CAA SCO aligns recognition and culture with upgraded recognition program (National HR Awards)

Winner, Best Recognition Program
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/21/2016

By Sarah Dobson

CAA South Central Ontario has seen impressive gains — with decreased costs and increased recognition — through the launch of an online recognition program, which is why the Canadian Automobile Association organization was given the Best Recognition Program Award.

The company offers a wide range of recognition programs, and with good reason — it is determined to reinforce a philosophy of pay for performance and support a culture of shared success.

The reward programs are meant to recognize the achievement and performance of employees and to value and support the success of fellow employees. CAA SCO works to create a workplace culture that is collaborative and cohesive so people achieve common goals.

“If you’re collaborative, you’re empowered to come up with the right solutions and provide the best service to our membership and to each other — it’s very important to me that we also treat each other internally as customers. So the recognition actually helps with that… and it is built off of our values and so those are the things we try to reward and recognize and, ultimately, that’s driving the culture,” says Mary Duncan, vice-president of human resources at CAA SCO in Thornhill, Ont.

Rewards and recognition are given in response to a combination of performance and behaviour, and are earned as opposed to simply being given. So workers are encouraged to innovate, collaborate and build on their strengths and skill sets.

“Behaviours are important because they drive the desired results we want and align very well with the CAA brand,” says Duncan. “The brand is an older brand, it’s a trusted brand, it’s well-recognized and we want to make sure that the associates align with that and are proud to be here and drive results to those behaviours.”

Recognition and reward are not just about a top line or bottom line, says Mara Notarfonzo, director of HR operations and total rewards at CAA SCO.

“It’s not necessarily just about revenue or expenses, it’s all the other little things that our associates do that go above and beyond. Everything is linked to these particular values.”

Through Applause, an online, mobile-friendly, points-based program, employees can recognize and reward each other and leaders can recognize direct reports. And the recognition is directly tied to macro-level business objectives. For example, employees give each other awards in four categories tied to CAA SCO’s desired culture and organizational philosophy: leading by example, being innovative, being collaborative and being care-driven. 

Before the launch, roughly $400,000 was spent annually on various ad hoc recognition programs — none of which were tied to business objectives or performance. The programs also had little consistency and typically did not recognize individual performance at all. And in 2014, only 444 recognition cards were sent out.

But with the new program, the company saw costs fall to about $250,000 (ROI of 38.82 per cent) with a budget of $12 per employee per month, while there was a concurrent increase (1,331 per cent) in usage of 6,355 awards being sent out.

“We used to give out approximately 400 recognition thank you cards in 2014 online and then in 2015, when we introduced this program, we went to 6,400, so it was just an opportunity to really engrain the purpose of recognition, the value,” says Duncan.

Employees not only receive an online thank you but dollars they can accumulate to purchase an item of value, she says.

“It’s allowing individuals to independently decide what they want for recognition as well, because that’s always been our struggle with past programs: What I might want in recognition, a thank you card might be enough; somebody else might say, ‘Well, I did all that work and that’s all I get is a thank you card?’ So this program allows more.”

And the number of award-givers throughout the organization has increased by 26 per cent. Eighty per cent of managers have given an employee an Applause award, while 100 per cent of senior management have done so. And employees who reach a years-of-service milestone receive awards directly from the CEO.

For leaders, the program is very easy to use as it sends out reminders about important employee milestones, says Duncan.

“I don’t have to ask for listings from payroll to find out when the next anniversary is, I’m notified immediately,” she says. “Because it’s automated, you don’t have to rely on somebody, which is huge.”

To ensure leadership buy-in for the big launch, CAA SCO held regular meetings with all levels of management to restate the program’s objectives, confirm alignment with business objectives and share key findings from past reward and recognition surveys.

Meetings were supplemented with “culture shift” initiatives to assure leadership support, build greater awareness about the role recognition plays in motivating performance and behaviour, while also discouraging entitlement and encouraging peer-to-peer recognition.

To promote the implementation of the new program, a launch event was held to kick off employee appreciation week. Employees were asked to complete the sentence “I feel appreciated when…” on paper “leaves” that were put up on a tree display in the lobby. An online version allowed workers to post the same phrase on a message board on the intranet. And with the launch, all employees received points and a message from vice-presidents describing their support and excitement for the program.

But the Applause program is not the only kind of recognition at CAA SCO. The club also offers a “Shared Success” corporate bonus plan that rewards employees according to performance, with both personal and corporate goals. 

There are also long-term service awards and after 25 years of service, a special dinner with senior leadership is awarded to the recipient.

There’s also a President’s Award for those who consistently exhibit high levels of performance excellence. Recipients receive a large number of Applause points. 

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