Random Reward


Great googly-moogly. Folks who handle internal promotions must find this sort of thing fairly insulting to them, but you can’t argue with the theoretical results. Now the trick is getting people to actually test it out and see whether it works, because I’m guessing that most places won’t go for it.

I think this is one thing that schools handle fairly well, at least in theory: you don’t promote a good teacher out of a teaching job and into one that involves pushing paperwork or talking to parents. You find someone who’s good at pushing paperwork or talking to parents, and give them that job, letting the teacher stay in the business of teaching. It creates some resentment from time to time, but it’s still common practice in education.

The drawback is that schools (and all other workplaces) incentivize higher-level positions with better pay, benefits, retirement, and so forth. Therefore, anyone who isn’t drawn to working in management has to ask themselves the question: do I want to pass up this money?

It would be one thing to stay in a lower-level job and not move to management if there were no particular intrinsic benefit to management. If the pay was the same, you liked your current job, and management sounded like a royal pain in the butt, then you wouldn’t be driven to make the leap. If your current job was getting boring and/or getting into a management position seemed more interesting, you might want to move up even without the promise of more money. Unfortunately, this isn’t how it works. Between assumed seniority, “responsibility pay,” and a desire to separate management from non-management economically, management-level positions are strongly incentivized.

Most cultures also have an expectation of ambition that provides social pressures to move up the ladder. You have to intentionally swim against the current to stay in a position you like. This can be easier or more difficult depending on your economic situation and the workplace culture.

The school workplace may be a good place to test out the random promotion hypothesis. Choosing a department head (for example) at random rather than by seniority might give some departments a needed breath of fresh air, and it’s not like someone who hates the job can’t just resign from it. Choosing your administrators from the least skilled teachers isn’t a terrible idea – they know the system, they’re probably committed to education, they just can’t cut it in the classroom. Leave the great teachers where they can help most, and move other folks into positions they might be more suited for. Flatten the pay scale. It would be an interesting experiment.

I doubt we’ll try it.


About Colin Fredericks

By day I help to create online courses at HarvardX. By night I write roleplaying games.

Posted on December 19, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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