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A Tale of Six Knives: How a Well-Intentioned Employee Incentive Program Failed

TMCnet Feature

October 24, 2014

A Tale of Six Knives: How a Well-Intentioned Employee Incentive Program Failed

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By Dr. Brooks Mitchell
COB of Snowfly Inc.

Once upon a time, Ralph, a kind and well-intentioned manager, decided to honor his high-performing employees with an incentive reward program. He enlisted the aid of a vendor who sold him a beautiful, glossy catalog full of prizes his employees could win if they met their goals.


Luther, a participant in the incentive program, achieved every one of his goals and was allowed to choose any prize he wanted at the $200 dollar level. Thumbing through the catalog, Luther was disappointed to find only one item that even remotely interested him: a set of six steak knives. Luther thought it would be nice to use the knives at his annual beer and barbecue party, coming up in four weeks.

Luther was irritated when the knives arrived in the mail five weeks later—one week AFTER his barbecue. He was even more aggravated when he did a readily verifiable online price comparison (RVONLPC) search and discovered he could have purchased the identical knives on Amazon for $100. He became enraged when his monthly paycheck was short by $60 dollars to cover the taxes on the $200 knives!

Luther complained to Ralph and tried, without success, to exchange the knives for the $200 he felt entitled to receive. This action angered Ralph and he called Luther an “ungrateful employee.” Luther stomped out and refused to talk to Ralph for the rest of the week. The problem was not resolved and continued to fester.

Luther, the upstanding employee became Luther, the outraged employee. Ralph’s employee incentive program had become an employee resentment program instead!

The moral of the story:

The wrong incentive reward program is worse than no incentive program at all. Think about it—now Ralph has to deal with a disgruntled employee holding a brand new set of very sharp knives!

Hmm …




Edited by Stefania Viscusi


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