One well-known example of a dysfunctional workplace competition was GE’s “Rank-and-Yank” system, where the bottom 10% of the organization’s employees were fired on a regular basis. Another was Microsoft’s “Stack Racking” system, where an employee’s expectations for promotion were based on how they were ranked among their peers. A personal friend of mine who worked at GE many years ago stated, “The Rank-and-Yank system there made sure that everyone hired people weaker than themselves so they were never in danger of being yanked. When we interviewed a brilliant candidate, we made sure they never got the job because it would put ourselves in jeopardy or potentially result in a smaller bonus.”
A Vanity Fair article by Kurt Eichenwald cites that “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed – everyone – cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft. Peter Cohan from Forbes stated that, “[Stack Ranking) directed [Microsoft employees] to prevent their peers from getting outstanding performance reviews and brag about their accomplishments to each member of the management committee that determined their relative ranking.”
As you can see, workplace competition can be extremely destructive to company morale, especially during weak and uncertain economic conditions where people are preoccupied with getting laid off.
As early as 1951, the Taiwanese government sought to address this problem by doing two things. First, it unified all receipt and invoicing platforms into a central system, which meant that all businesses which gave out receipts would automatically send the unique receipt numbers and invoice amounts to the government for tax reporting. (In fact, in Taiwan most people don’t need to hire accountants to do their taxes – the government can directly tell you how much you owe them or how much they should return to you).
But the second step is where we see true innovation. The Taiwanese government turned each receipt and invoice number into a lottery ticket for citizens to play. For every odd-numbered month, citizens can see if their receipt numbers match the winning prize. The first place would win the equivalent of $62,000 – about five years of salary for an average new college graduate, while the second place would win $6,200, with subordinate prizes scaling all the way down to $7.
Because of this “Uniform Invoice Lottery” system, consumers are now demanding receipts and invoices from businesses, preventing the business from evading taxes by exchanging cash under the table (or purchasing with Bitcoins). In addition, consumers are more likely to spend money.