Epic recognition fail

Please tell me I didn’t just see that.

Yesterday I was at a local office store, waiting to pick something up from the copy/print center.  Behind the counter, two employees, Dustin and Tina, where feverishly working to complete the orders of the people in line in front of me.

I had worked with Tina before, and she is a true rock star.  Any business would be happy to employ her. She’s knowledgeable, friendly, efficient, and just a pleasure to work with.  Maybe that’s why this recognition fail was so profound to me.  Tina deserves SO much better.

Tina had come up to the computer at the front counter.  She was working on something for one of the other customers. You could tell by the look on her face that she was deep in thought and concentration.

At that moment, a young man in Manager-type clothes walks up to Tina with a piece of paper.  He starts talking to her with little regard for the work she was already doing. I was standing pretty close, so it was pretty easy to hear what was being said.

Manager – “Have you seen this?” (showing the paper to Tina)

Tina – (while still trying to work) “no, what is it?”

Manager – “You were mentioned personally on the President’s list.”

Tina – (1/2 looking at the paper, 1/2 looking at the computer screen) “Oh, uh, okay.”

Manager – (as he walks away) “You can keep that one, I’ve got another one for the break room.”

Do you feel that knot in your stomach?  That’s a completely wasted recognition opportunity.  Kinda makes me sick even to think about it.

Even more so, as I observed Tina just after that, she looked confused and a little annoyed.  Last time I checked, those were NOT the emotions people should feel when they’ve been recognized.

Then again, I cannot really qualify this as recognition. At best, it was a drive-by-manager-doing-his-duty.  I don’t know what the “President’s List” is, but I bet the recipient deserves better than a photo copy and an interruption.

Probably the hardest part for me to fathom, was the look on the Manager’s face as he walked away – the look of total managerial satisfaction. Yes, it does feel good to recognize others and to praise their accomplishments, but he did neither.

He failed.

But he doesn’t know he failed, at least not yet.  My guess is that it will be years before he has the managerial maturity to know that what he just did was about as far from effective recognition as you can get.  Even if Tina’s performance fades or she leaves, he probably won’t equate that to his actions.  And that’s too bad.

So what would you have done differently?  If you were this manager, how would you have recognized Tina for appearing on the President’s List?  Email me or leave a comment!

Thanks for reading!


About the author: Along with his business partner, Scott Brown, Matt has helped develop and launch Lessons In Fun – an all-new business training seminar where the world’s greatest theme parks become your classroom. Click here for more information. Registration for our session in Feb. 2015 is now open!

Recognition Vulture

In a previous position, I was responsible for ensuring that the proper safety training was completed for a large department within a large company. I didn’t necessarily perform the training itself, so much as serve as a liaison between the people who needed the training and the people who offered the training. In other words, I had to make sure the right butts were in the right seats.

One day, my colleague who was responsible for offering the training came to me and said, “Man, your department is like vultures. As soon as I put something on the calendar, they https://i2.wp.com/www.how-to-draw-cartoons-online.com/image-files/cartoon-vulture-9.gifscoop up the seats.”

Taking this as a compliment, I wanted to pass along the kudos to the person responsible for scooping up all those seats. Her name is Nikki, and she took it as a compliment, too. She was proud to be called a vulture, because it meant she was doing her job and someone noticed.

It didn’t matter that her actions were being compared to a roadkill-clearing scavenger, what mattered was that there was an acknowledgement, a recognition for what she had accomplished. She may have been toiling away quietly at her desk, doing her job to the best of her ability and hoping it was creating a positive outcome. And then someone noticed and they cared enough to mention it.  And Nikki started scooping up the seats even faster!

I ran across a similar example from some friends in a call center environment. The goal was efficient calls and resolution, and each call was timed.  The person with shortest call time average got a little Hot Wheels race car to put on their desk.  The person with the longest call time average got a little toy turtle.  They said you would not believe the buzz and friendly competition that erupted in the center because everyone wanted that car and no one wanted the turtle.

