Risk of dishonesty – the supermarket checkout

File:Self checkout using NCR Fastlane machines.jpgThis recent news item got me thinking again about the risks of dishonesty faced by organisations. It appears that modern self-service supermarket checkouts provide the opportunity for, and perhaps a “nudge” towards, theft. You may remember my earlier blog about this interesting presentation by Dan Ariely. One of the things Ariely suggests is that the cumulative losses from many small acts of dishonestly are far from negligible in economic terms.

In any organisation, it is a sad and disconcerting fact of human nature that there is a genuine and widespread propensity for dishonesty. Defensive policing is costly and probably ineffective. It is an attempt to “inspect quality into a product”. That means that systems have to be set up to “nudge” employees towards honesty at the design stage.

As the supermarket checkout example shows, individuals’ moral reactions are often sensitive to system design in subtle ways. Dishonesty does not often show up on risks assessments or FMEAs. Uncomfortable as it may feel, experience tends to suggest that it is something that should be ever present in analysing risk. Perhaps that visibility might in itself be a positive “nudge” towards honesty.

Yet in suggesting that, I fear that the emotional costs of raising the issue in most organisations might outweigh the benefits. I wonder if including honesty in the list of assumptions of a risk assessment would influence the people involved in the assessing. But then how to provide the “nudge” to those who weren’t there?


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