The coffee machine dilemma - KPMG Nederland
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The coffee machine dilemma

The coffee machine dilemma

Staff members at the window cleaning company ‘Crystal Clear’ are expected to put a small contribution in the designated box next to the coffee machine when they get their coffee.

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Cup of coffee on wooden table

However, the total amount contributed is small. This may have something to do with the remote location of the coffee room, which allows staff members to ignore this rule unseen. In response, the management decides to move the coffee machine to the canteen, where lots of people walk in and out during the day. More money goes into the box than ever before.

Increasing the chance of being caught

The above situation shows that transparency has a big impact on human behaviour. Transparency is about the extent to which people have insight into their own behaviour as well as the behaviour of others, and is important because it makes adjustments and corrections possible. When deciding whether to stick to the rule or walk away with a full cup of coffee without paying, people take into account what the chances are of being caught. This is described in the detection theory, which states that the chance of violations decreases as the chance of detection increases.

An important remedy against violations that take place because there is perceived to be a low chance of being caught is to increase transparency. This increases the perceived chance of being caught, and it is this perception, not the actual chance, that drives behaviour.

In an organisational unit we investigated, there was an inexplicable and substantial cash difference. There was zero supervision of the cash procedure and the related situation by the manager and the senior supervisor. Both the manager and the senior supervisor had the perception that the cash accounting was running smoothly, because a balanced cash flow was created on paper. The management did not require any further checks, so for a long time it was not known that, for example, there was no cash book, many receipts were missing and the accounts kept by the cash manager were lagging further and further behind. The cash accounts were always approved by the manager on the basis of trust.

Providing insight into this situation gave the client the opportunity to increase transparency in its procedures, in order to avoid situations like this in the future. 

Would you like to know if there is sufficient transparency about the actions of staff members in your organisation? Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions; we are happy to discuss them with you.

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