NFL and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison recently sparked a lot of controversy when he publicly returned participation “trophies” that had been given to his two young sons. Mr. Harrison stated on Instagram that trophies should be earned, and not awarded for simply showing up.
I admit to having a number of conflicting thoughts regarding this issue and Mr. Harrison’s actions, including:
- IGNORE IT – this is just about kids and has nothing to do with management and/or providing care/services for aging adults.
- It’s easy for a “jock” to take that attitude. He was probably always a “star” at every level from Pee Wee Football through college and into the pros. HE was one of the guys who always got the glory → trophies, awards and recognition. He has never had to “walk a mile” in the shoes of a bench-warmer who maybe tried just as hard (or harder) but wasn’t blessed with the God given talents of the trophy winners.
- On the other hand, as one of those with lesser physical skills, I can’t recall ever resenting the fact that some of my teammates received prestigious awards. In fact, I was proud when they received scholarships to major colleges.
- I do agree with Mr. Harrison that our society is gravitating towards too much “entitlement” instead of earning “it” the old-fashioned way by working hard. To that extent, I applaud his parental stance.
- I have always been more driven by TEAM awards than individual accomplishments. With this focus, there is a place for recognition of the players who show up for every practice and make silent contributions to the TEAM’s success. If you doubt this, watch the movie “Rudy”.
This carries over into my CORPORATE LEADERSHIP philosophies in which I place the greatest emphasis on TEAM (i.e. Corporate, Region …) achievements.
- Maybe the focus should be on the method – or in this case the use of a TROPHY – instead of the concept of rewarding participation. Maybe trophies should be reserved for accomplishments while other means are used to recognize participation?
- Haven’t we always had some form of participation rewards? Wasn’t the letterman’s sweater or jacket always a recognition of some level of participation?
- Just having the chance to put on the team uniform – wear the colors – always gave me a sense of pride AND recognition amongst school classmates and the community. Are we just over-doing it?
- That said, I believe there is still room for individual awards that recognize – when appropriate – unusual contributions such as “Best Teammate”, “Hardest Worker” and maybe even “100% Attendance”. It’s easy when you are the STAR to show up for practice every day and get most of the attention. It takes a special person (again I refer you to the movies “Rudy” or “Invincible”) to show up every day just because you love the game and want to participate. Any coach who doesn’t recognize the value of these participants, isn’t a very good Coach.
Then, I decided to take this a step further and question whether these same issues should be concerns in my professional life and senior living leadership approach. After all, one Company President anointed me as the “Master of Employee Recognition”.
I earned this title by being a little “wild & crazy” when the President attended our 100% occupancy celebration after we set the company record with a 71-day fill-up for a new building. Consistent with my TEAM philosophy, my entire region attended and then participated in a regional meeting the following day. To start the meeting, I arranged for the President to stand at the front of the room and then had my “starting team” march in as I announced them individually and bragged about their highlights and positive accomplishments while they shook the President’s hand. This process gave each manager recognition amongst their peers as well as an unparalleled introduction to upper management of the Company.
Some might dismiss this as “hokey” and I would probably agree if it was attempted out-of-character to the normal management style. It worked for me – and provided a lot of EGO satisfaction for my managers – because I had spent several years in building a regional TEAM and implementing my unique coaching management style.
One of my responsibilities as a COACH was to promote the capabilities of my TEAM members. By doing this – and letting the TEAM know that I’m doing it – I minimized the frequent disruptive competitiveness that occurs when the individuals feel the need to fight for the attention of senior management. Because some people are naturally more aggressive in self-promotion than others, a natural friction develops. Conversely, my TEAM emphasis and public recognition of each person’s traits made the “pre-game introductions” seem like a natural process.
I should also point out that every one of the managers in the region – plus regional support staff – was introduced so this was an example of an informal participation award – BUT without a trophy!
