A Chinese firm makes its employees eat worms if they don’t meet their sales targets

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

There are incentives…and then there are incentives.

Many of my clients, like me, are challenged to figure out the right compensation structure for our salespeople. How do I incentivize them? What will drive them? What will motivate them to sell more? Why, of course! I’ll just make them eat mealworms if they don’t meet their goals. Now, why didn’t I think of that sooner?

That’s the bright idea thought up by a group of construction and furniture companies in the Hanzhong Shaanxi Province of China. These people don’t have time for silly contests or tiered commission structures. They don’t believe in draws against salary or compensation plans. They just want results. And if they don’t get them then there’ll be worms to eat.

According to this report on Chinese news site ECNS, a leader of the sales group called out the names of about a half dozen employees who had not achieved their sales goals at a public event and then made them swallow live worms. Fortunately, alcohol was also provided. Unfortunately, a pregnant woman was part of the group and was unable to comply with the request – but thankfully a kind man stepped in to take her place.

Amazingly, the employees accepted this punishment because…get ready…they set it themselves. To them, the mealworm threat is encouragement to work harder. Even the local community supports the idea, saying that it can “help management guarantee enthusiasm among workers.” Talk about a driven sales team! Imagine what Tony Robbins could accomplish with these people.

The practice, however, may not last forever. A lawyer said that this type of punishment is “completely inappropriate” and that under the country’s labor laws physical punishments or insults are forbidden.

“Such action is beyond work encouragement and has become a type of physical punishment. People can speak out against such instances to safeguard their rights and interests,” an officer from the local labor department said in the ECNS report.

Will they? Or would that just be opening up another can of worms…

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