groups, different departments will run their own internal recognition, internal incentives, that’ll actually be against some of the vision and value stuff. Removing programs is a big part of what we do, go in and try to consolidate, train people to bring programs together versus run separate ones. Then we look at the communication technology and make a recommendation on how to streamline that and then add the training element in there.


A big part of what I do with clients is train them on the application of incentives, rewards, compensation, recognition because everybody lumps that together. I think actually there was a post you had written the other day where you talked about incentives and recognition all in the same paragraph, as if they were the same thing. There’s a very different ways to use incentives, they are not recognition, recognition isn’t an incentive. Now, can you recognize someone for achieving goals in an incentive program? Absolutely, but a recognition program and an incentive program are very different. Then the big question that we always get is, “How does that then layer on top of compensation,” because people consider compensation part of the reward program. A lot of what we do is get the lexicon down, and make sure everybody’s speaking the same language internally.


John Sumser: Help me out there. Help me understand the difference between recognition and incentive, that gives me a headache. [inaudible 00:17:33] that for me.


Paul Hebert: The easiest way to do it, and actually even though I disagree with Dan Pink on some of the stuff he does he had a great definition, is that incentives are, “If this, then that,” kind of world. If I say to you, “Sell 20 widgets and you get a bonus,” that’s an incentive. If I recognize you for a behavior after the fact, that’s recognition. In a program structure standpoint, that is a key element. The other part of it is incentives are, as I always position them, as choice architectures. I can’t make you do anything. Everybody says, “How do you motivate people?” You can’t motivate anybody, you can give them options, you can give them choices to make that either will hurt them or help them and they make the decision. An incentive is a choice architecture. I give you the choice, you can sell this and get that or you can not sell that and not get that, your choice.


Recognition’s not choice architecture, that is based on me reinforcing either a social norm within the organization. I want to reinforce helping everybody so I’m going to find a way to highlight that behavior, and then that becomes a communication tool to the rest oft he organization that says, “This is what we value.” Recognition is all about after the fact. It’s also an event, it’s not a thing, it is my ability to say to you, “We value this output.” Like I said, you can recognize somebody for achieving a goal in an incentive, and you can also recognize somebody for living a value that you’ve established within the organization. Those are two very big differences.


The other thing, I like to say, is that incentives should always be used to break behavioral inertia. I look at things like you either want people to start doing something or you want them to stop doing something. If you want somebody to stop doing a behavior, give them an incentive to change that. You can stop that incentive at anytime once that behavior has changed. The idea of running an incentive program for 100 years I think makes no sense. You look at behaviors you want to change, run the incentive, once the behavior changes you shift to find something else. Recognition on the other hand should reinforce principles that traditionally shouldn’t change over time. You don’t run a recognition program for 3 months and say, “I’m only going to recognize you for 3 months for hitting goals,” that’s again backwards on that design. Recognition should be on things we don’t want companies to change, and I say don’t meaning a little bit long, long term goal things. Incentives should be very short term focused, it keeps the power in them. If you make them too long term they just become white noise. Does that help?


John Sumser: Well, sort of, but if you do a do a good job I’m going to say, “Thank you.” That sounds like an incentive in that definition, if you do a good job, I’m going to say, “Thank you.” If, then. If I’m happy with your work, then I’m going to tell people you did a great job, right?


Paul Hebert: John, that’s only if I know you’re going to do that ahead of time and I value that. In other words, if I don’t know you’re going to say, “Thank you,” ahead of time it’s not an incentive because I didn’t know it. It has to be something I know ahead of time, I know I am making a decision to do X because you said you were going to say, “Thank you,” if I did it. That’s different that you saying, “Thank you,” after I’ve done something where I had no expectation that you were going to do it, that’s recognition.


John Sumser: It’s an incentive if I have good manners, and it’s recognition if I’m somebody who doesn’t know how to say, “Thank you,” is that what you’re telling me?


Paul Hebert: No.


John Sumser: I’m sorry, but I’m serious, conversations are like this.


Paul Hebert: Every day, every day, because there are nuances here that are important because if you don’t understand the nuances then you get unintended consequences. That’s part of the big problem we have in the whole reward and incentive industry, we can set up programs that’ll actually cause problems. I did it myself when I was a youngster. I designed a program where a dealer could earn X amount of points for every tire they sold over their goal. Well, they went bonkers and sold an unbelievable amount of tires, but the client never told me that they had a fixed budget. Even though their revenue went through the roof, as well as their profit, he didn’t have the budget because he didn’t structure his budget in a way that allowed for variable payouts. Again, that gets back to knowing the difference between how a recognition program, and a reward program, and an incentive work.


There are these nuances that make a difference, and unfortunately that causes bad design. This is where I get my hackles up, I was reading something this morning about what burns people up is that I will read about how horrible an incentive program was and it should never have been written, and that’s why incentives are bad. Then when I read the program it was a horribly designed program, there was nothing wrong with the incentive, it was just the program structure was horrible. They were going to say, “You shouldn’t run incentives because this is example A why you shouldn’t run incentives.” That should be, “No, that’s example A on why you should call Paul Hebert to design an incentive that works,” big difference. We have so much of that out there. I think, personally, it’s because every one of us is a human and we know what motivates us, every one of us has been at work and we’ve seen these programs or have been part of them, therefore I’m an expert at incentives and recognition because I’m a human and I’ve been part of one.


