The Illusion of Success 711.5

A common management strategy to spur achievement is to set aggressive performance objectives that, like the mechanical rabbits that pace racing greyhounds, push employees to maximum effort. Using “stretch goals” can be successful, but unreasonably high performance goals often spawn dishonesty and irresponsibility.

Believing that “it’s a matter of survival,” a disturbing number of employees conclude that distortion, deception, and even outright falsification of numbers are justified to keep their jobs and earn their bonuses. As a result, almost everyone seems to reach their stretch goals, and management congratulates itself on generating an unbroken string of double-digit growth.

Organizational audits conducted by the Josephson Institute reveal that a high percentage of employees who feel pressured to achieve ever-escalating numerical goals ignore or defer problems and manipulate or falsify reports to help them “hit their numbers.” The deceptive accounting tactics that caused a collapse of trust in Wall Street and the mortgage industry illustrate one coping strategy called “backing into the numbers.”

Look, pressure is no excuse for cheating, but it is a frequent cause. Responsible management needs to take into account the propensity of employees to tell them what they want to hear. There’s nothing wrong with aggressive growth and profit goals, but if organizations do not place an even higher value on character in their hiring, training, promotion, compensation, and discipline practices, all they will achieve is the illusion of success.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 2

  1. Employees who do “not” take the shortcuts are the ones who often believe in the company. These same employees are grateful for their job, the client they serve and are aware of how their actions will impact other co-workers and the company’s bottom line. As you mentioned, “Responsible management needs to take into account the propensity of employees to tell them what they want to hear.” The disappointing part is, management rewards the result reports rather than the integrity of the very employees who reflect the mission statement.

  2. All too often the system (which ever one being examined,) rewards those who “work” it, ie. with fabrications, exaggerations and shading the truth to suite the manager. “It’s self preservation!” they’ll justify.
    Unfortunately Good Management is like good parenting, in that it requires self adherence to ethical principles of conduct and setting appropriately high expectations of employees, tempered by
    market condition, employee experience/longevity etc. In organizations where there are multiple layers of management there can be increasingly obscured reality testing which becomes poisoned by the need to satisfy the expectations of the next higher level of management and hence organizations that are “built on sand.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *