Afexa puts employees up on podium

Cold-FX maker launches first formal recognition program to coincide with sponsorship of 2010 Winter Games and HR push to be more strategic
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/05/2009

When the company behind Cold-FX signed on as the official supplier in the category of cold and flu remedies for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, it had more than just athletes in mind. Afexa Life Sciences realized its involvement in the historic event — which includes sponsorship of six athletes and supplies for seven Canadian sports centres along with athletes, coaches, volunteers and staff —was also a great opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of employees, too.

Despite being a company that saw its revenues leap from $1.5 million in 2003 to $42 million in 2006, the “Go for Gold” initiative is the first formal recognition plan at Afexa. So as part of a 24-month push by the company to make HR more strategic in all the different functional areas — compensation, benefits, training and development, recruitment — the Edmonton-based organization decided to launch a major recognition program based on the competitive spirit of the Olympic games.

“It’s part of a bigger plan to develop other programs,” says Debra Wilson, senior director of HR and administration at Afexa. “You don’t need a lot of big-ticket items on a monthly basis to motivate people — it’s generally about the event itself.”

The program launched in March 2009 featuring two levels: monthly Olympic events and ongoing individual nominations that will run until February 2010. To start, several committees responsible for things such as communication and employee programs were set up. The activities have been brainstormed on a monthly basis among employees who have volunteered.

Employee-designed

The whole program was entirely designed by employees, with no external resources, says Wilson, and the only suggestion from the executive level was senior management should not be recognized in the program (though of course they would support the initiative).

The events have been held on the last Wednesday of each month, with team or individual activities. Details of the event are only released to employees a week before, “to create that anticipation,” says Wilson. The activities have included a departmental business-card tower-building contest, relay races with potato sacks, tricycles, hopscotch and water balloons, an Amazing Race-style scavenger hunt, along with online quizzes. Prizes included Afexa-branded gear (such as insulated lunch bags, T-shirts and travel mugs) and gift cards for restaurants and grocery stores. All the prizes were chosen to support the theme of active lifestyles and healthy living.

On the individual side, the nomination program is intended to recognize employees who demonstrate athletic-like qualities such as teamwork, hard work, a positive attitude and commitment. Co-workers nominate each other based on that criteria.

“The results to date have been overwhelmingly successful,” says Wilson. “In the almost six months the program’s been running, we’ve had 588 individual nominations and that’s with an employee base of 100.”

Bronze, silver and gold levels

Everything is tied to the Olympics so there are three levels — bronze, silver and gold. If a worker receives one to three nominations, he reaches the bronze level and receives a Cold-FX-sponsored Olympic pin, a bronze lanyard and the chance to win a grand prize of one vacation day. For the silver level, after an employee receives four to six nominations, the reward is a Cold-FX Olympic pin, a silver lanyard and the chance to win two vacation days. And the gold level, for employees with seven or more nominations, includes a “coveted” Olympic pin with a moveable hockey player, a gold lanyard and the chance to win one ounce of gold. At each level, employees also receive copies of their nominations.

Every Go for Gold nomination was also entered into a contest for a chance to carry the Olympic flame as a torchbearer. The more nominations received, the better the chances of winning. And before the draw, 10 finalists were randomly selected to have a last chance to earn additional nominations from their peers.

More than 700 emails flooded a dedicated email box in an American Idol-style voting rush, says Wilson. Some of the people also embraced the concept by dressing up in Olympic gear to entice more votes. In the end, two employees were selected in July to carry the torch in Ottawa and Edmonton.

Another milestone in the program will be the opportunity to attend the games in 2010, with Afexa providing accommodation, airfare and tickets to three events, with a draw in December.

The Go for Gold program will run until February’s big event in Vancouver and will include a closing ceremony at Afexa, which will feature a wrap-up of the program, with videos and grand prizes given out for the bronze, silver and gold winners.

Maximum participation a goal

The most common way to communicate the program has been emails, though posters and presentations have also been used. For example, a video clip was shown at a management meeting to recap the progress.

The only real challenge throughout the process has been the company’s different offices in Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto, says Wilson. HR tried as much as possible to include all employees to get maximum participation. If only two or three people were interested in a particular event, it wasn’t held, but whenever possible, something was done, such as employees sending in pictures of their business-card tower with measurements, she says.

In the end, the program has been successful because it is really aligned to the business, says Wilson, and it received tremendous support and commitment from senior management. The program has also been very easy to use, making participation simple, and relatively low cost, she says.

“And also, it demonstrates to employees how committed we are to employee engagement,” says Wilson.

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