Despite facing difficult economic conditions, Delta Air Lines boosted employee recognition efforts through an outsourced solution.

by Stephanie Merchiore

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines’ founder, C.E. Woolman, early on in the history of the company set the standard for the company’s workforce recognition strategy. “If we take care of our employees, they will take care of our customers,” he used to say. That philosophy is the foundation of Delta’s complete recognition experience today.

While Delta has had numerous recognition programs in place since 1996, they were a fragmented effort with a mix of officially supported programs and unofficially supported initiatives run by local managers and business leaders.  These decentralized efforts were not all aligned with Delta’s business objectives.  In order to achieve alignment, a comprehensive plan was developed that incorporated the entire recognition experience, including service awards, retirement gifts, SPOT recognition, an enterprise platform for all corporate and department programs, and Chairman’s Club, a pinnacle program that recognizes the best of the best.

Goals of the new recognition plan included making reinforcement, recognition, and rewards accessible to the entire Delta workforce, with the goal of making a connection with employees more than four times a year.  The program also had to have a strategy for measuring return on investment and a foundation in behavioral science. The recognition experience at Delta has numerous components including:

• Service Awards: Service recognition at 1, 5, and every 5 years thereafter. Online award selection occurs at years 20 and 40.

• Retirement: Managers can order a newly designed and updated personalized retirement award.

• SPOT Recognition:  Managers can order SPOT recognition vouchers for extra-mile efforts by employees.

• MyDeltaRewards: This supports more than 20 corporate and business unit programs under two corporate programs: Gaining Altitude, an enterprise-wide, nomination-based program with multiple award levels; and Community Engagement, a behavior-based program that rewards employees for participating in community-based charitable events. Additionally, the company also offers business unit programs with more than 20 business unit reward programs that focus on customer satisfaction, revenue growth, and cost savings.

• Chairman’s Club: This recognizes the top 102 employees annually based on their determination and dedication to Delta Air Lines.

Selecting the Right Partner
The recognition program was implemented in phases over several years. While Delta’s commitment to recognition remained strong, the resources supporting recognition were cut in half due to economic conditions. Delta turned to single sourcing much of the recognition experience. After an exhaustive RFI/RFP process, Diamond H Recognition was selected as the sole vendor to support service awards, retirement, SPOT recognition, and the platform, including the more than 20 programs on it. It also delivered support materials for the annual Chairman’s Club event. Without compromising quality, programs, or services to employees, Delta has made its recognition experience more cost effective and efficient by delivering five new programs to the organization that generate revenue and cut costs.

As part of the outsourced process, all recognition and reward programs are tracked, and returns are documented. A summary of some of the benefits include:

• More than 24,000 Gaining Altitude nominations were processed in 2007;

• More than 6,300 Chairman’s Club nominations were processed in 2007;

• More than $300,000 was raised for charity and community events in 2007;

• More than 5,200 pints of blood were donated, the highest corporate contribution in Georgia;

• More than $56.4 million in returns were documented across more than 20 business unit programs;

• MyDeltaRewards enjoys an active participation rate of greater than 70 percent;

• MyDeltaRewards has generated more than 480,000 recognition contacts in 2007 (which averages nine contacts per person per year, more than double our goal of four per year);

• MyDeltaRewards supported more than 1.4 million recognition impressions in 2007;

• More than 760 million points were redeemed on in 2007.

These program returns clearly demonstrate both the need for recognition rewards and the ability to create value to the business. Without a strong partnership, we could not deliver these solutions—or results—to the company with such limited resources.

Benefits from Outsourcing
Delta continuously adjusts its programs to meet the diverse needs of leaders, individuals, and teams. The process for change incorporates informal feedback and an annual program review. Most changes, adjustments, and flexibility are made with a “people focus” in mind.  

Delta’s partnership with our external partner allows us to focus on people and core business operations while enabling Diamond H Recognition, an end-to-end solution provider, to recommend, implement, and support effective recognition solutions.

The actions that Delta Air Lines’ recognition team implemented while the company was in financial difficulty are truly effective. Delta’s program is a testament to the effect a recognition program can have on an entire company and the critical role of recognition during corporate change.

Tags: Employee Engagement, Recognition & Rewards

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