Give people something to strive for

Friday, September 6, 2013
by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

The last time I wrote for the GTEC blog I shared a story about a young boy named Jared and in so doing I explained how an enabling office environment creates a culture where employees can do amazing things for the clients they serve. The flip side of that equation - the one I want to explore today - is that it also allows organizations to do equally amazing things for its employees. Engagement is, after all, about both external and internal stakeholders.

Something else very special happened in that same hotel the year I met Jared. It exemplified the collaborative spirit and demonstrated the enabling power of even the simplest of technologies. The hotel had a voice mail box whereby employees could call and leave a message commending their colleague for a job well done. There was no hierarchy, no silos, no approvals. Just a phone with an answering machine on the other end of it. Every morning the Human Resources Director would listen to the messages, have her morning coffee and write down the names and actions of those recognized by their colleagues. She would notify the managers on duty and they would in turn single out and congratulate the staff member who was recognized by their peers and reward them with a voucher worth $10 of company funny money. In addition to the peer rewards managers had discretion to reward employees on the spot for exemplary service if they witnessed it first hand. For my work with Jared on Christmas, I earned $250 worth of company funny money. Now the thing about the company funny money is that it is funny money. There is no real cash value but they can be redeemed in for a set of official rewards; my $250 worth could have gotten me a $25 dollar gift card for example.

What was fascinating about this type of intermediary reward system is that increasingly more emphasis was placed on the act of peer to peer recognition and that ethos started to spill over among the working level employees. Colleagues starting commending their peers on their good work in difficult situations and redistribute the rewards they received back into the ecosystem. We created a simple rewards and recognition economy without even knowing it long before gamification hit the mainstream. Soon an emergent culture was starting to form whereby your shift wasn't over until you found a colleague worth commending. You started to look for and identify precisely the culture that you wanted to be a part of; and this is where things started to get interesting.

There was a housekeeper named Zophia. She worked the public spaces of the hotel, was incredibly hard working and fabulous with the guests. Over time we got to know her better. She was a Polish immigrant, was working seven days a week across two jobs, and she was the proud single mother of a daughter who was about to graduate high school. When we learned that Zophia was not going to be able to attend her daughter's convocation because doing so meant giving up a shift at work, we knew we had to do something.

A day off with pay was a whopping $1500 of company funny money, but everyone agreed that it was achievable. We started to pool our resources, soliciting donations in secret from our colleagues from other parts of the hotel and making sure that we upped our overall performance to earn maximum recognition from our managers for the instant rewards that we could put towards the larger goal. This was one of the most exciting times to be working for the company. The atmosphere was electric, great service to guests fuelled rewards that drove better performance that brought us closer to our goal which made us want to perform even better; it was a virtuous circle.

We reached our $1500 company funny money goal quickly and immediately approached HR and Housekeeping with the news. We – some 30+ employees – had collectively decided and worked towards giving Zophia a day off with pay so that she could attend her daughter's convocation.

When Zophia found out what we had done (because we obviously kept it a secret!) she was floored; I wasn't there but I imagine her face lit up like Jared's did on Christmas morning.

What's the lesson?

Forget the hype, good company culture is the secret sauce, the technology can be as simple as monopoly money with the company logo on it.

In other words, give people something to strive for that they believe in and they will adopt whatever tools you put in front of them to do it.

*This blog cross posted to the GTEC blog*