Teaching people a lesson

David writes in to point out that banks are losing a fortune on foreclosures because many frustrated homeowners are trashing the houses before they leave. This dramatically diminishes the value of the home and leaves scars all around.

Why not, he wonders, offer the homeowners $1000 in cash if they leave the house in great condition?

I can hear the objections already. "What! Why should we pay people not to break the law!" After all, if you do it this time, if you bribe people to behave, then you’ll have to do it every time…

Every time? How often, exactly, do you expect to evict a person?

It’s very easy to set up policies and procedures designed to give people what they deserve, to set a standard, to teach a lesson, to make sure they understand who’s boss. And I think that for parents, this is an excellent idea. Bribing your kid leads to spoiled kids who don’t get it. But businesses aren’t parents and customers aren’t kids.

"I can’t let you in, because you didn’t follow the procedure, and even though you’re never coming back here again, if I let you in now, without having followed the procedure, you’ll think that you can ignore the procedure the next time you do business with someone else…" It sounds stupid when you say it that way because it is stupid.

You can extend this all the way to how you hire people. Is penalizing a 40 year old by not giving her a job a way to teach her a lesson about studying harder for the SAT when she was 17?

Instead of worrying so much about establishing good habits among transient customers, perhaps it’s worth figuring out what works best for both sides and doing that instead.