Creating Employee Recognition Programs

Aug. 1, 2015
How to motivate employees and improve shop morale

It’s difficult to accomplish your goals without the help of others. That’s how Bob Waldron sums up the importance of a healthy, positive shop culture.

“Our buildings are very well kept, we’ve got all the equipment and training, but it’s the people that’s going to make it fly,” he says.

As the owner of the three-location Waldron’s CARSTAR in Massachusetts, Waldron has been on a year-and-a-half journey with his 45 employees to create a culture that promotes creativity, collaboration and positivity. One of the ways he’s done that? By recognizing and rewarding employee achievements—and not just financially.

“We get focused on the issues and the things we have to fix, and we tend to not focus on the good behaviors,” says Jill Meeuwsen, owner of Synergy Management Consultants, a former shop operator and employee engagement expert. “Reinforcement of good behaviors will get us more of those good behaviors. The return on investment for proper recognition is huge. It also has a huge rippling effect on morale and overall employee engagement. Those companies that have high levels of real employee engagement are four times more profitable than those that don’t, based on our customer base.”

Rewards and recognition programs can help attract and keep talented employees, and that talent is the key to sustainability and future growth.

Before the Rewards

Reward programs don’t work well in a silo; they need to be part of an overall focus on shop culture and listening to employees. Both Waldron and Meeuwsen agree that there are several steps shop owners should take before implementing an employee rewards or recognition program:

  • Set clear expectations. “Everyone needs to know what’s expected of them up front,” Meeuwsen 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. Waldron has an employee handbook, written policies, job descriptions and task lists for each area of the business.
  • Schedule regular performance reviews. Following goal setting and measuring, employees need performance reviews—not tied to raises—so they can compare their own assessment of their performance with that of shop management. Waldron holds quarterly reviews with each technician and office staff member, where he goes over the operation as a whole and the individual’s performance. He says he goes over productivity, training, tardiness, cleanliness and any safety issues, as well.
  • Listen to employees. Before implementing a recognition program, Waldron conducted an employee satisfaction survey to gauge the current culture of the shop. Each employee had the opportunity to anonymously fill out a three-page questionnaire about what it was like to work at the shop.

Getting Rewards Programs Right

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 doesn’t need to cost a lot of money.

They can be very simple, from token rewards, awards, birthday celebrations, an afternoon off, employee of the month, buying lunch for the team or simply recognizing a job well done in the moment.

Whatever you decide to do for your shop, however, there are several keys to getting reward programs right:

1. Reward in the moment. When possible, try to offer feedback and recognition in the moment. If you’ve got timing on your side, Meeuwsen says it makes the recognition more personal.

2. Set clear criteria. Meeuwsen says you need to be clear about what you’re rewarding. Identify the key areas the company needs to do to grow and differentiate, such as a certain CSI rating or closing ratio.

“If the employee sees some people get rewarded and other people don’t, that kicks trust in the employee,” she says. “In the company I ran, we looked at customer engagement and we were very diligent about rewarding customer engagement scores. You might have 30 percent of customer engagement, which is a great score. But if the survey response rate is only 20 percent, then it’s not a great score. If you have a 30 percent engagement score and 50 percent of your customers were responding, that’s an awesome score and deserves recognition. You have to understand the numbers behind what you’re trying to get to so everyone knows where the bar is.”

Meeuwsen says that the criteria should also include an eye to the future.

“What happens when his CSI scores are 100 month after month? Do you just stop there?” she says. “They need to be crafted in a way that takes the individual, the behavior we’re looking for, a clear idea of what it is and what it looks like over time.”

3Be consistent. After setting the criteria, make an effort to be consistent. Make a note for yourself so you remember to recognize employee achievements, track progress, or make a point to offer recognition on a certain date. That could be an employee of the month, or a yearly awards program, which is what Waldron does.

Every year at his company’s Christmas party, Waldron will create awards and spend time recognizing employees and their achievements over the past year.

“It’s not the same every year, but we do something every year,” he says. “There are years where I recognize everyone and there are other years where I only recognize certain employees. It keeps everybody on their toes.”

4. Make it meaningful. Don’t offer false praise, says Waldron, and don’t just reward for the sake of rewarding. Waldron will buy lunch for the whole team after an exceptional week or month, but only does so occasionally, because otherwise, “it doesn’t mean anything,” he says. Keep your ultimate goal in mind and when rewarding, offer context about how the individual’s actions will affect the company positively or help the company grow.

“One of the things that tends to happen is that we want to recognize people because we know it’s important, but we will recognize a small thing that’s not going to help us down the road,” says Meeuwsen. “You want to recognize when someone is following the values of your company, when someone is acting the way an owner would act.”

Most importantly, be authentic and genuine in your recognition, and make it specific to the employee. When it comes to Waldron’s awards program, for example, he has the plaques customized for each employee, with their name and specific achievement.

5. Know your audience. More than anything, the reward or recognition needs to be tied to what matters most to the employee.

“They get to decide what they want to work toward,” says Meeuwsen. “If your boss tells you you did something well and does it in a way that’s really valuable to you, it’s completely different than if he gives you a Starbucks card but doesn’t realize you don’t drink coffee. You need to understand what matters most to your employees. When you get that, it changes the way conversations, feedback and performance happen, which in turn changes your culture.”

Waldron agrees: It’s about knowing your audience. In his shop, he has three generations—Generation X, millennials and baby boomers—working for him, all of which are driven by different values. Some want money, he says, others want recognition, while others want job security or advancement.

“If we can find what makes you tick, then I can coach and work with you,” he says. “If I go out there and I treat everyone the same, it’s not going to work. It’s like trying to put a round peg in a square hole.”

Also, consider the way that an individual employee would like to be recognized, says Meeuwsen. If someone is very shy and humble, for example, they may not like to be called out and recognized in front of the whole staff.

“If we try to reward someone in a way that isn’t valuable or is embarrassing to that employee, we will get the opposite effect,” she says. “Ask yourself, ‘How can I match something that matters to that employee to that behavior to keep that juju going?’”