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Dilbert and the Limits of Praise

Posted by Leo Jakobson on July 20, 2006

Dilbert_2In today’s Dilbert cartoon strip, author Scott Adams raises a fascinating question about the use of praise as a motivator.

Wally, Dilbert’s co-worker and the laziest employee alive (he once started sending out old memos while on “in-office vacation”) complains to the clueless and uncaring Pointy-Haired Boss: “I find it demotivating that you never praise me for a job well done.”

The back and forth that follows the boss’ reply, “You’ve never done a job well,” actually raises an interesting point about how managers should go about motivating employees who are not top performers. Clearly, the Pointy-Haired Boss doesn’t consider it his responsibility to work with Wally to improve his performance.

Of course, this is Dilbert, so both characters easily fit into that bottom 10 percent category that many incentive specialists say should be shown the door.


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