A big organization’s HR department wanted to encourage employee engagement so they sent each person a cup of popcorn. Maybe a good slap in the face would get employee’s attention a little faster. To me, both actions are insulting, illustrating how little the organization really cares about its employees.

A recent article in the Washington Post cited the many studies carried out by the Department of Homeland Security, while no effective action followed the studies. The article quoted one study: “Many DHS employees have said in the annual government “viewpoint” survey of federal employees that their senior leaders are ineffective; that the department discourages innovation, and that promotions and raises are not based on merit.” However, as you might expect, one organization in DHS started a program, “In response to low scores on the viewpoint survey, officials had set up a program, DHSTogether, aimed at making DHS “one of the best places to work in the Federal government.”

Both the POPCORN HR department and the DHS unit seem to think “programs” are the solution to bad employee morale. If things are bad, start a program. Let them eat popcorn. Give them a free meal at holidays.

Problems of ineffective senior leaders, lack of innovation, a culture of poor performance are not solved by programs, but by sustained, effective leadership and management at all levels. If senior leaders are not effective, fix them or fire them. If there is no innovation, tear down the restrictive rules. Set up effective performance measurements at all levels and reward high performers. Examine the rules your HR department imposes on department managers and give them responsibility and authority to lead their departments to higher performance.

And keep the popcorn in theaters.