Friday, September 11, 2009

Wells Fargo's Boyscout Badges

I bank with Wells Fargo because frankly I am burdened with a lot of work, and plain don't have the time to close my account, redirect all my automatic bill pays. Ergo I tolerate this more or less evil company. Inevitably I will switch to TCF because they did not take TARP money and are actually nearby.

However, on my many trips to the bank I notice up on the wall behind the teller's desk are these banners with each employee's name on it. And on these banners are little pins, kind of like badges on a boyscout's sash. Things like the "WOW" pin, or the "5 Years Service Pin" or "Goodie for You" pin and the "Charles Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence" pin.

And what angers me is that this is typical of corporate America where they think they can get by giving people worthless awards or plastic trophies or wood plaques for hard work instead of, oh, I don't know,


It's insulting to workers.

Does management in these corporations really think "Bob" is excited when he has the most "Wow" pins on his sash?

Does he get to take that to interviews?

Does he take it home with him and wear it on his chest so when he hits the clubs the girls all fawn over him?

And seriously, when he dies, is that sash going to be prominently displayed anywhere during the wake?

Of course not, because Bob just plain doesn't give a damn about the damn sash because for all of his hard work he gets a worthless fabric adorned with worthless pieces of metal or plastic.


Now here's the thing, and maybe, just maybe the PHB's of the corporate world will pick up on this, there are only TWO things that will incentive workers to work more (because I know we don't want them working smarter, because that usually brings about change and efficiency and is ruthlessly punished);




That's it.

That's all that's going to incent workers to do a better job.

And this weasily, blatantly transparent circumventing of this hard economic law is insulting.

I was in an interview recently and the middle aged man asked me "how would you incent your staff to work harder?"

I said, "there's only two ways. More money or more time off. If they come up with a way to save 2 hours a day, they either get those 2 hours a day off with the same pay, or I find them new work and pay them an extra 2 hours per day in wages."

That was the incorrect answer.

Alas, I think in corporate America they're going to continue to spend $20,000 on worthless materials, sashes and pins, instead just plain giving their employees the extra $20,000.

Update - Well, with a$$holes like these, no wonder the underlings of Wells Fargo only get paid in plastic.


Shakespeare's Debtor said...

I guess economics and psychology are not always in agreement.
See Aubrey Daniels "Performance Management" and The-Library-of- Congress-only-knows-how many thousands of articles and books on the subject.

Anonymous said...

I rarely disagree with you brother, but low level employees are easily pacified by silly awards. Hate to sound sexist, but women are especially prone. Women irrationally place obscene value on social standing and giving them silly awards increases their perceived social status.

Also, Wells Fargo, BoA, Citi, and other big banks didn't have the option to take TARP money or not. They were told they were going to take it and they were going to like it. The gubbamints announced recently TARP funds have earned a 17% return thus far. It was a revenue raiser during a depression basically.

CanuckJack said...

Sounds to me like you had the right answer.

My wife and I were discussing something related the other day. At her work she has 12 paid sick days a year that do not roll over, and if an employee goes an entire year without using any they get some trinket, her first year she got a company badged house coat, last year apparently they gave out water bottles. So what happens is after their first year every single person makes damned sure they call in sick 12 times a year because there's no incentive not to.

On the other hand if management offered to buy remaining sick days out something like 1 days pay for 4 unused sick days, or give them 3 days of leave instead of insulting them with a water bottle they'd be ahead by 9 days and have much happier employees...

Robert Miller said...

Military decorations aren't a whole lot different than corporate flair. We discussed that topic before. Most of the ribbons are meaningless, some I cherish, others I refuse to wear. Each one has a different meaning to me. If I did a great job and got an award, I appreciated that someone noticed. But when I bust my ass and everyone else who did half my work and had half my accomplishments gets the same award, it cheapens the award. Awards are like money - that which one attains to cheaply one esteems too lightly.

Last weekend people celebrated "Labor" Day which is a euphemism for "Union Day". Screw them. I celebrate Labor Day every two weeks when my paycheck hits my bank account. A person's pay should be the only incentive they need. Bonuses and merit awards are great if they are structured right. They allow for greater pay flexibility and incentives for superior performance.

Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!

Anonymous said...

Well, moving into the 12million dollar beach house makes sense. It is a valuable asset and having someone occupy it to protect makes some sense.

However, the "Atta-Boy"s are quite funny!

Bankers are not Smart people.

OSR said...

The details escape me, but during the tech bubble, some magazine did a survey and found that 40% of workers would rather have a more impressive sounding title in lieu of more pay. Maybe we really are dumb enough for shiny trinkets.

Doug said...

Captain, I have to slightly disagree with you.

There are personality types that thrive on public displays such as those you saw. They would rather have an award to display than an extra couple days of vacation.

I don't understand it either.

