Beef jerky anyone?

Yes this was my downfall.  About 6 years ago, at the beginning of my tenure as CEO of Exodus Moving & Storage, during the holiday season our moving company was having some serious cash flow concerns (winter is typically the slow season for moving companies.)  We didn’t have enough cash to give bonuses, but we wanted to do something to show our appreciation.  So we threw a holiday party low key style – really good  food, nice location but not fancy.  But that didn’t feel like enough, we wanted them to be able to take home something.

And there I was with a budget of $25/employee when brainstorming with another employee who said, my dad sells this really amazing beef jerky.  And I’m thinking, as a general, moving guys love beef jerky.  Sold.

I will never live the beef jerky down – ever.  So we’re having our lovely simple holiday dinner with the movers and their families and they already know there are no bonuses to be had.  And I say I wanted to offer up a simple token of our appreciation, and I hand out beef jerky to everyone.

You’d think I had handed them a dead moldy cat.  It was bad.

And why was it so bad?  Because it was insulting.  Yes it was a gift.  But they felt like it was a gift of placation, that they weren’t getting what they really wanted and needed:  cash, and that I somehow thought this would “make up for it” or cut the mustard.  And let’s just say it cut a whole lot more than mustard.  Morale for sure and my reputation as a leader as well.

So what would I do if I had to do it over again?  Just say no to the beef jerky and any other “token” of appreciation at a time of expectation (holidays!!)  I would just have the holiday dinner, a comment of thanks and nothing else.   In general people don’t want “tokens.”  They want something meaningful.  Beef jerky is not meaningful.

Sometimes nothing is better than something.

One caveat – when you surprise your employees with something – say a $25 gift card at a time when everyone is working their tails off, or a half day on Friday, they love it.  We all love good unexpected surprises.