I think we can sometimes get too wrapped up in WHAT or even HOW we are going to recognize an achievement (before it even happens) that we lose sight of WHY we are recognizing. I think the vulture status was motivating to Nikki because it was directly related to something specific she had done.

And WHY do we recognize? Because we want people to know that they are doing the right thing so they will keep doing it. The folks at the call center increased efficiency and satisfaction because they wanted a little toy car on their desk.  Bragging rights.

So before you go planning an elaborate (and expensive) recognition and reward plan, remember what people really want (and what will influence behavior):

  • Acknowledgement – they need to know that way they did meant something to someone.
  • Sincerity – the acknowledgement has to be real, and it doesn’t have to be expensive to be real.
  • Personal – Nikki was the Training Vulture. No one else could take that title. It was hers because she earned it.

Did I miss anything?  Let me know!



Ever wondered what I do when I am not writing blog posts?  You can find our here: What Matt Does. How handy is that?

Dilbert on motivation

Recognition.  Trust.  Setting an example.  How many more leadership attributes can be contained in one comic strip?

Of course that’s not really the question.  The question is, thinking about your own behavior, do you trust people right out of the gate, or do they have to earn and build your trust?  I’ve asked that of many different leaders and there are always some people who fit into each category.  Which is better?  Are either of them right?  Does it come down to experience and personality?  Probably.

What about recognition?  My last post was all about recognition and making sure we are recognizing and rewarding the right things.  What I didn’t really touch on was WHEN to reward.

Just like the trust/no trust camps, there are those who believe that someone’s paycheck is their recognition versus those who understand that people need to feel part of something, they need to belong… they need to see the value they bring to the organization.  They need to be recognized.

To answer the question of WHEN to reward and recognize, it needs to be when it’s deserved.  If it’s too often and overdone it becomes meaningless, and when not done enough (like in the cartoon) it is demotivating.  But I do believe that this is one that we HAVE to make the first investment in.  We can’t wait for someone to WOW us before we recognize them.  We could be waiting for a long time.

This is especially true for brand new employees.  They are just getting their feet wet, trying to figure out the company, their co-workers, everything.  They will need encouragement and guidance if they are to become a productive employee for you.

I will leave you today with a challenge and a few things to think about… first the things to think about:

When was the last time you rewarded effort or a mistake?  We often wait for the end result to provide recognition, however it’s effort (and continued effort) that is going to get people to the end goal.  Mistakes can be great learning opportunities and if done right, letting people know that mistakes are okay (baring safety concerns) encourages them to learn, which ultimately helps them, you and the company.

Here is the challenge: watch for outstanding effort or a mistake that you can recognize.  Let someone know that you appreciate how hard they are working and that it will pay off in the end.  As for the mistake, ask them what they learned and how that will help them in the future.  Ask them to share that knowledge with others.

Let me know how it goes!

Until next time -stay optimistic!

Be careful what you reward for…

There is a movement afoot to increase the amount of positive recognition that takes place within organizations. While I fully support this effort, I believe we have to be careful about what it is that gets rewarded or recognized.

The other day I was chatting with a few managers who were telling me that they had just launched a perfect attendance recognition program because they were having trouble getting people to show up for their shifts. They said it was typically when it was raining (the job is outside) or when the employees had to work late one night and be back early the next morning.

Hmmm… So we’ve got some data, let’s look at that more closely.

The question that has to be asked and answered is why. Why are they choosing to call out when it’s raining?  My guess is that they know the job still needs to be done, so we can rule out that they don’t think there would be anything to do. Maybe they don’t understand how important their job is (even in the rain) and feel that it’s not worth it to them to endure some slightly adverse conditions to do that job.

And why would that be?

Maybe as a leadership team we haven’t explained (or better yet, shown) them how valuable they are and what an impact it is to the team and the company when they are not there.

If this is the case, is a perfect attendance reward going to change this behavior? Likely not, but you might just get exactly what you are rewarding for: people showing up just to show up, bringing their poor attitude with them.

