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Recognize Employee Achievements

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When it comes to employee rewards, Terry Aldershof believes that little things make a big difference. Aldershof, now retired and the former owner of The Glass Menagerie Corvettes in Studio City, Calif., provided breakfast for his staff every Friday, and discussed the week’s successes over the meal. Staffers and their family members all received birthday cards that contained a gift certificate for a restaurant or toy store. And if an employee was ever hospitalized, he could count on receiving flowers.

Such inexpensive efforts let employees know they were valued. “I was in this industry for 42 years, and every morning I went to work on the line, all I ever wanted was to have my boss say that I did a good job, and he appreciated my skill and effort,” Aldershof says. “To be honest, it happened very rarely.”

When your schedule is packed with cash flow questions, customer concerns, and big-picture planning projects, who has time to indulge employees? Perhaps the more important question is ‘who doesn’t?’ Celebrating the contributions of your staff with rewards and recognition may actually help with everything else on your to-do list.

That’s especially true in today’s economic climate, according to a white paper from the Recognition Council of the Incentive Marketing Association. The Time for Employee Recognition and Rewards Programs Is Now cites current research to make the case that such programs can generate big revenues and profit. It also argues that rewards and recognition programs can help attract and keep talented employees—especially when lay-offs and increased workloads are the new norm—and that talent “is the key to sustainability and the hope for future growth.”

Aldershof can attest to the benefits. His employees—who also enjoyed small annual cash bonuses, profit-sharing plans and annual company outings —produced 20 percent more than the industry norm; the shop operated at 98 percent of capability; and his turnover rate was less than half of 1 percent.

Before the Rewards…

Certainly, those are enviable numbers. But such success isn’t quite as simple as doling out regular ‘atta boy’ accolades or providing pastries.

Hank Nunn, a management consultant and president of H.W. Nunn & Associates in Portland, Ore., says shop leaders should take several steps before implementing an employee rewards or recognition program:

• Create and Maintain a Positive Work Space. “If ownership or management runs a business by fear and intimidation, it doesn’t matter what [rewards] they put in place—they’ll never have a positive result,” Nunn says. “They have to lead by example.”

• Understand Employee Motivation. People need to make money, but a weekly paycheck is not what drives employees. “Fair compensation is a given, not a motivator,” Nunn says. “You motivate employees by making them feel like they’re part of a team, and respected in the workplace.”

• Set Clear Goals. “Everyone needs to know what’s expected of them up front,” Nunn says. “And everybody has to have a fair and simple method of measuring their performance against the goal.” That includes individual goals and expectations, and overall shop goals.

• Schedule Regular Performance Reviews. Following goal setting and measuring, employees need annual performance reviews—not tied to raises—so they can compare their own assessment of their performance with that of shop management.
With these steps in place, you’ll have a better foundation for whatever rewards and recognition program you choose.

Birthday Cards and Bonuses

Employee rewards programs may bring to mind exotic trips for top-performers or big bonus checks, but the fact is, recognizing and rewarding your employees needn’t cost a lot of money.

Nunn recalls one shop manager who wrote himself a note on his computer to ‘go out and say something nice to someone today.’ “When he was a grump, people [in the shop] would shy away from him,” he says. “But after six months of disciplining himself to find something positive to say, when he’d walk out in the shop, instead of shying away, people would be coming out to the center.” The mood in the shop changed for the better, and it didn’t cost a thing. “There’s nothing cheaper than patting people on the back on a regular basis,” Nunn says.

There are plenty of other easy, inexpensive ways to recognize employees, too:

• Token Rewards. Whether it’s a plaque or a stuffed pig, a token reward that gets passed around to employees who deserve recognition lets everyone in the shop know that John Doe did a good job. An even better approach is to make the employee who earns the trinket responsible for finding the next person to reward.

• Birthday celebrations. Whether the recognition involves a card that gets mailed home or a cake that the whole team can enjoy, mark every employee’s birthday in your calendar. But Nunn cautions, “The first time you forget someone, you’ve killed yourself.”

• Employee-of-the-Month (EOTM). Nunn knows one shop owner who lists an EOTM (and every employee eventually gets the honor) in a monthly newsletter that goes to employees’ homes. The EOTM gets $20 cash, and gift certificates to a restaurant and video rental store. In Nunn’s opinion, it’s an effective reward because the praise follows the employee home and involves the family.

• Work-Related Rewards. These can be anything from a special parking spot to lunch with the boss to an afternoon off for individual performance.

Nunn cautions against performance-driven programs that end up rewarding the same individual or team over and over. “If the same team wins three or four months in a row, the reward is no longer seen as having value,” he says. If you see that happening in your shop, scramble teams up.

The Leadership Lesson

Creating a pleasant work environment where employees understand expectations and feel valued won’t just benefit your shop; it can make your job as a leader easier. “For most managers, [dealing with] employee relations is the biggest headache they have,” Nunn says. “By improving attitude in the shop, you eliminate headaches. There’s a dramatic reduction in stress, and it improves the level of respect.”

Julie Maslanka, who, along with her husband, owns two CARSTAR shops in Illinois., agrees. Maslanka’s 29 employees all know the shop’s goals, are rewarded with free lunches and small bonus checks when the shops have a profitable quarter, get cake on their birthdays, and enjoy an annual Christmas party at Maslanka’s home. When a vendor offers to take her out to lunch, she requests that something be brought in to the shop that can be shared with everyone. The result, she says, is that many employees have told her that her shops are the best place they’ve ever worked.

“We realize that everyone likes to get recognized—it increases their self-esteem, it makes them feel like they belong,” she says. “It benefits us by having content, honest, hard-working employees who respect us. That, in turn, contributes to the success of the organization.”

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