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Neels & Company - Strategic Business Communication
Trusted Advisor
Gretchen Neels
Gretchen Neels, President, Neels & Company

Dear Trusted Advisor

As a 50-something professional woman looking for work, I feel the deck is stacked against me because of my age. What do you suggest to make myself more marketable?
A.N., Medford, MA

Dear A.N.,

In today's job market, you can't afford not to look your absolute best – both on paper and in person. Your resume should focus on your strengths and cite specific achievements, clearly illustrating your value. A compelling summary at the top is essential. Once you get your foot in the door, make sure it, and the rest of you, looks like a million bucks, but beyond that, know there is no substitute for genuine enthusiasm and a positive attitude.



Last month we goofed! Please take a second look at Angie Katselianos's new program, Image Building for Professional Success (May 4-6, 2009) in fabulous, fashion-forward Milan, Italy.

The New Professional's Guide to Success, our new 90-minute audio program designed to take the mystery out of what it means to be a professional, is a great gift for new grads. For more information, click here.

Is your staff in the dark when it comes to knowing what "business casual" looks like? Let Neels & Company and partner Dressbarn show them exactly what it means at a bargain price! Call 800-975-7031 x 701 for more information on holding a fashion show at your organization.

Anyone looking for a job now will benefit by listening to Networking for Job Opportunities, Preparing for the Interview, and Second Interviews and Job offers, 30-minute audio programs brought to you by West LegalEdcenter for only $45 each. Click here for more information.


kill the bonus

You've heard the expression, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade," right? Well, get out the juicer. Given the economic climate, now is a great time to make just one significant change at your firm that will result in better retention and more productive and creative employees, not to mention a bit more money at the end of the year.

The solution: eliminate bonuses.

Did you just fall out of your chair at such sacrilege? OK, sit back down – I have recent anecdotal evidence from Wall Street, as well as scientific research, to back up this recommendation.

I don't know anyone who isn't infuriated about the bonuses paid to financial services executives who clearly did not deliver. It's amazing that Wall Street's 2008 bonus pool will be $19.9 to $23 billion once the dust settles. Has there ever been a better case against the pay-for-performance model?

But let's look at the science. Dan Ariely, PhD, a professor of behavioral economics at Duke University (and author of "Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions") conducted three studies to examine the question, "Does the promise of a big bonus push people to work to the best of their ability?"

Subjects were offered different levels of payment according to how well they performed certain tasks (such as fitting together pieces of a puzzle, throwing a ball, and playing a memory game). About a third of the subjects were offered a small bonus (an amount equal to one day's pay), another third were offered a medium-sized bonus (approximately two weeks' pay), and the last third were told they could get a large bonus (five months' pay). Which group do you think performed best?

Ariely and his group found, "The people offered medium bonuses performed no better, or worse, than those offered low bonuses. But what was most interesting was that the group offered the biggest bonus did worse than the other two groups across all the tasks."

The studies were repeated on two other occasions, at MIT and the University of Chicago, with the same results: higher bonuses mean lower performance.

In a 2002 Harvard Business Review article, Boston-based Alfie Kohn wrote, "Research suggests that, by and large, rewards succeed at securing one thing only: temporary compliance." But what I found most interesting in the same article relates to the recent Wall Street shenanigans:

"Excellence pulls in one direction; rewards pull in another. Tell people that their income will depend on their productivity or performance rating, and they will focus on the numbers. Sometimes they will manipulate the schedule for completing tasks or even engage in patently unethical and illegal behavior."

Substantial rewards for achieving utilization targets, for example, can encourage associates to pad their time sheets with soft hours. Such behavior is always bad, of course, but is especially troublesome in difficult economic times when all bills undergo close client scrutiny.

Here's the frosty glass of lemonade: Since bonuses don't work, and may in fact be destructive, why not take advantage of the moment to pay your workers better base salaries and forgo the bonus altogether?

Take some of the money you'll save and apply it in ways that make life better for your people: childcare, a health center, a subsidized cafeteria with prepared meals to take home, health and wellness programs, less expensive health insurance, you get the picture. Going forward, hire only those who are intrinsically motivated – people who want to do the work because it's what they were born to do.

Innovative change takes courage and an open mind. Before you convince yourself that the evidence above doesn't apply to your organization, ask yourself if your incentive plans are producing the results you're paying for.

© 2008 Neels & Company, Inc. - All Rights Reserved

We are the leading provider of soft skills training to professional services firms, covering all areas of business communication.

Neels & Company, Inc. – Strategic Business Communication
P. O. Box 623, Boston, MA 02117
800-975-7031 ext. 701
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