The other issue mentioned was the working-late-coming-in-early scenario. We’ve all been there from time to time. But if an employee doesn’t see the value they bring, they certainly won’t go out of their way to help when asked.

So we go back to the question of why.  Why do we need to be scheduling people for late shifts and early shifts back-to-back (especially if it’s a consistent thing)?  Are we short staffed? Do we not have enough people with the right availability?  Are either of these situations solved with an incentive program? I’ll let you answer that.

By asking why enough times we can get to the root cause of the problem, and by doing that we can actually solve the right problem rather than spinning our wheels.  (Some of you may have heard of a problem solving technique called the 5 Whys.  Above, I demonstrated how that could work by asking why until you get to the real cause of the problem.  If you would like to know more about the 5 Whys, click here.)

Similarly, we need to be rewarding for the right things. You want great guest service? Recognize that. You want high productivity? Recognize that. Be specific and explicit about what you are looking for, and the reasons behind why you are looking for it.

Then you’ll be happy to get the behavior you are rewarding for.

Until next time – stay optimistic!

Karen may have found the “one thing”

How many times have we said to ourselves, “if I could just find that “one thing” that motivates my employees, that engages my customers or guarantees financial success, I would be good to go.”?  Notice I didn’t ask IF we said it, because I know we all have. Often times we think we are missing out on the one golden nugget, one secret, one magic pill that will make all of our leadership troubles go away.

And smart marketers know this is what we are looking for, even if it doesn’t exist. That’s why you see so many books, training seminars and consultants who promise to uncover the “secrets” you need to know.

What I have found is that when people say they are looking for that “one thing”, what they are really looking for is a short cut. They (and you) know deep down that to be a successful leader it takes time, effort, hard work, a willingness to fail, the ability to build relationships… essentially what my friend Chris calls “stick-to-it-ive-ness”. One blog post, inspiring speech or insightful quote will not magically make your leadership life better. Time with your teams in the trenches will.

With all that said, you may be wondering about the title of this post, about a leader named Karen actually finding that “one thing”.  I’ll explain.

While attending the Chick-Fil-A Leadercast, I happened to run into Karen, a friend and leader I had worked with in the past who is smack dab in the middle of her leadership journey. After a few of the speakers, Karen mentioned that she was really enjoying the topics, but shared that she was hoping to glean that “one thing” that would help her motivate her employees.

As we were talking about some of her recent experiences with her team, she shared with me the story of one of her team members who was not comfortable interacting with customers. Karen said, “I asked her to just say hello, how are you the first time. Then when she got comfortable with that, I asked her to say hello, how are you and where are you from?” Karen told me that over about a years time, she got this team member to come out of her shell and really make a difference with the customers.  Hearing this, I told her I thought she found the “one thing” without even knowing it.

She looked at me as if I had three eyes, but here is what I heard her say that made this situation successful:

  • She got to know the strengths and weaknesses of this team member.
  • She spent time experimenting with techniques getting this person to respond.
  • She provided constant guidance and encouragement.

Karen thought about this for a moment, and stated, “But I have over 200 employees, I don’t have time to do that for each one.”

Then THAT is the problem. Not that fact that you don’t know HOW to lead or motivate, but you don’t have the time to dedicate to each employee.  That is a much different problem to solve.

So the next time you venture out on your quest for the that one golden nugget, stop.  Dig a little deeper.  Ask yourself if you really know what it would take to be successful.  You probably do, and you are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.  Your job then is to figure out what is getting in the way of doing what it takes be successful, and remove those obstacles.  Of course that’s easier said than done, but it’s “one thing” you can do be a better leader.

Thanks for reading!

Why do people obey traffic lights?

This post is going out to my friend Matt Eckert from Holiday World who is recovering from a nasty traffic accident.  From my understanding this wasn’t caused by someone running a red light, but for not following other traffic laws.  Godspeed, Matt, for a quick recovery!


How often do you hear leaders and managers complaining about the fact their employees won’t follow the rules? How often do YOU complain about it? Well, it occurred to me the other day (while sitting at a stop light) that the vast majority of people obey traffic signals. Of course you know me… I wanted to know why, and how we could apply this to our businesses.

