Consider this a cautionary tale for savvy leaders and human resources executives considering incentives.

Once, I received a significant gift from the Fortune 200 company where I worked, to celebrate a key milestone in my performance. So far, so great! Cool

They sent me a celebratory letter, in a leatherette box, with a link to a website, where I was supposed to enter a code to receive a sizeable gift certificate. So far, so good… Laughing

But the website didn’t exist. So far, so…what??! Undecided


With a little Google research, I realized that the domain had, indeed, changed. (A little BONUS change management tip here: remember, every piece of documentation that references a domain must be updated if you change a domain!) So far, so…whatever…Undecided


Once I found the domain, I slogged through names of unrecognizable vendors providing gift certificates, until I found a name of a store I frequent. So far, relieved! Laughing

All I needed to do was to fill out an Internet form, enter a code as long as my arm, and they would mail me a gift certificate. But then, I attempted to select the gift certificate denomination from their pull-down menu. Yet all of the denominations were grayed out. So we’re back to…say what??  Frown

"Hee-haw!!" snorted the Trojan Horse.

Having reached the proverbial grayed-out brick wall, I clicked 7 times to find the website’s toll-free line. Naturally, they put me on hold forever--but only after reminding me that it would be oh-so-much-quicker if I used their website. (As if.) I finally got through, but about those gift certificates--they were backordered. The fulfillment company only received a small number of those certificates once per month. I’d have to guess which day that was and catch them on the day to snap one up (because they tended to “sell out” on that day). So…you have got to be kidding! Yell

The toll-free number was only open during classic business hours, no evenings or weekends. So I guess my company wanted me to spend work time once a month to check whether I could acquire the gift certificate to finally “celebrate” my milestone? So…I’ve already forgotten…just what were we celebrating?


Lesson #1: Goodwill does not always feel like goodwill—and if it doesn’t, it’s not. That statement might seem a little wonky, but read it again if it’s confusing. Don’t lose sight of your goal: to engender employee goodwill. If any part of your goodwill program is broken, cancel the program until you can fulfill it correctly. Shut it down. Life is stressful enough for your employees without your adding to it unnecessarily. Once the system is well-oiled, re-implement it. Until then, why sabotage your attempts to build goodwill?


Lesson #2: Don’t assume that your employees will tell you the dirty laundry about rewards programs. How many employees want to be seen as complaining about a gift? If you ever meet someone with the guts to do so (i.e., they care enough about the company to expect results versus accepting faux mirages), praise the messenger: Feedback is always a gift.


Lesson #3: Keep it simple and transparent. You hired employees savvy enough to know when $500 isn’t $500. So instead of giving a $500 pseudo-gift requiring jumping through a lot of hoops, consider giving the employee whatever amount will net the employee $200 after taxes. It’s straight up, it’s honest, and your employee will respect you more for it.


Keywords: goodwill, employee, benefit, performance, customer service, customer experience, change management, process management, human resources, rewards, transparency, honesty, authenticity, recognition, celebration, Trojan horse