On the other hand, I did recognize the superior performance of the crew that set the fill-up record. The Company gave a substantial financial reward, but I chose “wacky” awards instead of trophies. For our lead salesman, I presented a customized Louisville Slugger baseball bat inscribed with “Slugger Bob” to recognize his ability to hit home runs with his closing rates. [This was also something he could take to his next new community assignment.] The local managers chose a “Gone with the Wind” theme for the 100% celebration in suburban Atlanta. To recognize the achievement of our female managers and sales team, I ordered Vermont Teddy Bears custom-dressed as Scarlett O’Hara.
Probably the closest we get to the Harrison situation in Senior Living is periodic Occupancy Contests where targets are set and recognition and rewards granted as incentive for achievement. Frequently, this includes financial rewards but tends to cause dissension for those who improve but don’t make their goal and/or fall behind early in the process and then lose all motivation. So, do we reward participation or only superior achievement?
I faced this situation with a not-for-profit whose culture didn’t support performance bonuses (except for limited commissions paid to the sales staff). I took over a number of occupancy-challenged buildings with census as low as 50% for the past five years.
Obviously, setting targets at acceptable levels (even 85% or higher) wasn’t going to work. In fact, the staff was so beat-down by not meeting company expectations, it was questionable if any target could be motivational.
I recognized that I would first have to build some self-confidence and get the local management and sales staff to think outside of the narrow box they had built for themselves. I also decided that I had to “reward participation” because ANY MOVE-IN was a positive step forward.
In this situation, I devised the “+1” Occupancy Challenge and constructed a high-energy training program to kick-off the program. I stimulated teamwork within each community by including the Chef and Activities Coordinator with the Executive Director and Sales & Marketing Staff. I challenged each community to add just one net move-in (i.e. +1 move-in over any move-outs) each week and asked the other departments to add 1 additional feature (e.g. new activity program or special dessert) to improve the resident experience and marketability of the community.
I also introduced the concept of “Participation Bucks” where trainees were awarded for their participation in the training session. At the end of the session, they had the opportunity to convert their “Bucks” into prizes for their facility.
The communities then earned “funny money” over the next quarter for each “+1” weekly goal attained with bonus “Bucks” for exceeding the target. There were additional awards for achieving cumulative goals. Even if a building missed their goal for one week, they would still earn an award whenever they increased the census by 1 over the prior week.
I had “Big Boards” printed for each community with their “+1” weekly targets. These charts were updated weekly with the actual performance and then prominently displayed in the Executive Director’s office and during their daily department head meetings.
I also maintained a chart for the group as a whole and shared the results with the region during a weekly conference call I initiated. We applauded and celebrated every community’s “+1” success on these calls while treating challenges the others faced as learning opportunities.
This was a highly successful program that generated turnarounds in a short period of time. The most outstanding performance was at a 154 unit independent living property that had hovered around the 50% mark for over 5 years. As shown by this chart, the “+1” Challenge concept drove a 33% improvement in 6 months of concentrated “brick-by-brick” progress. The key was in getting the first positive step and then building on it.
At the next regional meeting, I obtained a number of items that would not normally be purchased by the communities, but would be beneficial in the on-going operations and marketing of the communities. This also gave me an easy way to introduce certain new concepts, activity programs, etc. to the communities. Each building was allowed to bid in an auction based upon their accumulated “Bucks” with the strongest performers having the best chance of securing their desired prize(s). BUT, everyone was allowed to “win” something!
I believe these were far more meaningful awards with long-lasting benefits than trophies. They did reward participation but also recognized superior performance.
DO THESE IDEAS INTRIGUE YOU? WOULD YOU LIKE TO LEARN HOW we utilize a “PAY FOR PARTICIPATION” concept as a key tenet of the Progressive Retirement Lifestyles program for residents?
PLEASE LEAVE YOUR COMMENT IF YOU WOULD LIKE FOR ME TO WRITE MORE ABOUT RECOGNITION AND REWARDS and/or CALL ME at 615-414-5217 for an in-person conversation about how these concepts might be applied to your organization. You may also schedule a time for a discussion via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.