Plenty of ways to say ‘thanks’

How some of Canada’s Top 100 Employers recognize staff

Recognition programs are about holding up an individual or a team as an example for others.

Nowhere is that more evident than at Montreal-based Laurentide Controls, where one particular employee has been honoured year after year — long after he was gone.

He wasn’t the company founder, nor CEO, nor a vice-president in any capacity. Gérald Pelletier was a salesman who worked there more than 10 years ago and who died of cancer.

“He had been an inspiration for many people for his commitment not only to his customers but also to his work-life balance,” says Dyanne Nelson, manager of customer service and recruiter at this process controls company that employs 130 people in eastern Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.

“He left a mark on people, even those of us who didn’t know him. He had a big impact. He was a smiling hard worker who took care of his family who, unfortunately, was hit way too young.”

And so every year someone from the company receives an award in his name. Last year, that person was Guy Nollet, someone who is passionate about the work he does in vibration analysis and predictive maintenance, says Nelson. He’s a devout father and a Scout leader, as well as head of a busy department who always seems to find the time to teach others about his work.

The Gérald Pelletier award is one of six categories for which employees can nominate a colleague. People can nominate someone for being the best service technician, the best salesperson, the best rookie, the person with the best sales story and the person who’s considered the strongest pillar in the company. The company publicizes the five top nominees in each category and everyone gets to vote on who walks away with the award at the yearly gala.

At Laurentide Controls, the stories behind the nominations mean far more than the prizes themselves. So whether individuals get an award or not, the comments from their nominations all go up on a wall.

“People can see what others have said about them — which is humbling — and see what others say about other people. Even in a company our size, a lot of people are on the road so they don’t have time to get to know everyone,” says Nelson.

Like Laurentide Controls, most companies on the list of Canada’s Top 100 Employers for 2008 have recognition programs of one form or another, says Richard Yerema, editor of the annual ranking, which is published by MediaCorp Canada. Given the diversity of organizations represented on the list, it’s no surprise there would be a great variety of recognition programs found at these workplaces.

The programs range from “wild and crazy” — where everybody gets flown on a chartered plane to Mexico for a weekend to celebrate surpassing targets, for example — to quiet and conservative, such as in public-sector workplaces that have to be conscious of what the auditor general might think, he says.

But there are the exceptions — the workplaces that have no recognition programs at all. Next Level Games in Vancouver is one such place, and by intention. That’s because in the computer game industry, too many workplaces are focused on star performers, says general manager Edouardo De Martin.

“We wanted to create an environment out of a backlash of that hero model, where ‘That guy’s the best game designer. He’ll design our games.’ People burn out in that model. They don’t share knowledge in that model. There’s a lot of animosity and a lot of egos in that model,” says De Martin.

To move away from rewarding individuals, Next Level Games celebrates team achievements. The company also celebrates success by giving employees equity shares. On an individual level, people would spontaneously thank someone for putting in extra effort or for being helpful, but there’s no company program structured for that, so these moments of thanks and recognition really come from the heart, says De Martin.

I Love Rewards, a Toronto-based recognition firm that’s also on the Top 100 list, takes a near opposite approach, giving employees points every time they exhibit commendable behaviour. There are points for bringing in a sales lead, points for getting the company good press and points for introducing a job candidate to the company. And there are points co-workers can give each other for displaying any of the company’s core values — passion, transparency, integrity, exceeding expectation, continuous improvement and sharing.

“Yesterday, Christine the marketing associate needed someone to review a document,” says Amy Cole, a public relations associate. “I reviewed it and she gave me points for taking the time out of my day to do it.”

Because the company wants the recognition to be immediate, there’s no approval process, no need for a manager or for HR to sign off on the awards. So far, no one’s abused the system, says Cole.

The points cumulate and can be redeemed for merchandise or events offered through the company’s online product catalogue. Cole likes to spend her points at a restaurant where she celebrates her achievement with her family over a nice meal. Others save up for an iPod, a Nintendo Wii gaming console or a trip to Europe.

And once a year, a group of about five employees who really stand out gets named to the President’s Club. Rob Catalano, a sales employee who saw an opportunity to jump in and practically started the marketing department from the ground up, found himself in that club last year. The reward was an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas with the company president. They wined and dined, took in a Cirque du Soleil show and, in the spirit of learning from someone who made it, hung out at the mansion of Scott Fritz, founder of the Michigan firm Human Capital.

“It was one of the most beautiful mansions I’ve ever seen,” says Catalano. “And it was great to sit down with Scott Fritz, to talk about business philosophy with someone who started a company by himself and built it through hard work. It was a chance to have a good look at how one person could become successful.”

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