The bigger problem is when people who think a "one size fits all approach" to motivation will work. Likely, some of those tellers are just as pissed that they got a freaking pin instead of $20. But the boss is one of those award freaks, and never stopped to think that maybe not everyone is like him.

It's a sign of poor management and no real leadership skills. Which, you already knew.

Keep up the great work!

Dr. Bob said...

My large multinational employer tried something similar - it died in mass ridicule after the first "merit badge".

Yup, that's exactly what the morons called them.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, when new co-workers ask me what the 'flair' or pins are for I let them know that non-executive receive these instead of raises.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with you a little. Workers are also motivated by humane treatment. IE, not being yelled at for no reason. I agree with you that the badges are a bit silly.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I have no problems with systems like this when they’re well designed and executed but I rarely see any that are. If you’re using the system to provide constant feedback and encouragement while tracking employee performance, and the system is attached to short term rewards (gift certificates and bonuses) and long term rewards (pay raises and promotions), then they can be very good.

Unfortunately, far too many of these systems are implemented in a way where the "Award" is considered the reward; and they are completely unattached to any short term or long term rewards within the company.

In some ways awards like this are kind of like giving letter grades on a quiz or assignment at school. If they’re directly related to the kind of grade you get at the end of the year they can be valuable, but if you’re in a class where it is a pass/fail system it doesn’t really matter.

Anonymous said...

I'll throw this out there (anonymously), I want to hear what the floor has to say.

How about passing out silver dollars (real silver dollars) to workers for good work?

1) It's cool
2) It has value that even Obama can't print away
3) It can have the same meaning as a merit badge or employee of the month award (but actually have value)
4) It's probably cheaper than some placque (most silver dollars can be had for under 20 bucks)

CBMTTek said...

All too often an underling toils away and gets no formal recognition for going over and above. A minor accomplishment over and above normal duties, deserves some kind of formal recognition.

On the other hand, all too often, management believes that a pin, letter of recognition, or a meaningless title is a substitute for a cash award, time off, or a raise.

I have known more then one manager that was of the belief that a title is worth more then a raise. Would say it over and over again. Right up until that manager was informed by the recipient of a "title" in lieu of a raise that the title is only worth more if it is used to find a job at another company.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Wells Fargo actually took TARP money. They did buy another bank that did take the TARP money. I could be wrong on that.

After reading the post, I was reminded of the movie Office Space where you needed to wear flair.

Anonymous said...

One of the things I most appreciate when I do a great job on something is some measure of appreciation, some respect and some recognition.

El cheapo pins and "merit badges" show very little appreciation, zero respect and very little recognition.

One of the oddest, but most appreciated rewards I got was a desktop statue of "The Thinker" - it was a simple recognition that I was always thinking about how to improve things and always thinking strategically to be prepared in advance for future technologies.

Unfortunately, my company has frozen money for awards to those in the trenches for 5 years in a row in a cost saving/stock price pumping effort.

Promotions to the workers in the trenches have been frozen for that long as well. Of course executives get theirs - including a purchase of two $70M Gulfstreams.

That would be fine if the company was in trouble financially, but we're not. Our stock price is higher now than before the market started to decline in 1Q 2007.

Disrespect with a capital "D" combined with a lot of stupidity and arrogance.

Anonymous said...


That says it all.

Wells issued this statement:

"[Wells Fargo's] internal policies, including those that govern team member conduct, prohibit personal use of properties held by Wells Fargo. Based on these operating principles, the company has launched a full internal investigation of allegations that a team member was improperly using a bank-owned residential property in Malibu, California.

"[Wells will] take decisive action with respect to any team member who may have violated Wells Fargo’s policies. The allegations certainly do not reflect the conduct we expect of our team members. We place the highest value on honesty, trust and integrity to guide our team members in making business decisions each day. We regret the disruption to the neighboring property owners since these allegations were made."

The L.A. Times finally did something right. Let's see if they follow up.

Anonymous said...

Here are pictures of the house:

Anonymous said...

You know, just maybe there is a business opportunity here in the silly trinket sector of the economy. Sort of the awards equivalent of 's demotivational posters.

Of course you could have pins, seals, merit badges, certificates and gosh! ribbons and bars like the military for common office happenings - like the following:

The Silent but Deadly award - for the person who passed gas, forcing the cube farm to evacuate.

The Viral Leadership - for the coworker who comes to work even when sick and spreads it to everyone else.

The Delightful - the person who is the one who is most likely the last employee after all the layoffs and the one who gets to turn off the lights.

The Pepe LePeu - to the person who takes a bath in perfume and stinks up the whole office bay.

The Big Sneeze - to the person who has the most dynamic sneeze - the one so strong it knocks cubicle walls down.

The Fireman - to the person who stokes hot issues and inflames everyone else.

Oh, the ideas are endless.