A newly-published University of Kansas study helps to explain why middle managers can persuade their employees to deceive upper management. Although many of the employees who were part of the study raised ethical concerns, most of them went along with the scheme, even if only to avoid disciplinary action.
The paper was published in the Organization Science journal, and presents the conclusions of a study in the desk sales unit of a large telecoms company.
One of the researchers worked in the unit for more than a year in order to understand its culture and workers' experiences. He soon noticed that middle managers were ordering their teams to exaggerate sales figures so it appeared that they were hitting their targets.
According to the study, this behaviour was the result of three key factors:
Some examples of the deceitful tactics encouraged by managers were:
Den Nieuwenboer, one of the study’s leaders, noted that the deceitful behaviour damaged the organisation’s bottom line as bonuses and resources were allocated based on the desk unit’s faked success.
So what can senior management teams learn from this study?
The researchers believe the study demonstrates the importance of not relying exclusively on performance reports and instead investing in in-person monitoring of subordinates and units to make it more difficult for salespeople to exaggerate their achievements.
Furthermore, the study shows that, to be effective, targets should incentivise high performance but also be realistic, attainable, and simple to monitor. Den Nieuwenboer noted, “If you are not concerned with how people are reaching that goal, that can be a problem.”
The MSB team has a long and successful track record of partnering with public and private sector organisations, both in the UK and internationally, to help them create a high-performance culture.
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