Stickman Par 4 Golf Hole.jpg

Incentive Pay is Like a Par 4 Golf Hole

It was a glorious day, the conditions were perfect, and the smell of just cut grass filled the air. The foursome walked up to the tee box at the short but challenging par 4 hole. They were a mixed bag of talent and skill, expertise, and experience. They agreed to put money on the first ball and the final score of each hole. They also agreed to stick tightly to the rules. The only caveat was that they would all play from the “championship” tees.

First up was Bill, the head of sales. He played often and had the expensive clubs and purpose-built clothing to prove it. He drew his driver back and swung with an audible whoosh, aiming for the area marked “excellence.” The ball explodes off the club head and…

Next up was Janet, the CEO. She didn't often play (anymore) but had grown up near the course. She dressed in the same casual attire she wore to work most days. Even though she was a bit rusty, her swing looked surprisingly like something from a tournament on TV. She set her sites on the far edge of the “target area” and made clean contact and…

Kathy followed Janet. As a senior engineer, golf wasn’t her game. She did, however, spend some time watching training videos and reading some stuff online during the week before the game. Her borrowed clubs were a bit unfamiliar, but her only goal was to clear the water in front of her. She felt fine as she somewhat awkwardly swung and…

Last up was “old” Joe. Joe has been at the company for decades. He worked down on the manufacturing floor, and this game was part of his retirement party. His irons were worn, and he carried no woods. He was a small man who confidently walked up to the tee, did a three-quarters wind-up and stiffly chopped down at the ball and…

Bill’s shot took off like a cannon shot. It also curved right like a banana. While it went far, it would have gone much farther had it not gone straight into a grove of spruce trees. 

Janet hadn’t mentioned that she played on the gold team in college. Her ball took off smoothly and followed straight down the fairway. It took a couple of bounces and was in perfect position for her next shot.

Kathy’s ball barely left the ground, but it stayed in the air just long enough to clear the early water. She was impressed that it went forward at all and smiled as she left the tee.

Joe’s ball popped off his 5 iron and flew gracefully over the water. It landed smack dab in the middle of the fairway with nothing between him and the flag.

With Janet more than 90 yards beyond Joe and Kathy and with Bill in then trees, she easily won the first ball of the hole. They recorded her winnings and took their next shots.

Kathy went first. She assessed the hole and her skill and pulled out her putter. They all laughed as she walked up to her ball and whacked in down the fairway. It rolled for quite a while before settling 120 yards away. Pleased with this result she smiled.

Joe went next. He took out his 5 iron again and delivered the same stiff stroke. The ball lifted beautifully and flew straight as an arrow the exact distance as before. He was now within a pitching wedge of the pin.

Bill took his penalty and dropped a new ball in the short rough. He was determined to get to the small green and make up his lost stroke. He swung hard through the rough and his ball flew into the deep bunker to the left of the green and buried itself.

Janet smiled and used her pitching wedge to put her ball about 8 feet from Joe’s. They each offered Kathy some quick advice as they strolled toward their balls. Bill stomped ahead to look for his ball in the sand.

Kathy once again hits first, once again using her putter. Her ball stopped about 50 yards short of the green but remained in the short fairway grass. Bill slapped down at his ball and found the bunker on the other side of the hole. Janet dropped a nice floater about 12 feet from the hole and Joe followed with a shot that slowly rolled within 2 feet.

The group gave Joe the hole and waited while Kathy and Bill got onto the green. In the end, Bill was able to match Kathy and Janet two-putted to finish a stroke behind Joe.

Each person played to their strengths and was impacted by their weaknesses. The steady achiever lost the first stroke but won the hole. The guy with the most potential took significant risks and, this time didn't end up getting the big rewards. The practiced CEO performed well and graciously accepted that there are times when second place is just fine. The newbie enjoyed the stroll and took in enough information to be better the next time.

Over the next 17 holes Bill one the first shot on several. He also won a few holes overall by taking advantage of his long game. Kathy even won a hole on a miraculous hole in one on a Par 3. Joe and Janet went back and forth for the next few hours with Janet coming out ahead on the final hole. In the end, Janet won the most money, which she immediately donated as a retirement gift to Joe. Joe did well and used some of his winnings to pay for a set of lessons for Kathy. Bill took the day as a learning experience. By the end of the round, he was driving the ball 20 yards shorter than usual, but doing do far more accurately.

While none of them knew when the next time they would play together, each would admit later that the competition made the day more engaging, the company shared made the day more enjoyable, and the money on the line kept them more focused and motivated to perform. Kathy was even inspired by her experience and Joe’s generous gift of lessons to make time to visit the course every each Saturday morning. She often brought other newbies and did her best to duplicate the experience. Janet decided to make more time to keep her game in shape and Joe played every Wednesday with the same group that came up through the ranks with him.

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