Rewarding Manufacturing Plant Employee Performance – Part 1

So…just how do you go about recognizing good performance among factory employees? You know you should do it, you know you need to do it, so why are we so bad as manufacturing leaders in doing it well?

Virtually all companies go to some effort to give a bonus, however small, to the troops at Christmas time. These are corporate devices and the only thing you have to do to get your turkey or gift certificate is to be an employee. This is not a celebration of victory (unless you are celebrating simply staying in business for another year). It is a bonus.

Now that’s cool. Really. We believe that the holiday season is a perfect time for passing out bonuses to everyone. Most people appreciate the bonus, even you, but it doesn’t come from you. It comes from your handy-dandy corporate office and your only involvement is to have your personnel guy distribute the envelopes. Not really what you would call coming from the heart or a great way to engage with the folks that really do all the work. No, we are talking about celebrating achievement by individuals, teams, and the entire plant. These achievements can happen any day of the year, not just at the holidays.

Before we delve into ways to successfully reward employee performance, let’s first cover off the bad ways to recognize achievement. Sadly, these are all too common.

How NOT to Recognize Employee Achievements

We’ve have seen plenty of bad ways for factory management to celebrate good performance. Here are just a few:

Employee of the Month:  So, you have a factory with say, 200 hourly employees and 25 salaried, non-exempt folks, and you have one “Employee of the Month”? Aarrgghhh! You might as well pass out 224 notes that say “you suck!” Recognizing one employee benefits one person. In effect, you are saying that 224 people made no contribution to your factory. You know that isn’t true unless you have a really bad culture.

One Month of Preferred Parking: See Employee of the Month. We have seen the Employee of the Month parking space perpetually vacant after it became known as the “my car gets keyed” parking space.

Committee Awards: We inflicted this one upon ourselves. We had what we thought was a great idea. It was decided to have people nominate outstanding employees from the plant floor and have a committee determine the winners, and we avoided the Employee of the Month problem with multiple awards. The committee consisted of the plant manager, assistant plant manager, maintenance manager, a supervisor or two, and the plant personnel manager. There were cool prizes, and we started off very pleased with ourselves. The whole thing lasted about three months and crashed with a resounding thud. There weren’t many nominations, and it seemed that the few we had were the same, three people every month. The committee meetings were also painfully long and involved. We remembered one key principle to recognizing people: don’t make them determine who should be recognized. Do it yourself, and leave the committees for something else.

The Catalog: These awards, unfortunately, are very popular in the corporate world. At least they are popular with some managers because they don’t have to do anything — a catalog company does all the work. That is also some catalogue company that never met a single employee who works with you. Most commonly, the catalogue awards are used to recognize length of service. You have a catalogue with clocks, money clips, watches, and other impersonal “gifts,” and the employee gets to pick out what they want – the longer the service, the bigger the gift. Maybe somebody out there wants a catalogue company to mail an employee (some weeks later) a mantle clock for thirty years of service. Us? We would prefer to hand the employee an engraved watch as the rest of the plant looks on. Be personal, be real.

Any reward or recognition that removes you, the manager, from the process is bad. Yes, you are busy. But is there anything more important than your people? We think not. We hope you aren’t, but you might be asking right now, “Why do I need to recognize and reward people?” If you are new to management, we will forgive you the question and provide you an answer. It’s about motivation. Motivated people are odds on to excel. They contribute to the bottom line over and above their salary. They are happy and are a joy to lead. Motivated people also make your life easier, so let’s go motivate ‘em.

Hold on there just a minute, cowboy, you can’t do it. Huh? You say, “What about all those books about motivating people I’ve been reading?” We say – throw those books away. YOU cannot motivate people. People can motivate only themselves. Your job, Mr. Manager, is to build a culture in which people are more likely to be self-motivated.

“All motivation is self-motivation. Your family, your boss, or your co-workers can try to get your engine going, but until you decide what to accomplish, nothing will happen.” ~ Seth Godin

So while you can’t motivate people, you surely as a manager can de-motivate them. Celebrating victories large and small is part of the culture which encourages self-motivation. Not celebrating them (or doing it badly) will de-motivate your people. You can count on it.

Stay tuned for Part 2. We’ll get to the right way to recognize good performance.

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