Some cultures and some locations encounter a bribe system among officials and bureaucrats.  How can this be treated and reversed?  The solutions offered below attack the root causes, which require a fundamental cultural shift of the affected group.  As such, the remedies may take many months or even years to implement.

 Why Bribes Exist

The factors that dominate the ‘why’ of a bribery system are:

  1. Underpayment of staff
  2. Power
  3. Lack of fear
  4. Peer pressure and culture encouraging participation in bribes
  5. Disenfranchisement

Let us examine each in turn.

Underpayment of Staff

 The underpayment of staff reason is simultaneous the hardest and the easiest factor to deal with.

It is the hardest because we cannot just create more money to move the job beyond the level of temptation.  That is not a practical solution.

However, bribes are not an automatic choice of action for everyone who earns a low salary.  The other factors (b to e above) must come into play as well.  Therefore, we cannot solve the bribe situation by looking at pay.  So we ignore poor pay levels, making it an easy solution.

Let’s assume, that if all the other factors above were dealt with, low salary would no longer be a reason used for encouraging a bribe system.  For the most part people accept their salaries as long as they are fair with respect to what can be afforded by the enterprise and the relative amount that others in the same situation are being paid.  As long as there is consistent treatment of staff, salary will not be an issue.  However, if pays are not consistent, then that problem must be dealt with first.  For example, engineers in Russia do not seek retribution because they do not earn the same income as engineers in Canada.  As long as those Slavic engineers are paid the same as other engineers in Russia, they are content.


 A factor that strongly affects the ability to engage in bribes is the reward of gaining a sense of power.  A person can hold up the desire for an important item or expensive item and hence gain a feeling of omnipotence.  The bribe confirms, in that person’s mind, the sense of control over others.  Power appeals to (a) low esteem people and (b) those deprived of any sense of power because of the work environment.

(a) Low esteem can be driven from hundreds of different psychological sources which we will ignore for now because low self esteem is extant in systems where bribes are not prevalent.

(b) People who are in a system that deprives them of any sense of power except that gained by being able to withhold a service are confronted by a systemic problem.  That problem is epitomized by: a loss of autonomy, loss of authority, loss of responsibility and a loss of ownership.  The solution lies in the last two sections of this Newsletter.

Lack of Fear

 In an environment where bribery is rare, a sense of fear of getting caught and punished pervades that keeps most people resisting the temptation to accept bribes.  If bribes are common, the sense of fear no longer exists because “everybody’s doing it”.  There is no fear of being caught because “They can’t jail us all.  There would be no one left to do the work.”  Two points evolve:

(a) In order to introduce the fear factor, a clear statement from the top has to show that bribery will not be accepted and will, if found, be acted on.  It requires senior officials to (i) have zero tolerance for bribes (ii) not engage in any such behavior themselves (iii) not appear to engage in any indirect bribes – perks of the job, etc. (iv) be rigorous in applying the deemed punishment (preferably job dismissal) when bribery is met, consistently and without any judgment except that it is or it is not a bribe situation. (For example, the judgment of ‘who’ is doing it should not be made.)

(b) Lack of fear is indicative of a system out of control.  That systemic problem is discussed below in Section Disenfranchisement.

Peer Pressure

 Peer pressure is an enormous force.  People do the strangest things because of those around them.  A mob out of control is such an example.  A person alone would not shout out an obscenity, throw a rock, break a window or burn a car.  Yet a small group will engage in such riotous behavior.  A teenager alone will not speed recklessly in a vehicle but the moment one friend is with the teenager, the desire to ‘perform’ is triggered.  Speeding becomes the norm.  In many situations the same can be said of drinking and smoking.

So it is true of bribes.  If others around you are doing it, you are encouraged to do it too.  Just as important is the ‘loss of prestige’ if you choose not to do it.  Worse yet is the pressure to go along so that the rest of the group will not appear to be out of line with the norm (of accepting bribes).  In fact, it can be dangerous NOT to engage in the bribery activities of those around you.

If the culture or the environment has determined that bribes are the norm, the peer pressure to conform to this norm will dominate a person’s choice of behavior.

The solution is to resolve the systemic problem discussed below in the section, Disenfranchisement.


People who accept bribes do so because they are disenfranchised from the surrounding society.  Those people feel no remorse in accepting bribes for they are of the opinion that bribes cause harm only to a harmful system of which they no longer feel a significant part.  It is ‘us vs. them’.  Several keys exist for turning this around.

a) The leader must be convinced and determined to turn the situation around. The leader must be seen as being committed to the eradication of the endemic bribery.  If the leader is not committed, the system cannot be turned around.

b) The individuals within the group must become enfranchised, to start to belong to the system.  The steps for doing that follow.

c) The concept of ‘respect’ must be introduced to the group and be followed to the letter by the leader of the group. (See Reference 1.)  If you develop respectful behavior, you will not engage in bribes because bribes show disrespect for the individual from who the bribe is accepted.  Bribery shows contempt for the system where respect is supposed to be practiced.

d) Enfranchising also means involving each individual in the system. It means making all people responsible for their part of it.  To do so, one must start at the ground floor of listening to the individual and creating a situation where the people become the authors of their own fates.  This requires following the type of action offered by the CCCC Five-star approach to employee hiring, engagement, participation and evaluation that follow.

Be aware that this is no five-minute overnight miracle solution.  It includes the hard work of dedicating yourself to each of your staff members to get them involved.  It entails a huge time commitment of each leader.

The Five-Star Approach

The CCCC Five-Star Approach for employee management is one example of a system designed to allow the development of top employees – Five-Star Employees.  It consists of five keys:

The Keys

  Item CCCC Way Mechanism
1 Select people by selecting for PAVF talents Two-part interview
2 Set expectations by defining right outcomes Job Measurement sheet
3 Focus on strengths Employee Dossier
4 Motivate staff by managing around weaknesses Fit P people to P tasks
5 Develop employees to Excellence Three Self-Appraisal forms


Next month, Bribes – Part II will expand on those five stars, a system you can use to not only get people involved and out of the bribery cycle, but also you can use to help you find and guide people to achieve Excellence, a superb level of individual performance.