Reward systems are typically fouled up in organizations or society in general, in that they pay off for one behavior despite the fact that the rewarder would be dearly hoping for another. The article "On the Folly of Rewarding A, While Hoping for B" examines and discusses the consequences of faulty reward systems on insurance firms and manufacturing companies. According to Kerr, many challenges that organizations face are created by poor reward systems that organizations set to achieve a certain objective but in reality, motivate employees to do the opposite (1978). Human beings and other living organisms are keen on things that drive them and ignore the activities that have no rewards. Motivational level of the people attracted to reward depends on how attractive the rewards are. In most reward systems, the rewarders usually reward behaviors that they intend to discourage, while the desired behaviors are not rewarded. The article presents examples of how organizations, society and firms use faulty reward system to achieve their objectives. He also discusses possible reasons why such reward systems still exist.
Kerr uses different examples to illustrate the faulty reward systems that organizations, society, and manufacturing companies have adopted. In politics, politicians tend to use official goals in their campaigns since they are vague and barely show the decisions to be made to achieve such goals. In reality, an American citizen wants a candidate for public office with operative goals. But since most operative goals are lower in acceptance and the aspirants need approval, most politicians prefer to speak only of official objectives during the electioneering period. They might change to operative goals after election depending on the pressure that they receive from the public. The American voter punishes the right candidate who discusses their operative goals and rewards politicians who speak of official objectives and fail to explain where the money will come from. It is unto the aspirant to examine the costs and benefits and analyze what motivates certain individuals to determine what is rational for the reward system. When the reward system is designed to portray irrationality as moral, the result will not necessarily be immorality. In medicine, Kerr gives different examples ranging from doctors who diagnose healthy people as being sick to avoid being blamed for missing an illness for universities that overemphasize on teaching abilities, but only evaluate and reward them for publishing. Another example that Kerr uses in the article to show faulty reward systems is that of a high school basketball player who is good at passing the ball, hence improving the performance of his teammates. But since his coach and the colleges that offer scholarship only give credit to players who are good at scoring, the player opts to pass less and shoots more, which in turn affects the performance of his teammates.
Managers who do not exercise effective reward system might fail to achieve the objectives of the organizations since the individuals being rewarded may be motivated in the wrong direction. Since the rewarders normally reward behaviors that they intend to discourage and fail to reward the desired behaviors, employees would only concentrate on bad behaviors that are being rewarded and fail to exhibit positive behaviors that lack rewards. As a manager, I would examine the costs and benefits and analyze what motivates the employees to determine what is rational for the reward system.
Kerr, S. (1978). On the Folly of Rewarding A, While Hoping for B. IEEE Engineering Management Review, 6(1), 35-49. doi:10.1109/emr.1978.4306645
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