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?


Trust in data – III – being honest about honesty

I found this presentation by Dan Ariely intriguing. I suspect that this is originally a TED talk with some patronising cartoons added. You can just listen.

When I started off in operational excellence learning about the Deming philosophy, my instructors always used to say These are honest men’s [sic] tools. From that point of view Airely’s presentation is pretty pessimistic. I don’t think I am entirely surprised when I recall Matt Ridley’s summary of evolutionary psychology from his book The Origins of Virtue.

Human beings have some instincts that foster the greater good and others that foster self-interest and anti-social behaviour. We must design a society that encourages the former and discourages the latter.

When wearing a change management hat it’s easy to be sanguine about designing a system or organisation that fosters virtue and the sort of diligent data collection that confronts present reality. However, it is useful to have a toolkit of tactics to build such a system. I think Ariely’s ideas are helpful here.

His idea of “reminders” is something that resonates with maintaining a continual focus on the Voice of the Customer/ Voice of the Business. Periodically exploring with data collectors the purpose of their data collection and the system wide consequences of fabrication is something that seems worthwhile in itself. However, the work Ariely refers to suggests that there might be reasons why such a “nudge” would be particularly effective in improving data trustworthiness.

His idea of “confessions” is a little trickier. I might reflect for a while then blog some more.