Employee EngagementRecognition & Rewards

Resource Guide: Incentives Case Study

Strategic Employee Recognition

by Debbie Vorndran, Rich Siegenthaler

At Westfield Group–an Ohio-based insurance, banking, and related financial services company–we want our employees to feel not just comfortable at work, but like its the only place in the world where they should be. Considering some of the perks offered to employees–the use of two golf courses, gourmet meals, dry cleaning services, and an on-site fitness center–one would think that overall employee satisfaction would never be an issue at Westfield. That’s just not the case. 

A 2002 internal employee satisfaction survey indicated that many employees actually felt undervalued due to the lack of an effective recognition program. We had a program in place, but it ran so slowly that awards were often passed out months after the commendable act or achievement took place. In addition, employees–and even some managers, for that matter–did not exactly understand how the program related to the company’s core competencies. It was clear that a change was in order. We needed a program that ran more smoothly, that recognized employees more often and promptly, that clearly reinforced company values, and, most importantly, dismissed the feeling among employees that they are unappreciated and undervalued. 

We called upon recognition industry leader O.C. Tanner Company to mend our problems. They helped us understand that not just recognition, but strategic recognition is the way to motivate employees, reinforce company values, and garner real business results. On the surface, strategic recognition sounded like what we already had been trying to do. But it goes much deeper than just handing out awards in a timely manner. It means focusing recognition on the right behaviors, simple and measurable, in order to be completely beneficial. 

O.C. Tanner trainers helped identify and establish program goals and objectives, and the importance of those goals was emphasized to managers. With our new program, called Westfield Excellence, we were able to do away with the 300-plus-page spreadsheet that was used to track awards (ineffectively, in many cases). With online, cutting-edge tools, the program is fast, easy to use, and awards always show up on time. Westfield Excellence also encourages employees to nominate their co-workers for performing or adhering to one of the company competencies. But we didn’t leave that to chance. O.C. Tanner and Westfield trainers and experts have made sure all managers and employees understand what is important to our company, what the specific goals of the new recognition program are, and how to use the online system. 

And it’s working. One of the best indicators that Westfield Excellence is succeeding is the fact that employee turnover has decreased by 7.7 percent since the program’s introduction, an obvious, measurable benefit. Also, according to in-house surveys, 80 percent of employees now say they are satisfied at work, as opposed to 70 percent when we were running the old program. Employees in general are buying into the concept of the new program. More than 1,100 employees have been individually thanked and awarded by co-workers for their effort, showing that employees are enjoying the new culture of appreciation and are using the program to recognize each other–perhaps the most effective type of recognition. 

An important part of a successful recognition program is defining the company values and behaviors that are most valued, and recognizing employees for embodying those core competencies. Our CEO, Bob Joyce, calls this connecting the dots; and that seems to be happening as well. First-quarter results from Westfield Excellence showed that 64 percent of its awards were related to the core competency of customer focus, which is our most important goal. 

So employees are satisfied and they are recognizing each other and getting great awards. What does that mean for bottom-line business? Well, in a 2004 internal survey, 89 percent of employees agreed with the statement, “The work I do at Westfield is meaningful to me.” That’s already up five percent since 2002. Also, of all the employees that received recognition through the new program, 90 percent stated via the accompanying online survey tool they were extremely satisfied with all facets of the program. That is certainly translating into bottom-line benefits for our organization. 

We are seeing how recognition, when done strategically, is an HR investment that is sure to pay off.

Tags: Employee Engagement, Recognition & Rewards

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