I’m participating on a conference call with a number of companies who made the commitment to begin a reliability journey. Each have drafted a 3 year vision that includes quarterly goals or milestones they worked to achieve and I’m impressed that the first company to present appears to be on goal or even ahead of their target.
“We had a goal this quarter to certify 60 people across our three sites and in our first month 28 people have taken the exam and if all goes as expected we should have at least 20 of those pass the exam. Next month we have over 30 people signed up so I think we are well on our way.”
Someone speaks up and says “Wow! That’s fantastic news! Have you started planning an event to celebrate achieving this milestone? How do you plan on recognizing the people who have achieved certification?”
“Well we are still working on that. And to be honest, we are struggling a bit. Maintenance and operations folks don’t seem to like that kind of attention. The last time we tried something like this we put together a big celebration with corporate managers coming into make the presentation and we had maybe 2 out of 30 people show up. We went as far as getting them special shirts and gift certificates but they acted like the things we went out our way to do was an insult. The feedback we got from them was don’t make a big deal out of us just doing our job. At this point I don’t know what to do.”
I’m thinking back on how many times I have seen Managers and Supervisors screw up the tremendous opportunity to simply thank someone. How this face to face interaction that should be as simple meeting someone new for the first time has become painful, awkward, uncomfortable and meaningless.
So, how do we get this right?
First things first, if you are a Supervisor, Manager, Corporate Executive or Company Owner, operations and maintenance people are the only people who work on the shop floor. The rules are different here, I don’t care what these folks told you at the latest team building course you dragged them off to with the hopes that they will come to you to help work to resolve every problem at the site. It doesn’t matter if your company is union or non-union. The problem in fact has nothing to do with whether or not they care if you meet or achieve a given goal. If the goal makes sense, if it’s something that will help the company to improve, help improve their careers or improve the quality of work-life, they will help work to achieve it.
Understanding this there are also some rules to consider when it comes to positive reinforcement. Dr. Aubrey Daniels the author of the book Performance Management tells us positive reinforcement should be positive, immediate and certain. I never felt that criteria went far enough. First of all positive reinforcement is really intended to reinforce behaviors, recognition is an entirely different event. If you’re looking to recognize someone for achieving a certification for example you should consider the following things;
- How does the certification help the company?
- How does the certification help the employee?
- What can I do to make the recognition meaningful?
- What can I do to ensure the recognition is sincere?
- Who should be involved in the recognition?
- Is the recognition timely?
- Is the employee comfortable with the setting?
Does anything on the above list look intimidating? Then how is it we totally botch this up so often?
We botch it up because we simply don’t bother to ask the right people the right questions. If you are looking to thank someone for taking the time and effort to study and achieve a certification shouldn’t you ask that same person how they would like to be recognized? Might it also be important to ask them how they would like to be recognized (in a public or private setting) and who should present the recognition?
Some might think I’m making a big deal out of nothing here but I can tell you that I work with the shop floor folks on a regular basis and you might be surprised how often they are truly offended by a managers attempt to provide recognition or reinforcement.
A 25 year employee at a food company offered this view; “I participate in things when they make sense, but I find it harder and harder to go along because management wants to make a circus out of every new effort. A few years back we did an RCM on one of our production lines and got some tremendous improvement as a result. When it came time to reinforce the team they had a few folks from corporate come out, threw a party with food and a nice cake, and gave everyone who was there a $100.00 movie certificate. The shift that did the most work on the effort was on their 7 days off, the guy who did the most work implementing the project was there but was not recognized, the folks from corporate didn’t even know his name. So in the end you start to wonder why you bothered. I don’t like social recognition anyways, if you want to thank me come up, introduce yourself, shake my hand and say thank you.”
One of his colleagues offered this view; “I really don’t care for the social recognition, its bad enough sometimes taking crap from some of the folks you work with for making the extra effort. I’m a single Mom so I’m trying to work a little harder than the next person to keep my job, to stand out above others so maybe I can get a head in life. I participate when it makes sense for me but don’t expect me to hire a babysitter for two hours so you make yourself feel good by thanking me.”
Sarah went on to say how she had participated in a college certificate training program and how her boss was offended when she refused to attend the graduation celebration her company had put together.
“He told me I was ungrateful. After I went to 4 different courses, 2 nights a week for 12 weeks on my time. Baby sitters aren’t free. I realize this is something I get to add to my resume, that’s why I did it. But don’t try to lay some guilt trip on me because your boss wants a photo op for the company newsletter. So how does that make me feel? Completing this is something I should feel good about!”
As a Manager, Supervisor, Corporate Executive or Company Owner if you are looking to thank someone, or recognize an individual or a group think over the criteria I set out above and consider the following things.
- Who are we recognizing and why? Recognition should be personal, this isn’t a time to forget or screw up names. Let the person who is closest to the group or individual being recognized present that recognition. If you want to have corporate folks or executives attend let them attend but for hand-shake and a short thank you or sign of appreciation.
- When will this be held, where will this be presented and who will be involved? You get one shot to do this so make sure you get it right. Recognition should never be on the employee’s time and if possible never at the end of their shift. Again the recognition should be personal so think small and private a conference room or office. Don’t involve anyone who isn’t somehow involved with the recognition. 90% of the folks I have worked with hate being recognized in front of their peers.
- Make sure the recognition is both sincere and meaningful. There is nothing worse than being given a small token of appreciation by someone who has no idea why it’s being given or who they are giving it to. On the flip side I once attended an apprentice program graduation where the graduates got to select who presented their degree. Some had a Journeyman they had worked with present it, some had their Spouse present it and others had their parents present it. Each and every presentation was meaningful and you could not get more sincere.
- Be careful with the one size fits all trinkets or awards. As an example for a young couple without children a dinner certificate is fantastic. To a young couple with three kids unless it includes a babysitter the gift became an expense and while less expensive now that dinner is covered, it’s still an expense. To a 25 year guy who just lost his wife to breast cancer the dinner certificate is a harsh reminder of how little his manager really cares. Think before you give.
- Make sure the recognition is timely. It really doesn’t get easier than this yet every year I hear about a “celebration we had last week to celebrate 1 year without a lost time incident.” We actually completed that 7 months ago but they order jackets for us all and it took months for them to show up. Then of course after they got here we had 2 loss time incidents back to back and well now the boss wanted to wait until we got at least a month with one… Give it up, it’s too late and the reason for recognizing the event has lost all meaning.
Saying thank you isn’t difficult when you really mean it. When it is sincere it will be meaningful and it will be appreciated.
Once again I am interested in your thoughts, and your stories. If you have a great example of recognition done right or a recognition disaster story please feel free to share!