Cultural failure leading to unethical behavior

Cultural failure leading to unethical behavior

Cultural failure leading to unethical behavior

Intense pressure to perform lead to a number of questionable and downright unethical practices

What can go wrong in an aggressive sales culture

Wells Fargo Community Bank has experienced a growing culture of unethical and unlawful behavior.

Driven by top-down sales goals tied to the number of accounts opened and funded, banking sales associates sold customers unwanted or unneeded products, and opened unauthorized/fake accounts.

What leaders tolerate will always become the lowest common denominator in the organization

When confronted with their misdeeds, sales associates often cited the pressure to meet unreasonable sales goals as the force motivating them to take unethical action.

The independent directors of the board of Wells Fargo commissioned an investigation of the sales practices to understand the root causes of the unethical behavior. That investigation culminated in a 110-page – Sales Practices Investigation Report – Wells Fargo.

The report paints an unflattering picture of life inside Wells Fargo, accusing managers and top executives of fomenting a culture that ultimately turned one of America’s oldest and most venerated banking brands into a boiler room.

Senior leaders brewed up a toxic mix of both carrots and sticks to realize their cross-selling ambitions, slapping frontline staff with aggressive sales goals and incentivizing staff who reached their targets while firing those who didn’t.

The distortion of the community bank’s sales culture and performance management system, which, when combined with aggressive sales management, created pressure on employees to sell unwanted or unneeded products to customers and, in some cases, to open unauthorized accounts

Many current and former employees have talked of intense and constant pressure from managers to sell and open accounts, and some said it pushed them into unethical behavior.

Certain managers explicitly encouraged subordinates to sell unnecessary products to customers to meet sales goals

Unreasonable performance goals, and a performance management system driven by those goals, creating pressure on employees to “game” the system.

Should companies eliminate their cross-selling strategy? Absolutely not. Is there anything wrong with setting sales goals? No. Will employees behave badly if offered incentives? No, not if the program is managed correctly.

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About The Author

Torben Rick

Experienced senior executive, both at a strategic and operational level, with strong track record in developing, driving and managing business improvement, development and change management. International experience from management positions in Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

Blog Comments

The most persuasive example of culture gone awry is undoubtedly the Enron experience where not only pressure but the messages from leadership and reinforcement from the markets produced a true conflagration as well as energy market disruption that harmed millions of people. (I was in California at the time so I was one). An excellent book and a great movie, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”, pays testament to the value of paying attention to and managing organizational culture, especially for corporations like Wells that are driven by the finances of the business on virtually every level.

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