Why don’t we ever discuss what executives are bonus’ed off of?

Ted Bauer
2 min readAug 8, 2022

Here’s another absurd article from Harvard Business Review about “the pillars of effective organizations.” The 10 they identify are:

  • Encourage cooperation
  • Organize for change.
  • Anticipate the future.
  • Remain flexible.
  • Create distinctive spaces.
  • Diversify and be inclusive.
  • Promote personal growth.
  • Empower people.
  • Reward high performers.
  • Foster a leadership culture.

This is a great, great, great list on face, but in reality this list means almost nothing. Why? Incentive structures. Most executives in corporate white-collar are not bonus’ed or comp’ed on any of these things. In many cases, they are compensated on exactly the opposite of the thing mentioned above. Take the first bullet as an example: “encourage cooperation.” Executives will discuss that at all-hands meetings, sure. But in reality they tend to want a very competitive environment where high-achievers (purportedly) are fighting each other for their respect, and working all hours being “productive” to get to the next level — in the eyes of the executive, of course. They would much rather undercutting hustlers than cooperative environments, in many ways. (Not all, no.)

“Anticipate the future” should mean employment shifts, product shifts, etc. Most of the time that means “how to game the stock price” or “what investors will consider to be the next fad.”

Diversify? Be inclusive? Ideally, of course. Oftentimes that’s a massive box check. Most diversity stuff is performative.

Said it before and it bears repeating: we need to stop pretending that executives care about things they don’t care about. It paints a picture of business as utopia, and executives who deeply believe in empathy and connection and inclusivity, when in fact many if not all workplaces are priority-absent cesspools focused on the next two quarters, with leaders who barely acknowledge people by name (often including their direct lieutenants) and couldn’t care less about any of these “fluffy” topics.

If we just admitted the truth and stopped writing to the fake script, I think we’d all be a little bit happier — work is largely a means to an end, run in 21–45% of cases by a clinical sociopath, and as long as they hit their incentives and decide to keep your position around, it’s all good. If you want a more emotionally inclusive place, the market is such right now that you can move for that.


Ted Bauer

Mostly write about work, leadership, friendship, masculinity, male infertility, and some other stuff along the way. It's a pleasure to be here.