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Could incentives cause your team to score own goals?

Could incentives cause your team to score own goals?

Could incentives cause your team to score own goals?

August 8, 2010 ClickSoftware 0 Comments

In a football (or soccer, as our North American friends call it, if they call it anything at all) game, your team needs to score more goals than the opposing team. That’s the goal, if you’ll excuse a weak pun. It’s a clear and simple incentive, subject to simple counting that can be easily performed even under the influence of whole sixpacks of beer. So, it’s excusable to think there’s absolutely no reason for a team to score an own goal.

Not so. Even the simplest incentives can play strange tricks.

The history of football has at least two examples of own goals that seemed to make sense at the time – not to mention 149 own goals in one game, which were a protest against perceived referee injustice. You can read the two stories there and there (go ahead, I’ll still be here when you get back), but here’s an altered scenario based on the first story, omitting an ill-thought-out rule which was partly to blame in the real scenario:

Team Blue is playing Team Green. Only one of them will progress to the next round of the tournament, so the stakes are high. Green needs to win by one goal, while Blue needs an advantage of two goals. With 87 minutes already played, Blue leads 1 to 0. The Blue players realize they won’t be able to score another goal in the remaining three minutes, so they score an own goal to tie the score at 1-1. That’s actually sane, since a tied score leads to extra time of 30 minutes, when Blue has a better chance of gaining the two-goal advantage they need. The Green players understand this, so they use the last three minutes to try to score an own goal or score a goal against Blue. In either case, Blue does not get the two-goal advantage, and Green ascends to the finals while Blue takes the next jet home. So it’s in Blue’s best interests not just to defend their own goal but to prevent Green from scoring an own goal… The result? A few minutes of insanity, with one team attacking both goals and the other defending both goals. This insanity, strangely enough, follows logically from the incentives which seemed to be so simple and straightforward. And it really happened (though as mentioned above, I simplified the scenario) – Green was Granada, and Blue was Barbados:

OK, now that we’ve had our laughs, let’s take a look at the mirror: Most service organizations have quite a few incentives in place, different for service engineers, team leaders, regional managers, call centers and so on. Incentives may appear in many guises: some are quantifiable, such as payroll calculations, employee evaluation processes, bonus definitions and targets; and some are “soft” but still quite powerful in controlling workforce behavior. To take just one example, consider the effect of overtime: When does it make sense for the company to authorize overtime? When does it make sense for an employee to work overtime? When is the customer interested in getting the work performed outside of normal working hours? Do all the answers align? How about other stakeholders – e.g. the scheduler/dispatcher, the manager etc.?

How can we be sure that none of these incentives, separately or interacting with each other, lead rationally to results which are harmful for the service organization, its customers and its employees? My opinion is that we can’t be completely sure, but we can decrease the odds of such “rational irrationality” by bringing representatives of all stakeholders together, brainstorming frankly about possible consequences of current and proposed incentives.

I’m sure every service organization has is own stories of “good incentives gone bad”. Could you share some of these stories?

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