Featured Product
This Week in Quality Digest Live
Customer Care Features
Etienne Nichols
How to give yourself a little more space when things happen
Jennifer Chu
Findings point to faster way to find bacteria in food, water, and clinical samples
Smaller, less expensive, and portable MRI systems promise to expand healthcare delivery
William A. Levinson
Automation could allow baristas to be paid more and still net higher profits for company
Peter Fader
In an excerpt from The Customer-Base Audit, the authors ask critical questions

More Features

Customer Care News
Precision cutting tools maker gains visibility and process management across product life cycles
A Heart for Science initiative brings STEM to young people
Three new single-column models with capacities of 0.5 kN, 1 kN, and 2.5 kN
Recognition for configuration life cycle management
Delivers real-time, actionable 3D data across manufacturing and business operations
On the importance of data governance in the development of complex products
Base your cloud strategy on reliable information
Forecasts S&A subsector to grow 9.2% in 2023
Facilitates quick sanitary compliance and production changeover

More News

Kate Zabriskie

Customer Care

Motivate the Right Behavior

Misguided incentives create misaligned consequences

Published: Thursday, June 8, 2023 - 12:03

‘They reduce our bonus if our calls go longer than three minutes. I’m not going to lie; I start talking faster at the 90-second mark.”

“She asked me to suggest ideas, so I did. I now have a whole bunch of extra work to do. It’s the last time I’m opening my mouth. I didn’t realize offering an idea meant signing up to execute it.”

“I get paid for selling products. Deep down, I know some of my customers don’t need what I’m recommending, but I do it anyway. Nothing has happened to me as far as consequences go, but how wrong can it be if nobody is complaining? I’m not proud, but I am getting decent checks. It’s a living.”

“We’re supposed to be polite, but most people aren’t. Nobody does anything about it. I guess that’s how business goes around here. I don’t know why I keep trying.”

Wow! Incentives and consequences have power. Are you motivating the right behavior, or are you encouraging people to act in ways you don’t want? Misguided incentives or misaligned consequences have a huge downside. However, with careful thinking, you can avoid missteps.

The downside of misguided incentives

Short-term focus: In many cases, businesses with misguided incentives prioritize short-term gains over long-term sustainability. Employees who are rewarded only for immediate financial results or quick wins may overlook the importance of investing in innovation, customer satisfaction, and employee development. This narrow focus can limit the organization’s ability to adapt to changing market conditions and remain competitive in the long run. Do you focus only on here and now, or do your incentives and consequences take the long-term into account?

Unethical behavior: Misaligned incentives can lead to unethical behavior within an organization. Employees who are rewarded for meeting sales targets, for example, may resort to aggressive tactics, dishonesty, or cutting corners to meet those targets. This undermines trust, harms the company’s reputation, and puts it at risk of legal and regulatory consequences. What kind of ethics do your incentives encourage?

Silo mentality: Incentives designed without considering the broader effect on different departments or teams can foster a silo mentality. When employees are rewarded based on individual performance metrics, collaboration and knowledge-sharing may suffer. This lack of cooperation stifles innovation, impedes problem-solving, and limits overall organizational effectiveness. Do your incentives and consequences encourage hoarding and silos, or do they promote information sharing and collaboration?

Demotivation and disengagement: Incentives that are meaningless can demotivate employees and create a sense of disengagement. Employees may lose intrinsic motivation and become disillusioned if the rewards do not align with their values, interests, or aspirations. This can result in decreased productivity, higher turnover rates, and a general decline in morale. Do employees care about the rewards or consequences you have in place?

Tunnel vision: Employees may develop tunnel vision when incentives are narrowly focused on a single metric or objective, ignoring other critical aspects of their roles. For example, if sales representatives are solely focused on meeting sales targets, they may overlook the value of developing long-term customer relationships or providing exceptional service. In the end, those choices will most likely lead to customer dissatisfaction and reputational harm.

Building effective incentive structures

A strong system that is aligned with goals and values, and regularly applied, is the best offense and defense an organization can play.

Align with long-term goals: Think about what matters. For example, are you focused on customer retention and satisfaction? If that’s the case, incentives should support those results. Additionally, there should be consequences to address employee behaviors that negatively affect retention and satisfaction. For instance, if employees are rushing interactions, at a minimum, they should not receive a reward. Ideally, managers should address the behavior.

Foster ethical standards: When people do the right thing, they should receive recognition. When the opposite occurs, management must act quickly to coach and correct, or cut ties if the first two approaches don’t align behavior. When unethical behavior is ignored, an aggressive cancer can develop. Left unchecked, what’s wrong can quickly become what’s normal.

Balance individual and team goals: Strike a balance between individual performance and team collaboration. When designing incentives, promote both individual achievements and collective success, encouraging employees to collaborate and share knowledge. Additionally, think about consequences. How will you handle those who hoard and don’t think about the group’s success?

Evaluate and adapt: Continuously review and evaluate the effects of your choices. Solicit feedback from employees, monitor unintended consequences, and make necessary adjustments to ensure incentives remain relevant and aligned with evolving organizational goals.

Incentives and consequences are powerful tools for shaping employee behavior and driving business outcomes. When designed and implemented correctly, incentives can fuel productivity, innovation, customer service, and sales. Furthermore, carefully chosen consequences can mean the difference between the right or wrong choice.


About The Author

Kate Zabriskie’s picture

Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.



Great article!  It reminds me of Deming's 14 Points For Management as well as his System of Profound Knowledge.  As Art Williams said in his book, "Pushing Up People", "Managers manage things. Leaders lead people."  Steven Covey and Peter Druker said the same thing.  One of Deming's 14 points;  "Institute Leadership" - implying there is little leadership in industry - hits the nail on the head.