The Silicon Valley Voice

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Badge Me!

Remember when bosses were demanding and distant? Remember when your greatest wish was for your supervisor to give you an “attaboy!” or an “attagirl!” or to simply remember your name?

If you can remember these bad old days, then you probably can also remember Winky Dink and Abba Zabba bars, and the Presidency of Herbert Hoover. Because you, my friend, are old.

At least, you’re not young. Certainly, you’re not a Millennial, the pop psychologist’s name for humans born between1982 and 2004.

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Now that they have entered the workforce, Millennials have become famous for being very fickle, easily bored, and demanding a constant stream of approval. This presents a problem for tech firms, who need to nail these approval-sucking nomads down to a Aeron chair in the vague hope of getting some work out of them.

See, unlike the ancient archetype of a worker like yourself, it isn’t enough simply to give a Millennial a raise, or a bonus or a wheelbarrow full of stock options. They need more, and corporate America is bending over backwards to give it to them.

One bright new idea is merit badges. That’s right — “virtual badges which [employees] display in their online trophy cases.” Sound ridiculous? Perhaps, but it’s true, and it’s a big deal. I know because I read about it in Kathleen Pender’s column, Net Worth, in The San Francisco Chronicle.

“If you’re picturing those merit badges Mom sewed on your Girl Scout sash, you are on the right track,” Pender writes. “Only instead of getting them for camping or cake decorating, you get them ‘for the completion of key tasks or business milestones.'”

Alas, when Mom sewed lots of badges on my Girl Scout sash, I still felt somehow out of place at scouting events, but that’s my problem. Your problem is what happens when the merit badge concept migrates to more mainstream businesses, like yours. It could happen. Salesforce.com not only provides merit badges to the “participation-trophy generation” that makes up its own work force, but also includes a merit badge generating function in the software packages it provides to its many corporate customers around the world.

Also making instant gratification awards available are technologies like KudosKorner, “a social employee-recognition platform that lets people give a shout out for a job well done,” and TalentCove. The fact that you are unlikely to show up in KudosKorner, or frolic in TalentCove, could be a real problem. Why? Because management gets reports on who gets merit badges, allowing this totally-fun, employee-recognition tool to provide “rolled-up data” the company can use to “rank and yank,” the really darn cute name for “stacking employees and firing those on the bottom.”

You got it — a lack of virtual merit badges could lead to very real unemployment.

The solution to this problem is obvious. You must convince your management to award merit badges in areas where you can excel. For example, you’ll never win a merit badge for cake decorating, but you can certain grab a badge for Donut Eating. And how about a merit badge for Spending The Most Time In Any Given Day Locked In A Bathroom Stall, Hiding From Your Supervisor? You’re a shoo-in for Attending Consecutive Brainstorming Meetings Without Ever Making A Suggestion, and there’s got to be room on your virtual sash for Worst Attitude From A Person Who Will Make Absolutely No Effort To Improve The Situation, and Purveyor Of The Most Malicious Gossip, Completely Made-Up From Whole Cloth Without Even The Slightest Attempt To Determine If What You Are Saying Is True.

You should also save space in your virtual trophy case for merit badges for Consistently Late Arrivals, Long Lunches and when it comes to Sneaking Out of Work Through the Fire Door in the Middle of the Afternoon, add a gold oak leaf cluster. You deserve it.

If the merit badge concept doesn’t catch on throughout the working world, there is another concept being developed at our nation’s high tech companies that is sure to improve our working life. According to Pender, “some companies are severing the direct link between pay and performance.”

This is wonderful news, and I think you can personally take credit. You have long severed the link between pay and performance, simply by not performing and still expecting to be paid. It’s a brilliant concept and frankly, I think you deserve a big fat raise.

You won’t get one, of course, but maybe you could get a merit badge.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com.

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