William Liao

September 5, 2021

Forcing functions

A forcing function is something that aligns short term incentives with longterm goals. 

Some forcing functions work — but only in a very narrow sense: 

A football coach imposing a penalty for anyone who shows up late to practice is a forcing function that encourages team members to show up on time. The team shows up on time every morning, but a decent portion of the team still dreads practice. 

A sales team that fires the bottom 25% (based on sales performance) of its sales people every year is a forcing function that encourages team members to get after and even exceed their quarterly goals. The sales team accomplishes the company’s sales goals, but morale is low and attrition is high.

Forcing functions that create value on the other hand tend to work in a broader sense: 

A football coach that drives the importance of personal development and accountability might end up with a team that not only shows up on time for practice, but thoroughly enjoys the discipline that it cultivates. 

A supportive sales team that celebrates wins and resolves to learn from failures might not only meet the company’s sales goals, but also have higher morale and retention to boot. 

A good forcing function, despite its name, shouldn’t necessarily feel forced. When you align incentives through value creation instead of coercion, you enable the best possible outcome.