The ‘cakeable’ offence: A short case study in morale-sapping management

Seemingly trivial decisions can have a knock-on effect.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 14 Apr 2020
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Food for thought

Management Today was recently told a story by a member of the IT team at a large financial services company.

It’s a stressful gig. The firm operates under strict FCA regulations, so an IT glitch, even for a few seconds, can result in fines if it prevents a customer from accessing their money. 

Regardless of the financial consequences, human error is unavoidable. As a way of boosting morale and publicly acknowledging that, with the best will in the world, mistakes still happen, the team leader introduced the “cakeable offence”. 

If an IT glitch occured because of human error, the guilty party had to buy the rest of the team cake once it had been resolved. (This was before the COVID-19 lockdown.)

Unfortunately senior management heard about it and promptly banned the unofficial rule, on the basis that they didn’t think it was appropriate  to introduce policies that “rewarded failure”. 

The result? Morale dropped.

Obviously Management Today doesn’t know the full details of how the business works day to day - it could be that this is a biased account from a disgruntled member of an underperforming team. 

But it carries a lesson nonetheless, that there are times when senior leaders should trust the instincts of their line managers. After all, they are closer to the reality on the ground, and were more than likely promoted by the same senior leaders for their judgement and people management skills. 

Mistakes are inevitable, even in the most well-trained and engaged of teams. Banning cake is hardly likely to make a person less likely to write an accidental glitch into an update, but it might just make them feel worse when they do so.

Image credit: PhotoPlus Magazine / Contributor via Getty Images

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