The revelation of Wells Fargo employees opening more than two million unauthorized customers accounts to hit the sales target might have come as a shock to many, but they are just the tip of a very old problem the industry has been facing. Bloomberg has an article today in which documents several similar incidents when employees went a little inventive to keep their jobs afloat. Marc Hodak, an adjunct professor of business ethics at NYU’s Stern School of Business and managing director of Hodak Value Advisors says, “Companies tend to forget that an incentive to perform is identical to an incentive to cheat.” In the early ’90s, Sears “switched the compensation system in its auto centers from an hourly wage to a system that had more upside potential based on commissions and sales quotas.” In the wake of this program, Sears customers were reported to keep running to the store for cheap brake jobs. The Bausch & Lomb scandal was also similar, with the employees were found manipulating earnings to reach financial goals using a trick called “channel stuffing” (in which someone ships goods and then book them as sales without having actually sold them. There are several similar examples in the story. From the artic;e:”Every large organization in the world has got these land mines of perverse incentives,” said Hodak. “It’s just a matter of degree to which of these things are allowed to run amok” because of those three factors. Barry Schwartz, an emeritus professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, goes farther: “Incentives poison people’s will to do the right thing. It’s the worst way to get people to do the things you want to do.”
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