What are *your* incentives?

As I’ve been looking at the hundreds of daily articles in my news aggregator, TechMeme, and all the other opinion, news and information sites, I remember Ed Porter. Ed was a mentor of mine who drilled into my head, “Borsch…everyone works toward their incentives. Discover what their’s are, and you’ll understand how to align theirs with yours or figure out what motivates their behavior.” Seems like a simple thing, but it really stuck with me and I often go into negotiations, look behind strategic moves, or anticipate and predict behavior based on incentives.

 Case in point: I was in an intense partner negotiation some years ago and there were three people from the partner and four from my firm (including me). We all wanted to get the deal done but — after careful and deliberate discussion around the terms — we couldn’t come to agreement and had hit an impasse. Remembering what this mentor had taught me in my twenties, I methodically asked each person:

  • What have you heard the terms of the deal to be? (I wasn’t 100% sure that we were all on the same page as the deal was very complex).
  • What do you personally want from this deal? What do you think will be the benefit to your firm and to you?

As we went around the room and each articulated answers to these questions, a picture emerged that we were NOT on the same page, had slightly different perspectives on the terms, and had just slightly different personal expectations and ones for our respective companies. Added all up, these slight variables combined to build a wall that we couldn’t seemingly surmount.

Getting all of this on to the table and under the light for examination presented us collectively with a picture that was pretty damn clear. We were able to modify each term just a hair to nudge them into alignment and we got the deal done that day. It was one of those days and accomplishments that a guy can point to with pride (until you then think about all the screwups!).

When I read blogs (which is why I don’t read blogs where the blogger is opaque or anonymous), news articles (The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal present the yin-n-yang of issues due to widely differing incentives and perspectives), press releases (always vanilla corporate-speak and happy-assed optimistic) or telegraphed strategic moves by companies or moguls (often humourously transparent or frustratingly opaque), I try to put them into a context of incentives…a process which has yet to betray me.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Connecting the Dots Podcast

Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.