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Friday, August 26, 2011

Boiled Frog Alert: Changing our Service Award Program

You probably have heard the old metaphor; how a frog placed in hot water will jump out immediately, but put in cold water and slowly heated he'll sit there and boil to death.  That happens in business so often: we have a program that works in place and turn our attention away from it until one day we find we've been boiled and hadn't noticed.

Such is our Service Award program, which had been in place a decade or so before I got here a decade or so ago.  It is a corporate incentive not charged to HR so we hadn't paid attention to the pricing, and since we administer the program nobody else had looked at the cost assuming we had.

Then we began to get complaints about the quality and selection of the awards.  When we dug in we found that, looking up those same items on on-line retailers, we were paying about double plus shipping.  Then we had a great suggestion from an employee: why not just give her the same value and purchase on-line through Amazon with free shipping?

Times like this make you feel dumb; like this should have been obvious had we been paying attention.  It took just a few days to put together an alternative program, self-administered through HR, utilizing the new p-card program. 

More details are coming, but today we received approval to ditch the current Service Award program and move instead to 100% self-administered program through Amazon.com.  Employees will be able to buy any single durable goods item they want up to a set limit, and by taking the service award company's markup (including their mark-up on shipping!) and putting that towards the value of the award itself, the award item will be nicer. 

Many thanks to Lisa Young for the original idea, to my staff for trouble-shooting and what-iffing the program, Elaine Williams for volunteering to take on the extra work, and for everyone involved in implementing the p-card program that makes this change possible.  If we had to fill out check requests for every service award item we would not be able to take this on!

More details coming next week.  The water is feeling cooler already.

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