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The Greatest Management Principle in the World
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Leading you to the next level

Growth, Sales, and Marketing Development

by Michael LeBoeuf, Ph.D., Berkley, Books, New York, N.Y., 1985

“The Things that Get Rewarded Get Done.”

A weekend fisherman looked over the side of his boat and saw a snake with a frog in its mouth. Feeling sorry for the frog, he reached down, gently removed it from the snake’s mouth and let it go free. But now he felt sorry for the hungry snake. Having no food, he took out a flask of bourbon and poured a few drops into the snake’s mouth. The snake swam away happy, the frog was happy, and the fisherman was happy for having performed such good deeds. He thought all was well until a few minutes passed and he heard something knock against the side of his boat. The fisherman looked down and, with stunned disbelief, saw the snake was back – this time with two frogs!

This fable, told in LeBoeuf’s first chapter of The Greatest Management Principle (GMP), carries two important messages:

(1) You get what you reward.

(2) We often reward inappropriate behaviors, while ignoring – or even punishing – correct ones.

LeBoeuf insists that the single greatest management principle is this:

“The things that get rewarded, get done.”

Is your company, organization, or family ignoring this principle?

The author uses “magic questions” in an attempt to simplify the process by which leaders go about “rewarding” behavior, desirable or undesirable. He then proposes practical advice on how leaders can effectively reward their followers.

What’s Commonly Being Rewarded?

In typical organizations, leaders reward busy-work, long hours, massive reports, paper-shuffling, risk avoidance and “good” excuses. Short-term profits – and the requisite short-term reports, that “better be encouraging, or else!” – are emphasized over long-term, steady growth, and responsible action.

Quick fixes (doing things the quick, easy, cheap way) often override solid solutions, which focus on long-range investing, planning and commitment.

What Needs to Be Rewarded?

  • Problem-solving (solid solutions, not “problem identification” or “analysis”).
  • Risk taking (instead of risk avoiding). “… The ‘sure thing’ boat never gets far from shore.” – Dale Carnegie
  • Innovation (applied creativity, even if it ultimately leads to failure). “In 1976 a young engineer got bored with laying out computer chips. On three different occasions he asked if he could work on designing a personal computer but his company said no each time. So he went home, built one and named it the Apple… ”
  • Decisive, confident action (results; productivity). “If Moses had been a committee, the Israelites would still be in Egypt.” – Anon.
  • Smart work (not busywork). “If you can’t do your job in an eight-hour work day, then either you have too much work assigned or you’re incompetent.”
  • Simplification (eliminating unnecessary reports, paper-work, procedures, etc.). “… Good organizations and managers work hard to keep things simple and prevent goals from getting lost in the shuffle of daily activities.”
  • Quiet, effective behavior. “Who is rarely… absent?… Who doesn’t constantly pester others for advice and guidance?… Who can be trusted to work just as well in the boss’s absence?… Who is so quiet and unassuming that you hardly know he’s there except for his good work?… Who smooths out conflicts, fosters cooperation and builds morale?… ”
  • Quality work done on time (rather than fast, haphazard work). “… During World War II the U.S. government discovered its parachutes failed to open 5 percent of the time. Clearly, nothing less than zero defects was an acceptable level of quality… The problem was solved by requiring parachute packers and inspectors to put on one of their products occasionally and jump out of a plane… ”
  • Loyalty. “You can buy a man’s time; you can buy his physical presence… But you cannot buy enthusiasm… You cannot buy loyalty… You cannot buy the devotion of hearts, minds or souls. You must earn these.” – Clarence Francis
  • Teamwork and cooperation in reaching a common goal. “A man touring a mental institution was surprised to find only three guards watching over one hundred dangerous patients. ‘Aren’t you afraid they will overpower you and escape?’ he asked. ‘No,’ replied one of the guards. ‘Lunatics never unite.’”

Depending on the organization, magic questions might include: What behaviors do I want to see out of my staff (club members, salespeople, family members…)? How will I recognize hard and smart work (and other expected behaviors)? And how shall I reward those behaviors? Straightforward questions like these help a manager or leader gain a better “feel” for what behaviors he wants from his workers, and to determine possible ways of eliciting desired behaviors.


Here are the ten best ways to reward good performance – in order of most powerful to least powerful motivator:

  1. Money (raises, bonuses…)
  2. Recognition (public citations, job title change, special praise…)
  3. Time off
  4. A “piece of the action” (ownership, stocks, …)
  5. The opportunity to do certain favorite work
  6. Advancement (promotions – possibly within a variety of career ladder systems)
  7. Freedom (autonomy in the workplace)
  8. Personal growth (opportunity for additional training, to do interesting work, learn new skills, expand a field…)
  9. Fun – in addition to an enjoyable workplace (sports or health facilities, parties, travel…)
  10. Prizes (dinners, vacation trips, gift certificates…)

LeBoeuf asserts that people and ideas are an organization’s most important capital “assets.” Therefore, the successful company must hold on to these assets and foster their growth by rewarding productivity. The key is to identify, together with each employee, specific productivity goals, and then to provide rewards commensurate with (1) the merits of the behavior, (2) the nature of the organization, and (3) the particular worker involved.

The “fundamental task” of a successful leader or manager is to make people feel excited about the activity at hand. To make this happen, it is vital to establish some sort of Goals/Reward Contract (outlined in the book) with each group member. Clear and effective contracts share four ingredients:

  1. A meaningful goal (including its level of achievement and when it will be realized)
  2. A way – formal or informal – to keep score (People actually want to know where they are in relation to where they should be, and, the fact is, “People do what gets measured.”)
  3. Responsibility and autonomy for achieving the goal
  4. A meaningful reward

While visiting with workers or team members, openly communicate these concepts. Confer responsibility, require results, allow freedom, and, finally, reward success.

A “Manager’s Action Plan,” outlined below, makes reward-giving the natural culmination of a chain of behaviors elicited by four management actions:

1. Choose Results that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Clear
  • Challenging but attainable
  • Compatible
  • Written
  • Mutually understood

2. Identify the Behavior Needed:

  • Solid solutions
  • Risk taking
  • Applied creativity
  • Decisive action
  • Smart work
  • Simplification
  • Quietly effective behavior
  • Quality work
  • Loyalty
  • Working together

3. Decide on the Proper Rewards:

  • Money
  • Recognition
  • Time off
  • A piece of the action
  • Favorite work
  • Advancement
  • Freedom
  • Personal growth and development
  • Fun
  • Prizes

4. Use the Power of Positive Feedback:

  • Frequently
  • Specifically
  • Sincerely
  • Inconsistently
  • On the spot
  • Personally
  • Proportionately

When the time comes for evaluation, the manager sits down with the worker and determines if the desired behaviors were shown. Were the desired results achieved? If not, you must both revaluate and clarify the goal, and try again, renewing the process. If the answer is yes, you dispense the promised rewards, bask in success for a few moments, and then set new goals; the cycle is set in motion once more.

GMP’s many questions, charts and examples outline a process that can help you as a manager, parent, president – any kind of leader – to more operatively establish, advertise, review, reformulate, and achieve goals you wish your group members to achieve. And, most importantly, the book delineates practical, positive reward systems that can motivate your people to initiate suitable goals and to act consistently in order to attain them.

From Our Founder

Make Your Own Opportunities

Prior to becoming an independent consultant, Mr. Gershen gained invaluable experience as Chief Executive Officer and co-owner of Associated Business Services (ABS), a $120-million service firm that consistently ranked in the top 5% of like companies in the US and achieved margins higher than industry standards.