The article originally written in 1975 by Steven Kerr remains asrelevant today as it was when originally published. As a veteran businessexecutive himself, Kerr effectively identifies the negative impact that “fouledup” reward systems can have on the success of an organization. A fouled-upreward system is defined as one which rewards the behaviour of a certain typeof behaviour while actually wanting people to do another, or possibly theopposite. Kerr provides several examples where these rewards systems are inplace such as in politics, medicine, war, universities, business and sports. Forexample, professors at universities are rewarded almost entirely for theirresearch and publications while society hopes that they dedicate their time andresources to their teaching responsibilities and knowledge transfer to students.Likewise, athletes are encouraged to develop their teambuilding skills whileteam members are rewarded with individual awards such as most valuable player.
Kerr states that there are four general factors that may explain why fouled upreward systems are so prevalent. These include 1) measuring performance withsimple, quantifiable standards resulting in goal displacement, 2) focusing onhighly visible behaviours instead of those that are hard to observe (scoring goalsvs. teambuilding), 3) hypocrisy and 4) focusing on emphasis of morality orequity rather than efficiency. Organizations struggling to motivate and engagetheir workers should first start by looking at their reward system to understandwhich behaviours are being rewarded and what the desired behaviour is. If thetwo behaviours are inconsistent then managers should focus on adapting theformal reward system to reflect the desired outcomes. However, managers andemployees may find it difficult to break out of old ways of thinking aboutreward practices and may be unable to see their flawed system.
Therefore, itmay be beneficial to have a third party evaluate the reward system in place todetect the inefficiencies. Lastly, flawed reward systems may exist due to adisconnect between organization goals and intrinsic motivations of employees.Managers who recognize their reward system is flawed should seek to align thebehaviours they want to reward which benefit the organization and those whichmeet the motivations of employees.