So here we are… adults… business people… in an environment that challenges owners, managers and employees in business and personal ways. We are experiencing a situation that truly tests employee engagement, however well embedded it is in any culture. Working in an award winning enthusiastic culture more than likely sets the engagement bar even higher in tough financial times. To that end, the creative solutions may not be as easy to generate as those normally shared with the team. The following rules can be used as part of your bias to recognize and reward those that make it happen:
Recognition needs to become an essential part of:
-Keeping momentum in place;
-Remaining focused on the goals of the business;
-Staying true to the values and expectations of our customers, suppliers and employees.
Rewards need to take on a life of their own and:
-Adapt to the situation;
-Become routine … in an anticipatory way;
-Be relevant to the rewarded;
-Be part of a program, or
-Be impromptu … and generous.
Some fellow business friends similarly affected by the radical reduction in revenue turned to the discretionary reward tool box and shut it down as a cost cutting measure. One mentioned that he did not want to take a bunch of flack about providing gift cards for hitting a particular goal when everyone had their wages frozen. Another said to me that employee feedback had already prevented her from implementing a new program that was developed prior to the storm we're in today. While we can all appreciate the sensitivity of take-home pay verses a milestone-triggered reward, we also need to stay true to the values we established through routine recognition for our team.
I'd have to say I'm guilty of not wanting to kill the fun in generating ideas for all types of rewards as well as the reasons to give a pat on the back. Passion for recognition is not something you turn off and on. To that end, I'd like to offer some of the tools in our toolbox.
Quality, safety and productivity
A tradition in any manufacturing environment is to recognize quality, safety and productivity. Each of these categories has subsets of specific measurements and expectations.
Safety, for instance, can be recognized either by a reduction in accident or incident rates or by developing measurements for sheer accident avoidance. A clever way we use to keep the focus on a "lost-time-free" environment is a quarterly drawing using $100 gift cards to firms such as Best Buy or Home Depot. We do this across all shifts so each crew has its own opportunity to win. We will do this only if we achieve a prior quarter accident-free.
Quality performance is a significant area that impacts costs and client relationships. This past year we expanded our measurements and as a result we were able to tee up a series of very specific low cost rewards that reinforce continuous improvement. The use of gas cards in the past few years is a welcome surprise for hitting a monthly target – and we have turned to them in a prolific way.
In the past year we began a 12-month journey to achieve a new quality performance standard (TS 16949), and once the final audits were completed by the outside agency we had a celebration for everyone in the plant, in the form of a buffet-type meal for all. Then we set aside a special meeting for the key project participants and provided them with special star shaped engraved stone trophies, with a special one for the main project leader. To top that off, we gave special recognition to the team leader of the project, who had spent many weekends away from her kids, with a special (somewhat extravagant) gift certificate for something she would not likely have gotten for herself.
Continuous improvement programs take all shapes; at their core is a focus on productivity. When we have an organized program under way, like 5S (a Lean tool), sometimes there is a company stemwinder who is at the root of the program's success. In that case, all the employees are doing their chores, but the individual passion in keeping the plant on track in good times and bad may require a meaningful gesture. We are lucky to have many in our midst. In recognition of this person's efforts we went on a creative bent and found out that he's a passionate hockey and Gordie Howe fan second to none. So we ordered a framed picture of Gordie and to add a special flavor had it sent to his grandson to take to Gordie for his signature. When we recognized this employee with the print you could cut the joy in the room with a knife. You think we have an engaged team member?
Partnerships with key accounts require routine travel and in some cases to relatively exotic places. Traditional travel to these locations tends to be reserved for leadership and key product specialists. In recognition of special efforts, and making use of free companion ticket programs, we have used overseas travel opportunities for couples to travel and experience both a new business and cultural climate. Seems simple, but planning and logistics takes on an enthusiastic life of its own. Can you imagine the inspired employee who just got back from a "trip of a lifetime" and what is said around the plant and their home? To borrow from a well known commercial, it is priceless.
Taking care of customers has some of the most robust opportunities to reward and recognize. The handing out of homemade certificates signed by our executives denoting a specific event and clearly written appreciation for positive customer feedback is a low cost and personal way to keep the passion alive. Some client appreciation rewards can take on a clever but – more important – sincere outcome.
While I was parking my car one morning at the plant, I happened to glance over at a team member's car and noticed that her tires were almost bald. Knowing that she had done a number of incredible and supportive moves for clients, we went out and bought a gift certificate to a local tire chain toward some new ones. To say she was floored is an understatement. Another great way to recognize female members of our staff, especially when we're doing double duty in these difficult times, is a spa certificate. Most of the spas have seen a definite downturn in this discretionary service, so prices are very reasonable.
Using the troubled economy as an excuse to suspend recognition demonstrates the easy way out and may have a bigger impact on causing what I call value decay. We set expectations to drive a culture of results and we integrate rewards right alongside those same expectations. It just makes sense to turn up the creative juices to identify bargains that offer a meaningful payoff.
Right now we are entering the baseball season. Our hometown team had been on an advertising blitz, offering packages and new incentives to come to the games. We will take advantage of these bargains, and apply surprise tickets to those who demonstrate a special effort. And if their contribution was especially meaningful, we'll reward them with time off for the game as well. You think they will come back to work wired for more? You bet!
In these recessionary times we have found that seasonal or holiday gifts of food are also bargain opportunities that can be used for recognition. I'll leave it up to your imagination to come up with a food solution for upcoming holidays like Memorial Day or July 4th. I can guarantee you that your team will appreciate the thoughtful side of their executives. If all else fails, give them a gift card to the supermarket.
Traditional rewards – like recognition for years of service – can't fall prey to near-term cost cutting. Stay true to the value of recognizing long-term commitment, especially in these times. We recently restructured our health insurance employee contribution to have a new years-of-service bias. That was a well received reward in a time where we're all experiencing runaway insurance premiums.
Awards and engagement
Company recognition works for everyone, and we have all been privy to receiving recognition for various milestones or winning product or design awards. It has been found that employees tend to have higher engagement and motivation working for award winning companies. So as a leader, it makes sense to take the time to develop an award application process. It starts with our trade association, but can include not-for-profit involvement, national quality or business performance awards, or innovation and entrepreneurial excellence. Awards like the Inc 500 and Ernst & Young Entrepreneur or Malcolm Baldridge fill that need. We recently received two community awards, one as a friend of education and one for helping our local county sheriff, all involving our employees and the company's commitment to these organizations. The reasons we were involved are not important; the outcome caused a more engaged and proud team and positive local recognition.
The great part about your recognition and reward efforts during these times remains that, as leaders we should be predisposed to deploy that next new idea…or add it to our toolbox to use on another day. I challenge each of you to build a toolbox…start with remembering what really tripped your trigger in the past and become wired to reward.
The author recommends:
Hug Your People, by Jack Mitchell; 2008, Hyperion. Especially chapters 28 and 29.
1001 Ways To Reward Employees, by Bob Nelson; 1994, Workman Publishing.