Thursday, March 26, 2015

Give Recognition to Get Excellence

When I was a dean of academic affairs at Lansing Community College (MI), we began every yearwith what I thought was a kind of hokey ceremony at the time.  I was a cynical liberal artist at the time grieving for my administrative art and montage of post-pre-avant garde modern - traditional learning symbologies (whatever they are.)

The college president Phil Gannon used to start the year with an ingathering of all employees. The usual parade of administrators started it all with our plans for the year and introductions of department chairs who introduced new faculty or staff. Yes, there was a time when colleges actually hired new faculty and staff.  Then he and Ron Dove, the Director of HR would hand out service pins to people.

This is what I thought was a bit hokey. To think that a service pin for five years of service would mean anything?  I mean if you want to make people feel appreciated give them more money. Boy was I wrong. If they had handed out checks the response would have been much more subdued.

They would call out that they were giving out pins for twenty-five years of service. Then they would call out the one or two people who made it to twenty-five years. The recipients would walk down through the auditorium to the applause of all the people there and receive a pin with a small diamond chip in it and a framed certificate. They would wait for all the recipients to be called to get their pin and framed certificate beaming as if they were Sally Fields and had won the Academy Award. “You like me. You really like me!”  Then they would be introduced as recipients of twenty-five year pins and everyone would clap, and whistle and stomp approval as they basked in their peer’s recognition.

This went on through twenty years, fifteen years, ten and five. The enthusiasm from the audience was retained all throughout what I now recognize as the pinning ceremony for employee engagement with the school. And to be able to recognize that the ceremony was the one thing between everyone and lunch yet no one made a move to the door during all the pinnings attests to how important this recognition was at the college.

Years later I was a president of a school that felt beaten down upon. The demands made on everyone were enormous and never seemed to be enough. Meet one goal and an even higher one was given to you. People just did not seem to be able to please corporate. This was a career college. Oh by the way, I have worked in every type of school there us so my experience and suggestions are an amalgamation of experiences and suggestions I make will apply to whatever type of school you, dear reader, are working in.

The people at the school did receive bonuses, cash rewards for meeting some set goals but the money never seemed good enough. Money just paid bills not the sense of value after all. Besides it was earned by meeting goals.

I decided to bring in recognition of service pins among other ways to build morale and recognize people. It took a while to design and choose just the right pins but it was well worth the effort.  We did not announce the ceremony when we had our monthly “Knowledge of the College” (another communication and engagement tool I highly recommend. It is like a convocation but monthly and brings people up to date and into what is happening at the school.) on Thursday afternoon.

Then Mel Lyons (HR Director) and I called one person forward and announced the first ever twenty-five year pin. The faculty member was overwhelmed by the recognition. She had thought no one cared and even knew of her contributions to the school. It didn’t hurt that she had recently been having some issues with a new dean of academic affairs who didn’t seem to care about the faculty member’s long contribution.

We could have shut off the lights and read from the beam of happiness the faculty member was giving off. Her bright joy would be repeated by everyone else we recognized that day and every year following. The people loved those recognition pins and were overjoyed when someone saw the school crest and a jewel on a pin and inquired about it. They really enjoyed saying how they had served the college for X number of years and we had recognized their service in a way that they could show off every day. And some did wear that pin every single day.

What I first thought was kind of hokey just may have been but it was also very meaningful to so many. It was also a very powerful way to show our appreciation and regain many more years of engagement in the school, and its students. Though they were not ever directly studied, I do believe they had a role to play in the college’s 14% increase in enrollment that year.

So, honoring employees in a way that was meaningful to them led to a major re-engagement in the school and students. I cannot recommend the recognition pins more highly. If your school is not doing a recognition ceremony yet, start one thus year and see even stronger engagement occur. Need any help with the pins or ceremony, just contact us. Be glad to help.
Buy a copy of The Power of Recognition or 
From Admissions to Graduation and get a copy of
Customer Service Factors and the Cost of Attrition
through May 1, 2015 

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