The Incentive/Behavior Nexus

Steve Kerr uses a General Motors cautionary tale to show us that it isn’t enough to have incentives that appear to reward desired behavior. In this HBR blog post, he notes that:

Although managers’ bonuses are based partly on vehicle-quality improvements, and safety is supposed to be paramount, cost is “everything” at GM, and the company’s atmosphere probably discouraged individuals from raising safety concerns. Earlier this summer, a former GM manager described a workplace in which the mention of any problems was unacceptable.

Kerr’s critical insight is that while GM could point to formal quality incentives, these incentives didn’t have the required impact on its managers’ behavior. The money quote for me is this:

In order to properly align its incentives to support its mission and objectives, a company must determine what managers and employees believe they are being encouraged to do and not do.

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