Coin Operated World is a blog series covering innovative and unusual ways to achieve results through the use of incentives.

As a result of financial crisis caused by mismanagement and/or misfortune, most of the World’s governments are being forced to make some tough choices.  Austerity is the word of the day and no level of public servant is immune.  My local school district just cut back on some bussing and it went over like a lead balloon.

This whole issue gets me thinking.  Theoretically, all government employees work for us, right?  I know it rarely seems that way.  Most of the time it seems as if a public servant is elevated in status and not really held accountable by his or her employer, the public.  But in this time of crisis what we’re really trying to do is squeeze more results out of less money.  What we need is a performance management plan that contains the necessary incentives for achieving our goals.  Let’s take a look at some possible plans. 


The boys in blue should be rewarded for good results and NOT rewarded for bad results.  What is a good result?  I’d argue that the ultimate goal of a police force is to reduce crime without using more resources.  This should be easy to measure.  Crime rates are already measured and evaluated on a regular basis.  Why don’t we cut base salaries by 20% and make that 20% a target incentive with upside?  If crime goes down (or doesn’t go up) in your jurisdiction, you can make more.  If crime goes up, you feel it in the pocket book.

Benefits – We get more bang for our buck.  Over time the better officers will earn more and lesser officers will weed themselves out.  Individuals, ultimately looking out for their own welfare, will undoubtedly be more motivated with their financials at stake.  I want motivated cops on the street.  I also want underachievers to want to get better.

Drawbacks – How can you game this system?  There’s always a way and some will figure that out.  Maybe they can alter or hinder the reporting of crimes to make their numbers look better without actually reducing crime.  I suppose there is a chance that the best and smartest officers will try to transfer to the areas where they see the best opportunities for success.  This is not necessarily in the best interest of the community.  Other unintended consequences are possible as well; maybe some overzealous officers create a mini-police state in order to squash all crime.  I think I saw a movie where that happened.


Why don’t we pay fireman a bonus for getting to a fire quickly and putting it out?

Benefits – True, I’ve never met an unmotivated fireman.  As a group, they don’t seem to be overly concerned with money.  However, isn’t this so critical that it’s worth taking a chance on?  Fires addressed quickly benefits everyone, I don’t see a downside.  If there is a way to measure it, I would also suggest adding a qualifier based on property damage.  If a fire can be put out without breaking every window in a house, I think the firemen should consider that.  I bet if they had some skin in that game they’d suddenly cherish the 18th Century Vase standing in their way.

Drawbacks – Okay, one possible downside.  With money on the line, I’m sure some over-indebted smoke eater would resort to setting fires in order to hit his numbers.  People have done crazier things for less; although, you could hardly blame the compensation plan for that.   


Save a life, earn a SPIF.  Do we really need to discuss this one?  I can’t believe it’s not in place already.


There are many theories and studies done on this topic.  I’ll probably have a separate article for this alone.  Let’s just say that teachers who perform better should get paid more. 


Politicians (or Elected Officials) work for us right? During a campaign they make promises, spout ideas and stand on a platform that’s usually fairly unambiguous.  We vote based on these promises, ideas and platforms.  Then, once elected all bets are off.  There is really nothing keeping an elected official from going back on every promise and platform he stood on during the campaign.  We can fire an employee if their actions after getting the job don’t mesh with the persona we thought we were hiring. More effective, is to put some incentives in the employees plan to make sure they are working toward the goal you agreed upon.

I suggest putting elected officials on similar plans.  We could use any number of metrics.  What if they lose pay if taxes are raised (or lowered)?  How about a bonus if the budget is balanced?  Economic factors such as unemployment and inflation can be measured.  Politicians supposedly get held accountable for that stuff anyway just not until the next election; why not make it contractual, personal and immediate? 

Example, “If the Senator wants that bonus he better live up to his promise to increase educational funding or get that gun control bill passed.” 

Most importantly, this gives us a way to feel better about voting.  We never really know these people, but if we tie results to the election we at least know what to expect. 

In fact, I could see a ballot that looks like this.

Senate Seat 1

–          Ron McCain (R) – Lower Taxes

–          Ron McCain (R) – Reduce Medical Spending

–          Ron McCain (R) – Repeal Gun Laws

–          Hillary Obama (D) – Raise Taxes

–          Hillary Obama (D) –  Increase Medical Spending

–          Hillary Obama (D) – Raise Emission Standards

Why not vote for your preferred platform as well as your preferred candidate?  The “winning” platform could have a significant bonus attached, giving us some piece of mind that our candidate will not ignore our preference.  I personally think we should hand out bonuses to congressman who can reduce the size of the tax code.  Get it to 10 pages and earn that Presidents Club trip!