Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Other People Strike Again
A shoe-store chain wanted to increase sales of the "leather protector" sprays, which significantly increased the profit margin on a given shoe sale when tacked on.
So they decided to make raises for the sales clerks contingent on selling a certain quantity of this spray.
Whoever made this policy, however, neglected to take into account that the clerks had the power to mark down the pricing of the shoes for various legitimate reasons.
Some enterprising clerks therefore started offering a $15 discount on the shoes for customers who bought at $15 can of spray.
Sales of the spray went way up, but sales of the spray turned out not to be exactly the important metric after all...
These will cause colleges and universities to forget their mission of educating the next generation of citizens, and to concentrate instead on meeting a set of numbers imposed by some sort of external authority. If I don’t meet my numbers, I could get into some serious trouble. My institution could lose its funding, my school could lose its accreditation, and my school could drop in the ratings. Or perhaps I could even lose my job. So my main task will be to make sure I “meet my numbers”, and I will certainly make sure that I do, by hook or by crook.
Untenured faculty, as well as off-tenure track faculty and adjunct part-timers are especially vulnerable in such an environment. We had better not fail too many students or give too many low grades, lest the school miss its graduation numbers or drive too many students away, adversely affecting the bottom line of the school. We had better make sure that our “outcomes assessment” numbers look good, lest we get called on the carpet by the administration, and perhaps even lose our jobs.
Consequently, there is every reason for the faculty to avoid reporting “bad numbers” to the administration. There is every temptation for us to fake our numbers or simply make up the results, just to keep us out of trouble. And the administration has every motive to send in fake numbers, just to avoid trouble with the accreditors or with the state funding agencies, and to avoid sliding downward in the ratings. So the system will not look unlike that of the old Soviet Union, in which everyone lies to everyone else all the way up the chain, leading to top Party officials making decisions based on bad data.
An example of this was told by a friend of mine, who worked for a manufacturing company. Management wanted to reduce the number of defects, so they set up a rewards and punishment system based on the reported number of defects. My friend’s unit kept getting beaten up by management for having too many defects. It turned out that they were the only ones reporting honest numbers—all of the others were sending in faked statistics.
Not what they intended.