John Sumser: Well, that’s true, isn’t it?


Paul Hebert: No, it just means you’ve been a part of one. It doesn’t make you an expert. I dissected a frog, but I am not a surgeon.


John Sumser: Oh, I don’t know come on over I have some work I need to do on your [inaudible 00:23:30]. Tell me, who’s your target customer? Maybe another way of asking that is when does a company get big enough to start thinking about having incentive programs?


Paul Hebert: First of all, any company should have a recognition program, they should have a way to identify behaviors they like and to highlight and spotlight those behaviors to the rest of the organization. That can be anywhere from 5 to 50,000, 500,000, it doesn’t really matter. The goal there is to try to create social norms within the organization, built around mission value. I’d say any company size should have some way to spotlight behaviors they want to have continue in the organization. From an incentive standpoint, if it’s structured correctly you can run an incentive for almost anything, especially if it’s in the sales world. You can run a sales incentive as long as it’s paid for out of incremental increases you shouldn’t have any problem doing it. There’s really no company size. Where it becomes an issue is how much can you afford to pay on a consultant or pay to the person going to actually track and manage the data. That’s where I think these tech companies are coming in now and really upending the system because they got the tech that allows me to run a program for almost nothing compared to what it used to be. If they have the ability to help a company structure it correctly, you can run an incentive for 20 person sales team very easily.


John Sumser: That’s interesting. Last quick questions, quick this won’t be quick at all. The question is: do you think you can change the culture of a company with a recognition and incentive program combination?


Paul Hebert: That’s a really tough question because there’s so many things that go into what culture is. First of all, there’s the whole definition and do we agree with it. Some people will say culture’s nothing more than a longer version of the word cult and nobody wants to be a part of that, other people will say that it comes from the top down so whatever the mahogany row is doing is what the rest of the company is doing. The net-net is culture is everything in there. What I would suggest is you are going to have an easier time if you have the appropriately designed programs in place to move culture in a direction you want it too, or to stop it from moving in a direction because sometimes that happens especially when a founder leaves or when a founder gets way past the size of the organization they should be managing. I would say it’s an enabler, it is not the answer. I would never tell anybody that that’s the answer. It’s like with cancer, it’s chemotherapy and surgery, there’s never one specific answer when it comes to moving culture.


In a lot of cases moving culture is more about getting rid of people and has nothing to do with recognition, then it’s more about punishment. We don’t even like to talk about that in this whole idea of having influence behavior, but punishment plays a roll, as well. The to answer your question, long answer is it can help but it’s not the answer.


John Sumser: We’re about to blow through our time allotment, what should I have asked you?


Paul Hebert: I think the big thing is how a company should evaluate the people they choose to actually run their recognition and reward systems. If you’re a big company, because there’s so very little differentiation in the actual product, and you’ll get all kinds of calls on that quote that little statement, because everybody thinks they’re better. HR has now partnered with purchasing to create horribly difficult RFP processes for these companies, and it really should boil down to who’s going to help you design it best, not who’s got the most operationally efficient solution because engagement is not an efficiency play, engagement is an effectiveness play. To hire somebody who has the most efficient system simply means it’s going to be easy to do both the good and the bad. I would rather spend more time and energy designing. I think helping companies figure out how to choose people is more important than actually getting the system in place, and that’s a whole nother half-an-hour. Humans are the most variable thing in the world, and we keep trying to make it an efficient Six Sigma Process. We can’t do it, there’s no way.


John Sumser: That’s great. What would you like the listeners to take away from our conversation?


Paul Hebert: That this is not an easy solution, it is very complex because human beings are complex. Don’t assume plugging in some software is going to change culture, like you mentioned, or drive profits, or drive revenue, or any of that. This is a very complex, interwoven ecosystem of things from training to communication to the incentives to the rewards, the type of rewards, when they happen, who gets them, all of those things. It is not a plug-and-play world, it just isn’t. We want it to be and it’s not, and that’s why you’re not seeing any movement at all. Time and treasure we’ve thrown at this problem, 20, 15 years 30%’s the best, maybe that’s the best we’ll ever be, I don’t know.


John Sumser: Maybe work just sucks. Maybe not being engaged is a rational choice. Paul, take a moment to reintroduce yourself and let people know how to get ahold of you.


Paul Hebert: I’d love to. Paul Hebert, again. My Twitter handle is incentintel, I-N-C-E-N-T-I-N-T-E-L, like the shortened version of incentive intelligence, thinking back 7 years I probably would have done that differently. My website is, I just started a new one so it’s not as filled up as the old. There’s a whole nother story about what you shouldn’t sell when you sell your company and your blog should be one of those things, keep it. Those are the 2 easiest way, other that just Google Paul Hebert Incentives, I’ll pop up, be the first 5 or 6. I’ve been out there so long I actually get on the first page of Google if you put the word incentives after my name.


John Sumser: That’s fantastic. It’s been a great conversation, Paul. Thanks for taking the time to enlighten the audience about the world that you understand that everybody else gets wrong. It’s fantastic I’ve had this chance to talk a little bit. Thanks for coming by.


Paul Hebert: My pleasure. Love it.


John Sumser: You’ve been listening to HR Examiner Radio, we’ve been talking with Paul Hebert who is one of the foremost experts on the subjects of incentives, motivation, and engagement. Thanks for tuning in and I hope you have a great weekend. See you this time next week. Bye-bye.

End transcript

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