Incentives Can Get You Fired

Posted by Richard Moran.


One summer I worked in a warehouse moving freight onto trucks. It was a simple job of moving stuff from one truck that had just arrived onto another truck that was about to leave. We were measured by the weight of what was moved and how fast we could move it. The more weight we moved and the faster we moved it, the more money we made. And, like my fellow loaders, money was pretty much all that mattered. So we scurried around the warehouse moving freight as fast as we could – that’s what we were incented to do. We loaded pallets of steel on top of stereos. We stacked pallets of glassware so high it was sure to tip over.  We didn’t think too much about what would happen when the loaded truck arrived at the final location. Insurance costs and damage must have been through the roof. The incentives instructed our behavior and, although I am now embarrassed by it, we “gamed” the system. A bunch of people were later fired for excessive damage to freight.

More than once I have been in a call center in which the customer support people are measured by the number of calls taken and the length of the call. In short, the less time spent on the call, the more likely that the goal will be reached and that incentives will kick in. It is a formula that leads to the support people hanging up on customers in order for incentives to pay out. Support people quickly figure out how to game the system at the expense of the company. And more than once, I have seen people fired in call centers after customer complaints.

Wells Fargo just recently received a $100 million penalty from the Consumer Financial Bureau, because of the illegal practices of its employees. As we have all heard the infractions include secretly opening unauthorized accounts for customers. The 5,300 Wells Fargo employees that were involved have since been fired. Wow, what a mess. Now the CEO and Chairman is forfeiting his bonus of $41 million.

The question everyone is asking is: How could so many people get caught up in such a bad thing? Try looking at the incentives.

I am not an expert on the Wells Fargo situation and the Company is full of good people…but I do know this: When there are goals that are tough to achieve and incentives that only kick in when goals are met, it’s a situation ripe for gaming.

Goals and incentives can make for a complicated equation that leads to all kinds of behaviors. Good and bad. If the incentives are off, chances are the whole organization might be tipping toward big problems. So many dashboards exist today that someone should see incentive problems early.

Setting goals with incentives that match can be magic. Make the magic work for you.

The TO-DO List Is Your Enemy

Posted by Richard Moran.


“OK, I got it. I will put it on my TO-DO list”. Tom said it with all the sincerity he could muster. He entered the activity in his iPhone. Later, I saw him write it down in his Moleskin. He had plans to get it done. He really did. When I asked Tom about it a few weeks later, he said it was still in the TO-DO list category. As in, not done.

Some might say Tom’s inactivity is a good example of procrastination. Granted, others might say it is a sign of a person too busy to get things done. Or, maybe he is the guy who always over-promises and under-delivers. The world is full of those. But as I see things not getting done in organizations, I see something even a little more evil than the afflictions already mentioned. That is, confusing the TO-DO list with the DONE list. Putting an activity on the TO-DO list is not the end, it is the beginning. DON’T CONFUSE PUTTING SOMETHING ON THE TO-DO LIST WITH GETTING SOMETHING DONE.

We are all guilty. We check the easy things off the TO-DO list. Instead of checking off actions like “Complete Strategic Plan”; we take satisfaction in checking off “Coffee with Joe.” Instead of checking off “Schedule Performance Reviews for Team,” we check off “Send Flowers to Jenny for her Birthday.”

It is easy too to create a wasteland for activities. A good example is when we move emails into buckets that we will never check again. That is not a spot from which things will get done. It means an activity does not even make it to the TO-DO list.

It is also noteworthy that the number of things on some TO-DO lists never goes down. The list is always long. That’s because the big things stay on the list and more little things replace the little things that are checked off.  If your TO-DO list always stay at about the same number of things to do you may have a problem.

Are you proud of how long your TO-DO list is? Get over it. It is not a contest. I used to boast about how long my TO-DO list was. Now I see it as something private to me and something that needs to get down to zero.

There is joy in doing. There is not much in a TO DO List. Don’t worry so much about the TO DO List. There is no substitute for doing.

A REDO On First Impressions

Posted by Richard Moran.


The first time I met Tom we both said “Hey!” and extended our hands to shake. Maybe neither of us had eye hand coordination that day or we weren’t paying attention, but, we missed. We didn’t miss each others outreached hands altogether, but the shake was not quite right, the hands didn’t quite clench together. There were awkward thumbs and angles. It happens all the time but with Tom, he said, “Wait a minute, that’s not a good one, let’s get a proper handshake. Come on.” And with that, we shook hands again and it was a good handshake. We became good friends and I always respected his honesty and forthrightness.

Tom and I had a REDO on the first impression. And what was an awkward first exchange became a positive one. The lesson is not in the handshake but in the REDO. Tom taught me long ago that if something is not quite right in that first minute, sometimes it’s ok to pull the REDO card out.

The old adage “You only get one chance to make a first impression…” is true. Mostly. Lots of times we know when the first impression is not good. If you know right away that you did not put your best foot forward, don’t just accept it – change it.

Like, if you spill your coffee walking into a conference room with colleagues, don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Say something about it and go for the REDO.

Or, in an interview if the first five minute just goes sideways and the interviewer is about to mentally check out, stop the interview. Say something like, “Wait, I am just not presenting myself as I would like, and I am not giving you a true impression, let me start all over.” You have nothing to lose in the interview, why not try the REDO?

Conversely, the REDO can work when you suspect someone is about to go in the wrong direction in the initial interaction. In a recent meeting with a junior PR person, she started out by asking me, “How would you describe your job?” I replied, “College President.” Her follow up question was, “What are your duties?” At that point I stopped the meeting and helped the PR person better understand first impressions (as well as how to do a little research). I did the REDO for her and she was thankful. We now have an honest and productive relationship.

A handshake is one of the first things we do when greeting someone new. It is a metaphor for what can go write or wrong in those first seconds and how we can get second chances for that first impression. Sometimes.

A REDO can save a career.