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Generally a rule is a standard which describes what not to do to avoid getting punished. I am looking for a word which describes a standard for a positive behavior which will be rewarded (edit: or incentivized). The most prevalent instances of this are probably parents/businesses dangling a carrot to extract some desirable behavior from children/customers(/employees). I am aware that there's a sense in which this can still be called a rule or policy, but these have no positive connotation.

To contrive two related examples:

OverzealousCableCorp has a rule: Customers whose payment has not been received by 11:59 on the due date will be assessed a late fee of $25.

OverzealousCableCorp has a [requested word]: Customers who refer a friend that signs a two-year contract will receive a $50 statement credit.

Edit: I wrote this in response to the suggestion of incentive; I think it draws a useful distinction:

In this case incentive plays roughly the same role as reward. Incentive still describes the carrot, but does so in a way that suggests a regular, predictable relationship between the carrot and the action performed to obtain it. Conversely, reward (at least in the sense that it applies to good behavior) has a connotation of capriciousness, irregularity, and a weak link to a specific action.

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    'Reward' isn't always capricious, irregular and arbitrary. Shops have 'reward schemes' and 'reward cards' which are completely clear about "meet these specific conditions (buy this, spend that much), and get this specific reward" ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loyalty_program ). – TessellatingHeckler Feb 26 '15 at 22:24
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    Pavlovian inducement. – Hot Licks Feb 26 '15 at 23:44
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    Positive reinforcement? You can check the examples in Wikipedia article – ermanen Feb 27 '15 at 0:19
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    You wrote, "Generally a rule is a standard which describes what not to do to avoid getting punished." This is true in Hellenistic-Roman cultures. In China, the role of rules (fa) has been closely studied. Paraphrasing one view: precise rules, such as a 55 mph speed limit, encourages people to always go 55 mph. General rules, such as do not drive too fast, encourages people to think about their actions. This comment box is too small to say much more. My perception is that your search will be frustrated if you do not consider other ways of thinking about the role of rules. – hunterhogan Mar 1 '15 at 2:58
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    Thanks for the additional information, @HunterHogan. Good point. – abathur Mar 1 '15 at 5:45
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I think the word you're looking for is:

incentive:

something that encourages a person to do something or to work harder (Merriam-Webster)

a thing that motivates or encourages someone to do something; a payment or concession to stimulate greater output or investment (Oxford Dictionaries Online)

something that makes you want to do something or to work harder, because you know that you will benefit by doing this (Macmillan)

The only problem with this word is that it doesn't collocate well with "have," as in your example. It collocates better with "provide," as in:

OverzealousCableCorp provides an incentive...

  • Upvoting because I think this is a plausible answer. It doesn't quite fit the sense--but there may not be a word that does! In this case incentive plays roughly the same role as reward. Incentive still describes the carrot, but does so in a way that suggests a regular, predictable relationship between the carrot and the action performed to obtain it. Conversely, reward (at least in the sense that it applies to good behavior) has a connotation of capriciousness, irregularity, and a weak link to a specific action. (I'll edit the question a bit to incorporate this distinction.) – abathur Feb 26 '15 at 22:08
  • In the corporate context you have provided, I think "incentive program" works very well. Obviously that doesn't fit for a parent/child setting. – WinnieNicklaus Feb 27 '15 at 4:17
  • The question seeks a term for such a rule, though. Incentive would be used in reference to the reward, not the rule. – Håkan Lindqvist Mar 1 '15 at 0:11
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First, a careful description of the scenario you are interested in: a standard of behavior is described, and and an outcome that results from meeting or failing to meet that standard is specified. The word rule refers to the standard when a negative outcome results from not meeting it; you seek a word for the standard when a positive outcome results from meeting it.

I believe the answer depends on your context.

Corporate context

Rusty Tuba suggests incentive, and you rightly object that this refers to the outcome, not the standard. I have not found a full answer, but incentive program describes the standard together with the outcome, and yields a satisfactory sentence:

An incentive program is a formal scheme used to promote or encourage specific actions or behavior by a specific group of people during a defined period of time. Incentive programs are particularly used in business management to motivate employees and in sales to attract and retain customers. Scientific literature also refers to this concept as pay for performance.

OverzealousCableCorp has an incentive program: Customers who refer a friend that signs a two-year contract will receive a $50 statement credit.

Parenting context

Here I believe you want goal. The drawback is that a goal cannot be established unilaterally; it requires buy-in from the person working toward it, but it does refer specifically to the standard of behavior and not to the outcome. And parents can certainly be the driving force in encouraging their child to set a goal.

I have a goal this summer: if I read 5 books, my mom will buy us all pizza.

Alternatively, try deal or offer.

My mom and I have a deal: for every book I read, she will buy us all pizza.
My mom made me an offer: for every book I read, she will buy us all pizza.

These do refer to the entire scenario rather than just the standard, though the latter, like a rule, can be established with no participation by the person measured against the standard. These can also be used as more colloquial alternatives in the corporate context.

  • I like your approach, here. I liked goal, in the initial answer, but agree with the problem of buy-in. I like "offer" in response to that concern. Thematically, it should probably be "OverzealousMom has an offer: for every book I read, she will buy us all pizza". I'll leave any amendment of the record on that point up to you. This would still also fit reasonably well with the corporate context. :) – abathur Feb 27 '15 at 4:53
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Ploy -noun \ˈplȯi\

A clever trick or plan that is used to get someone to do something or to gain an advantage over someone -MW

An indirect, usually cunning means of gaining an end -Roget's


Mother used fresh baked cookies as a ploy to get us to do our chores.

  • Ha! I like the inventiveness of this. It fits particularly well in the commercial context, though more broadly the notion an opaque trick for gaining advantage over isn't quite in the spirit. – abathur Feb 27 '15 at 3:26
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Spiff: Sales Performance Incentive Fund –Wiki

SPIF or spiv is an immediate bonus for a sale. Typically, "SPIFs" are paid, either by a manufacturer or employer, directly to a salesperson for selling a specific product.

  • "I love this word, and never get a chance to use it properly." -Bob. – Mazura Feb 28 '15 at 22:46
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A notification pushed this back up into my consciousness and it occurred to me that the regulations codifying the criteria for military/state decorations/medals/awards/honors might use a term that is roughly what I'm looking for. The regulation I read for US medals leans mostly on criteria, which is still neutral.

Exploring synonyms and definitions related to criteria, however, did lead me to some possibilities. I don't think any of these quite fits my request (I don't plan to accept this answer), but I think they can roughly fill this role in some contexts (all definitions from dictionary.com):

  • merit

    something that deserves or justifies a reward or commendation

  • paragon

    a model or pattern of excellence or of a particular excellence

  • ideal
    • a conception of something in its perfection.
    • a standard of perfection or excellence.
    • a person or thing conceived as embodying such a conception or conforming to such a standard, and taken as a model for imitation
    • an ultimate object or aim of endeavor, especially one of high or noble character
  • exemplar

    a model or pattern to be copied or imitated

  • principle
    • an accepted or professed rule of action or conduct
    • principles, a personal or specific basis of conduct or management
    • guiding sense of the requirements and obligations of right conduct
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Four disciplines of execution calls a behavior that "predicts" a desired goal as a "Lead Behavior"

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