Ethical Problems With Rewards Snowball From The Top

There have been complaints and questions of late around aggressive sales practices in some of North America’s major banks.

Whether south or north of the 49th parallel the allegations have been the same – a high-pressure sales environment within the banks leading to unethical behavior by their employees.

From where do these problems arise? And how do rewards get in the way?

Making Ethics the Pinnacle of Business Decisions

Banks here and abroad must clearly define what ethical behavior standards look like for employees at every level of the organization.

Ethical behavior is acting in ways consistent with what society and individuals typically think are good values.

And someone needs to describe what integrity and customer service really mean.

Following those defining actions, leader better get a handle on what rewards are and when to use them properly versus what recognition is and when to use it.

Otherwise, rewards used unwisely can lead to an unethical avalanche that leads to business catastrophe.

An Avalanche Starts As A Small Snowball

Ethical behavior will always be good for business.

People who behave ethically demonstrate respect for key moral principles that include honesty, fairness, equality, dignity, diversity and individual rights.

But the alleged reports from former employees of these banks speak of high-pressure sales techniques. Such claims are like a snowball being formed at the top of a snow covered mountain where goal alignment has gone wrong.

C-suite, or senior and regional leaders, at the top of these banks can sometimes set up unrealistic, short-term goals and targets just to appease shareholders and the financial markets.

Meanwhile, employees at the frontlines and bottom of the bank, end up doing “whatever it takes” to meet those goals.

And this is where rewards get in the way. When employees do whatever it takes to reach those sales goals, they, along with their managers and leaders above them, get a big, juicy carrot.

But if they don’t achieve the targets set for them, then everyone gets walloped with a big stick. Punishment has a far longer memory life than rewards ever do.

Certainly companies have to set sales goals to properly manage their business so they can project income flow and eventual profits.

The key to true sales success and achieving goals is not to focus on the goals in the first place. Sales outcomes are simply a lagging indicator as far as measurement is concerned.

So where should leaders and employees focus?

Building Snowmen Starts From The Bottom Up

What you need to have your managers and employees zero in on are the right behaviors that lead to positive sales results and not the goal.

It is like building a snowman instead of an avalanche. Both start with snowballs. Snowmen start from the bottom up and avalanches start from the top down.

Now, you get employees initiating ethical and positive actions that are precursors to great customer experiences that can lead to genuine questions of financial service needs. Start from the base of the snowman.

This get’s people away from the corporate line or goals from on high

Recognition comes in when you recognize and encourage ethical practices and the behaviors associated with the company’s values and beliefs.

Rewards are given only for the right outcomes that always include ethical behaviors, which lead to sales success.

This way, sales results are rewarded only when they are done the right way.

If any organization, financial services or other industry, sets unrealistic and unsustainable sales goals without an ethical and values based framework, then negative outcomes will always occur.

Then if you throw in rewards for wrong behaviors you have the making of an avalanche.

The key for ethical business results is to:

  1. Define the ethical and responsible behaviors that lead to positive sales outcomes.
  1. Look for leading indicators of behaviors that lead to sales rather than focusing on sales goals as an end to themselves.
  1. Learn to use encouraging recognition of people who demonstrate the ethical business practices and living of the values.
  1. Reward people only when they obtain the right results through right actions consistent with corporate and societally acceptable ethical behaviors.

Question: Where have you seen goals leading people astray on doing the wrong behaviors?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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