I came up with three main reasons why people would obey traffic signals:

  1. It’s a common practice. Call it peer pressure or whatever you want, but when the overwhelming majority of people are doing the same thing, others will follow. If you pull up to a red light and there are lines of stopped traffic to the left and right, you stop (unless you happen to be Ben Gates).
  2. There is a severe consequence to NOT obeying the signal. Personal injury and death top the list. On the other hand, what happens if the light turns green and you don’t accelerate fast enough for the people behind you? You get honked at!
  3. People crave some sort of structure. Knowing what to expect and being able to count on that makes people feel safe and secure. If you were to measure someone’s heart rate as they approach a 6-way intersection where the light isn’t working versus a 3-way stop on an open country road, there will be a difference. Heart rates quicken with uncertainty and anxiety sets in… aaaahhhh!

So, how do you apply this to your business? Glad you asked! Let’s look at those three points again:

  1. It’s a common practice. In order for this to occur in your business, you must have crystal clear expectations, and those must be communicated constantly and consistently. I know why I stop at a red light… do your employees know why they need to be to work on time?
  2. There are consequences (and rewards).  Take a look at what happens to your employees when they don;t follow your rules.  Is that consequence consistent?  Is it fairly distributed?  If there is one thing that employees can sniff out, it’s a policy that is not enforced at all or inconsistently.  We all know what happens then…
  3. They want structure. This sort of ties the first two points together. If you have clear expectations that are followed, and your standards are enforced consistently, then your employees will know what to expect from you and their workplace. Without some sort of structure, chaos prevails.

It’s never too early or too late to start working on these three points.  The longer you wait, however, the worse the traffic gets!

Thanks for reading!

The world’s largest support group

While I have no hard data or extensive research to back this up, I recently realized that if we DID do that math, we would probably see that people who hate their job (or like to complain about their job, their co-workers, the weather and traffic) has to be the largest support group ever!

Which could explain why so many people remain at jobs they don’t like, instead of taking action to find something better.  All of the complaining is actually supported, and encouraged, by fellow employees.  It makes it all okay and oddly comforting – so we stay.  As humans, we tend to stick with something (a job, relationship or task) until the pain of staying the same outgrows the pain of changing.

Let’s break that down.  Is there pain (real or perceived) to changing?  You bet.  There is pain, fear and all sorts of unknown nastiness that is associated with change.  It’s only when the pain, fear and nastiness of staying the same is WORSE than the pain, fear and nastiness of changing, that we take action.

If we go back to our story, think about a “case of the Monday’s”. (If you haven’t seen Office Space, run, do not walk to your nearest Red Box or Netflix and put in the order!)  A case of the “Monday’s” was the accepted tag line for “being down in the dumps because you are back to work after a glorious (or even not-so-glorious) weekend.  Back to the grind stone, crack the whip, fun’s over!”

The more people buy into this, the more they are supporting the behavior, saying it’s okay to complain about being at work… saying it’s okay to be unhappy, miserable, and downright frumpy.

And that’s the people who actually don’t like their job.

Then there are the people who LIKE their job, but want to be supported too, so they find something complain about.  How crazy does that sound?  Yet is happens everyday.  Happy people complaining because according to their corporate culture, that’s what gets attention!!!

Well I say phooey on that.

Unfortunately, simply saying phooey isn’t going to change your company’s culture or the people around you.  We have to change the support group.

You can start by making small changes in the things that YOU support.  When there is a glimmer of positivity, a ray of light for good – praise it, recognize it, make it known that that is what you support.  After a while people will likely either join your support group or stop complaining around you.  At least you’ll know that you’ve done your part.

If neither of those things happen, and you just can’t stand the negativeness anymore, then maybe it’s time to find a different place to hang your hat.

The pain of staying the same just got worse than the pain of changing.

Thanks for reading!

Act on instinct – or should we?

Here is another fascinating TED talk.  It honestly took me a little while to wrap my head around it, but the more I tried to explain the concept to others, the more it made sense to me. 

