Executives at Wells Fargo now know how providing employee incentives that target a specific outcome, in their case getting employees to convince customers to open more accounts, may lead to unexpected outcomes. To be clear, though, they met their objective of opening more customer accounts. Unfortunately, it involved some unethical behavior by executives, managers and employees that resulted in a massive hit to Wells Fargo’s reputation, 5,300 employees being fired, a $185 million fine and the refunding of $5 million in wrongly charged fees to more than 2 million very upset customers.
Setting financial goals for a business is a good first step in building sustainable growth that will provide opportunities for employees along the way. Building a business plan that maps to the financial goals is vital for success. How that business plan works, though is vitally important. Wells Fargo decided to take a top-down approach. The goal was set by executives and spread down in the organization. Employees were required to convince customers to open more accounts. This was reinforced by financial incentives and often multiple daily meetings to track progress. Reports are that employees who were not tracking to goals were frequently terminated.
A better approach might have been to perhaps set the goal at the top of the organization, but to use more of a bottoms-up approach to getting there. With over 250,000 employees, I am sure there are many shining stars with smarts and drive who could have helped Wells Fargo reach their goal without all the collateral damage. They might have developed a program for branch managers that provided training and tools on how to engage employees and encourage them to suggest ideas. It could have included a process for bubbling up ideas to leadership with feedback to participants on successes and failures. If their focus had been more on aligning their staff instead of dictating what they do on a day-to-day basis, the outcome probably would have been much different.
Last week, Joi, my bank representative for my personal accounts, reached out to me to see if I might have an interest in switching my IgnitionHR business bank accounts from another bank to hers. We scheduled some time for later this month to meet and discuss if this makes sense for me. I don’t know if I will switch accounts or not, but I will certainly consider it. Joi didn’t just set up an account for me without my permission, but she may still get my business. There are probably a million different versions of this approach that employees of Wells Fargo could use to help them reach their goals. Hopefully, they will get the opportunity in the future.