Thursday, March 19, 2009

AIG and the Big Bailout Bonus Boondoggle are all over the news. The failed insurance giant used part of their $180 billion in government money to pay out $165 million in performance bonuses. Money they claim they were contractually obligated to pay in part to retain the best and the brightest. All this despite the fact that the best and the brightest obviously failed to perform.

Now the readers of my blog know that I do not get political and I don’t intend to start today. However, I think there are several very important ‘life coachy’ lessons somewhere in all this and that is what I want to explore.

Here’s the moral of the story … from a coaching perspective. Simply put, reward behaviors and habits that you want to encourage. However, it isn’t always simple to put. Before you can reward the positive, you have to define it. What makes this difficult is that it is usually a collection of factors that determine the positive.

In dating, a man with money could be a positive. Promoting a manager who consistently hits her numbers sounds like a great idea. But if Mr. Money Bags was physically abusive or a chronic cheater, would he still be a keeper? Would you still offer that promotion if you discovered that your model manager played favorites and was overheard on several occasions making racist and ageist comments?

It isn’t so easy when you have to weigh a lot of pros and cons, but ultimately, when it comes to major decisions about love, career, finances and your future, you need to ask those hard questions. What are the positive traits I’m looking for in this situation? What are the negatives? Which are the deal breakers and which can I accept or get used to?

Another lesson we can learn from AIG is to watch the deals we make. You don’t pay for potential; you pay for performance and only then when that performance is worth it. Would you agree to buy a brand new car for your teen even if he got straight F’s instead of straight A’s? No parent in their right mind would sign that kind of contract. Would you pay top dollar for a house you have never seen or toured because the real estate agent looked professional and sounded honest?

Looking good on paper … going to the right school, drawing the right salary, living in the right neighborhood … doesn’t mean that it will be good in practice. Paying on potential and what looks good is a huge gamble. My mother told me long ago, to listen to what people say but pay attention to what they do … that’s where the truth is.

AIG rolled the dice and lost. Unfortunately, when we gamble with potential there is no bailout or any big bonuses waiting in the wings.

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