Bruce Woolpert, president and CEO of paving and construction company Graniterock, has learned about employee achievements by riding in a bus on a new runway at San Francisco International Airport, visiting a city park and standing on a closed highway lane where his crews worked.
All of these field trips have been for his company’s Recognition Days, which allow Graniterock’s 750 employees to talk about their work, their teams and their individual accomplishments during the past year. It’s part of the Watsonville, California, company’s strategy to foster self-leadership and encourage innovation.
"We want to make sure the company recognizes and knows where the credit goes," Woolpert says. "In the absence of that, most people think the manager took the credit."
Each of the company’s 18 locations plans its own Recognition Day. The details vary, but the format remains the same: Employees boast to senior management and peers about what they have accomplished, and then everyone dines together on site.
Last year employees highlighted 4,000 improvements that they had made, up from 76 when the company introduced Recognition Days more than a decade ago. As employees come up with better ways to handle payroll, clean equipment and perform their jobs, about one-third of every process changes annually, Woolpert says.
Employees talk about innovations ranging from developing a cleaning mixture that removes concrete splatters from trucks without damaging the finish to reorganizing inventory so that the products clients often buy are near one another, not in separate warehouses.
These accomplishments usually are linked to one of nine corporate priorities: safety, financial performance, community contribution, customer service, profit, efficiency, quality assurance, management and people.
"It gives employees an opportunity to tell the group what they’ve been working on and what they’re proud of rather than a manager having to point it out," says management consultant Cindy Ventrice, author of Make Their Day! Employee Recognition That Works. "It becomes very clear what’s important to them when they get to do that."
It also helps ensure that credit goes where credit is due, says marketing services manager Keith Severson. "One of the biggest disappointments in people’s careers is feeling someone else got credit for their ideas," Severson says. "This is a mechanism for us not to have that happen."
Open to all employees, the events draw anywhere from 25 to 100 guests. Audiences typically include Woolpert, his executive committee and new hires, who are required to attend one recognition day within their first four years. Presentations range from show-and-tell tours to slide displays.
Recognition Days fit into the company’s workforce philosophy of fostering personal growth and professional achievement as forms of employee development, says Shirley Ow, vice president of human resources.
"They’re being challenged to do things that are out of the ordinary for their jobs," she says.
Frontline hourly workers gain experience in public speaking, for example. And guests from other facilities learn more about the company.
"If nothing else, they get a chance to visit another facility and learn more about the Graniterock operation," Ow says.
But Recognition Days aren’t the only time that the 105-year-old company praises and rewards its employees.
Tuesday Facts, a weekly newsletter, highlights the events and features special efforts by employees in "Yes We Will," a column that takes it name from the company’s customer-service motto.
Rock Talk, a glossy magazine mailed quarterly to employees’ homes, includes photographs of all new employees.
All employees also are eligible for what’s known as incentive recognition awards, bonuses that range from a couple hundred to a thousand dollars as a reward for specific above-and-beyond achievements. The cash award comes with a personal letter from Graniterock’s president.
It’s for "the individual who put his neck on the line" and demonstrates self-leadership, Woolpert says. "The only way for a company to be truly competitive is for everybody to be doing improvements around their work."
Supervisors also use what Ow calls "spontaneous" employee recognition. For example, departments have provided sandwiches to crews in the field working especially hard on massive concrete-pouring jobs as a way of thanking them for their hard work on the project.
The company’s commitment to its employees hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Graniterock is one of 37 companies chosen in 1998 for Fortune magazine’s inaugural ranking of the "100 Best Companies to Work for in America" that remains on the publication’s list today. The Society for Human Resource Management in June also named Graniterock as one of the top 25 medium-size companies to work for in America.
"I think in this company," Ow says, "it would be difficult for people to say, ‘I don’t get recognized.’ "
Workforce Management, October 10, 2005, pp. 46-50 --Subscribe Now!