Don’t feel bad if you have to watch it twice like I did… it’s worth it!  Enjoy!

Think you know motivation?

A number of videos have surfaced recently that I really wanted to share – so I will!  The first one is from a guy named Dan Pink.  If you have 18 minutes, he’ll change your perception of motivation!  Enjoy!

You gotta have heart

If you’ve been following me on Facebook or Twitter, you know that I have just returned from Coaster Nerd Con 2010.  The title sounds fancier than it is… this was just me and some other amusement park/roller coaster enthusiasts heading out for a walk in the park – or parks – as it so happened. That’s Darren and Alan (with glasses) getting ready for a spin on the Tennessee Tornado at Dollywood.

Our original plan was to hit Kings Dominion, Dollywood and Holiday World.  None of us had been the last two, and KD had added a 305 foot tall menace called Intimidator 305.

If you hadn’t heard, at the last minute Busch Gardens Williamsburg was added, and at the last-last minute, Kings Island was added.  All in all we hit 5 parks in 7 days with many miles of driving in between – it was a BLAST!

As I looked back at the trip as a whole, I thought of the things that will stick out most in my memory.  Certainly the rides were great, but it was really the employees that made our visits special, and that is especially true of Busch Gardens, Dollywood and Holiday World.

When I was first planning this trip, a friend who works at Holiday World told me, “we may not have the biggest park or the scariest rides, but we make up for it with heart.”  Having spent a day in the “heart” of Holiday World, I would say he’s right.

So what did these parks do so well?  I think if I were to label the experience at all three parks it would come down to two words (or a word and a phrase): genuine and hassle-free.  Even with some moderate crowds, we were able to make our way through the parks with relative ease.  And in our interactions with employees, we felt like we were talking to real people.  People who were genuinely compelled to help us and improve our experience.

While all three companies are different, and are run differently, I would imagine there are some fundamental truths about their business model that makes them successful (and makes me want to write about them).

  1. They have values that they stick to. We were fortunate enough to speak to some great people from both Dollywood and Holiday World, and one thing was clear: they knew the company values and were serious about enforcing them.  It’s one thing to have a poster or handbook that states what your company stands for, it’s quite another to have them rigorously enforced.  One example is dress code at Holiday World – team members are required to wear plain white sneakers.  When asked what would happen if someone came in with sneakers that didn’t meet the dress code, the response was a very confident, “they wouldn’t”.  For some that might be hype, but based on everything else we heard and saw, it’s not hype here.  By the way, all employees we saw were wearing plain white sneakers.  We checked.
  2. They really put the guest experience first. At Dollywood, like many places around the country, it was HOT.  On the tram from the parking lot to the front gate, the driver told us that Dollywood would be giving out free water to make sure we stayed hydrated.  Sure enough, at the food stands they were filling up cups of ice water and placing them on the counter for guests to take just as fast as they could.  It was refreshing (in multiple ways) to just walk up to a stand and grab some water.  They also had fans everywhere!  For guests and employees alike!  Holiday World gives out water and soda as well, and have not only seen that money spent elsewhere, but have also seen a decrease in the number of EMS calls.
  3. They took away obstacles to service. At Busch Gardens, they have a system for avoiding long lines called Quick Queue.  To me, most of these programs are simply glorified line cutting, and many systems around the country leave a lot to be desired.  At Busch however, they have taken away one of the great dissatisfiers by not even allowing non-Quick Queue guests to enter the waiting area for the second row of a coaster train.  They’ve set a clear expectation and this way, there is no need for an employee to have to explain to other guests that they will have to wait longer because someone who paid a little more is getting “special treatment”.  That creates hostility among guests, which is usually taken out on the employees.

To get back to our title, I think you have to lead with your heart to make the kind of decisions these companies have made based on the needs of their employees and guests.  Like I said, we know that we rode some rides, but we’ll REMEMBER the experiences we had because the employees – employees who are successful because of the environment created by their leaders.

As a leader, what are YOU doing to take care of your employees and guests?

Thanks for reading!