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Recognition Can Bolster Quality Efforts

August 1, 1993
Related Topics: Total Quality Management, Recognition, Featured Article
The quality-improvement process at Appleton Papers in West Carrollton, Ohio, began in 1988. Three years into the process, the effort had created no discernible improvements in customer satisfaction, morale, safety records or profitability.

"Quality had become more of a program than a process," explains Wayne Reveal, the organization's manager of organizational services. Why? "Because there was an obvious lack of recognition of employee behavior."

Among other things, Reveal says, quality is an attempt to create or change behavior sets, yet Appleton workers who performed good work went unrecognized, and employees who performed poorly escaped disciplinary action.

In an attempt to reshape and reinforce its quality effort, Appleton implemented a comprehensive worker-recognition process in 1991. Today, each line manager receives a recognition budget from which he or she can buy gifts to reward employees for good behaviors.

The company's basic rule is that recognition gifts must be personal in nature and something that the employees wouldn't buy for themselves. The organization encourages managers to use the gifts as surprise rewards for good work, as well as incentives for special achievement.

Recently, for example, a department manager wanted to offer an incentive for several of the employees on his crew to acquire their GEDs. Thinking about other important aspects of high school, he realized that he couldn't offer them the opportunity to attend the senior proms they had missed, nor could he give them an actual high-school diploma. What he could do—and did—was to give each worker who completed his or her GED successfully a class ring from the high school from which the person would have graduated.

There are no guidelines attached to the recognition process. Appleton simply encourages employees to recognize others when and where it's appropriate.

"This isn't a one-size-fits-all program," Reveal says. Instead, the company encourages managers to think about what the individual being recognized would value most. Some employees favor public recognition, for example, whereas others find such accolades embarrassing.

Managers aren't the only ones charged with the responsibility for recognizing good deeds. All employees are encouraged to give quality thank-you notes to co-workers, supervisors and subordinates in recognition of good work. Furthermore, the organization's CEO recognizes individual and team achievement on an annual basis with lucrative, high-profile recognition items. "Employees used to think that recognition was only the job of HR," Reveal says. "Now they realize that it's everyone's job."

In addition to recognizing good deeds, Appleton's managers must take the time to deal with inappropriate behavior as well. "We can't just reinforce positive behavior without also letting the employees know what negative behavior looks like," Reveal explains. This kind of response can range from brief verbal warnings to initiation of the progressive discipline process.

Before implementing the new recognition system, Appleton trained its managers in how both to give and to receive recognition effectively. "We didn't want an employee to recognize his or her manager for a job well done and have that manager shrug off the compliment," Reveal says. "We had to make sure that managers knew how to receive recognition gracefully as a way to reinforce the importance of it."

Is the company's quality effort more successful now because of its recognition process? Yes, according to Reveal.

Appleton has moved from an unfavorable to a favorable financial position, 75% less time is lost due to on-the-job accidents, and, though it's hard to measure, morale has improved. As Reveal says, "Let's just say it feels better around here."

Personnel Journal, August 1993, Vol. 72, No.8, p. 48L.

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