Karin’s Leadership Articles

The Dumpster Effect: When Your Recognition Program Backfires

by | Aug 27, 2013 | By Karin Hurt, Communication |

Why do some recognition programs backfire?

How a Recognition Program Can Do More Harm Than Good

We had pulled into the parking lot for a wedding. We were staying on premium points (read that, free) for which I’m grateful, so I won’t disclose the hotel brand.

Parking was tight so we turned the corner. Right beside the dumpsters were several tables set up for a “recognition” luncheon for hotel staff. Full on signage included thanking them for their commitment to customers.

I was floored. I thought,

“Let me get this right…you’re events superstars. You work to make every bride’s and corporate meeting planner’s dream come true. Have you EVER suggested an event by the dumpster? Surely someday this week you have empty banquet rooms. What in the world would encourage you to lay out white tablecloths in the context of trash? What other options did you explore? Do you seriously expect the folks you’re recognizing to come back in and create magical, creative moments for your guests?”
Think twice.

Every ounce of recognition is inspired by good intentions.

Slow down. There’s a reason Santa checks twice.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Ali Anani (@alianani15)

    Kain- I am writing from Turkey in the city of Podrum on the Agean Sea. It is great over here. I do not get a glimpse of the Dumpster Effect. Still, I can imagine dancing for your wedding next to a pungent food leftover! Some people not only lose direction, but they also lose sense.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Ali, ahhh… sounds beautiful. I imagine you’re taking pics for your next presentation?

  2. Carol Dougherty

    Wow! I’ve seen some lame attempts before but that one takes the prize.

    Although it’s a great lesson in how to create dis-engaged employees.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Carol, Agreed. We learn more from the bad leaders than good ones. It’s so important when we realize situations that make us feel bad and vow never to be “that guy.”

  3. Greg

    It’s an attempt which I suppose is better than nothing but agree – this is incredibly “tone deaf”.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Greg, yah…. as a musician I like to believe no one is truly tone deaf… we just need work at it.

  4. Jim Ryan

    Have been part of recognitions like this, it’s often worse than doing nothing. I would bet staff will complain about it for a while.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Jim, I agree… it can do more harm than good.

  5. LaRae Quy

    My first impression is that the hired help has traditionally been relegated to the “back room” and in this case, the back room was the garbage dump! This gets to the heart of a bigger issue: we treat our customers like kings but how do we treat our team? Is all the effort put in making a good appearance while “any old thing will do” for those we work with everyday? I remember putting a huge event at our church (over 1200 people attended) and to give our staff a break and a meal, we shoved them into a back room with plastic chairs and sandwiches. The thing is, in that instance it was the best we could do because we were full to capacity. We could have offered a break and food the next day, but it sort of defeated the purpose…not the best, I know, but we made a real effort to make them feel special…not so sure about that hotel, though.

    • letsgrowleaders

      LaRae, oh boy, I think I was there in that kitchen… oh no, that was my church 😉 Yeah, it’s so important to watch out for the way we make folks feel in so many contexts. Love you enriching our conversation.

  6. Anne Kinzel

    Seriously, “Every ounce of recognition is inspired by good intentions.. Slow down. There’s a reason Santa checks twice.” I get your comments, but I think it is much more than a case of slow down or think again. How about don’t check your humanity at the door when you take a leadership position. It is bad business to relegate your employee luncheon to the dumpster location, but more importantly to me it is a sign of a complete and utter lack of appreciaiton for the human family. It goes hand in hand with paying sub-living wages and other forms of exploitation. Frankly,I wish oyu had shared the hotel group so I could choose not to spend my money there.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Anne, Thanks so very much for your passionate comments. This incident happened a while ago, and I had to cool down first. Never blog out of anger 😉 If this had been a world-wide approach, I would disclose the brand.

      I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt here… that this was one rookie supervisor who thought s/he was doing a good thing. How this crap slips through is another conversation all together. I know as I’ve grown in the business I’ve been shocked at a few lapses of common sense I’ve seen in my own org, that came from good intentions.

      I don’t know all sides of the story. But, I am paying close attention as I visit that brand… haven’t seen a relapse. I’ll let you know.

  7. Dallas Tye

    On a recent trip to the US we stayed in a nice hotel in NYC. I took the ‘premium room’ upgrade package which said “guaranteed upper floor and free bottled water”. I thought its Summer in NY, maybe we’ll grab a few bottles as we go out each day and save some money. We ended of floor 40 out of 50, not bad I suppose, but could not see the basket of free bottled water my mind’s eye had been expecting.

    There were several nice bottles of Fiji Water in the bar fridge but I called down to check and was told to look for the small Nestle bottle in the bottom of the fridge. I explained that there was 4 of us (my wife and the two girls) and this won’t go very far, could they send some more up please.

    No, they said, the rule is one per room, per day. I said that they had better change their advertising to read ‘a free bottle of water’ (and see how far that gets them). I asked 3 different people to give the hotel a chance to make this right. I felt duped by the add,, the actual water wasn’t the big issue any more. No luck, can’t do that, its not allowed they all said.

    Wow I thought. Before leaving I asked for the hotel manager’s e-mail address and I eventually wrote to him. He seemed horrified that no-one had sorted this out and asked me to contact him personally before our next stay and he would make sure everything went smoothly. (no offer of the Presidential suite, ha)

    Its a long story I know,, sorry,, but what I think we have here in both cases is a failure by the leadership to communicate the intent behind the activity, or in my case the offer.

    At the time of execution it was left up to well intended staff who had not been included in the vision of the exercise.

    Its one thing for a leader (company, org) to come up with a grand plan, but a complete waste of time (and possibly detrimental) if the leadership fails to share the vision of the idea/concept/service effectively.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Dallas, Yikes. Great example. Just a few bottles of water… what a beautiful lead in to the post I just published today as well.

  8. Skip Prichard

    It’s stunning. The Dumpster Effect is now part of my vocabulary. What a sad state of affairs.

    And yet, beyond what seems obvious to us, I wonder how many of my own mistakes are like this–glaringly obvious, yet missed. This post is a wake up call to leaders to look for the dumpsters in your own lives and make sure they are nowhere to be found…I know I will be looking for my own mistakes …

    • letsgrowleaders

      Skip, Great to see you here. Yeah, I’m sure we all have the dumpster effect going on to some extent. We need to look from so many perspectives. Great add.

  9. Lolly Daskal

    This post is important on many levels.

    It is always easier to see clearly other people’s mishaps than our own.

    It is always easier to judge others mistakes than it is to see our mistakes.

    It is always easier to say they should have done it better…

    As leaders in our lives we have to live by the GOLDEN RULE.

    Treat others the way you want to be treated.

    If you DO NOT want to be recognized by DUMPSTER yourself don’t recognize another there.

    Life can be simple. If we just are more mindful.

    Lead with heart and treat others with care.

    Great post.

    Thanks Karin.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Lolly, Thanks so much for your insightful comments. YES! It’s vital that we be on the lookout for the own “dumpsters.”


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