February 9, 2009

recognition events

Last year, I was honored with a service award by my employer and invited to a four-day recognition event across the country. I was allowed to bring a guest. Fortunately for her, my wife was able to accompany me by making the winning bid (it was "you get to keep your imponderables intact") .

I won't lie: It was a hell of a lot of fun, and most of it felt like a vacation, not a business meeting. But also much of it was business.

I work in an industry that is essentially service. It's a knowledge industry where the workforce is the competitive advantage. It's not competing on manufacturing quality or technology advantage or flavor or cool design or distribution efficiency. At its core, our success depends on the employees doing a better job of helping customers.

If you compete on technology, you invest in technology. If you compete on flavor, you invest in flavor. If you compete on efficiency, you invest in efficiency. If you compete on customer service, you invest in employees.

The recognition event I attended was not a vacation for top executives or crooked sales people who made their numbers by bilking little old ladies out of their life savings. Mostly I met administrative assistants. Computer programmers. Back-office staff. Mail clerks. Phone support representatives. Bookkeepers. Project managers. All of them received top performance ratings and awards from their peers in the company, which allowed us to be invited to this special event.

When it was over, the only thing I wanted to do in the next 359 days was work my hardest to win another award and another invitation to the next year's recognition event. The event had worked its magic on me--and on every one of the other people I met there. All of us, already top performers, wanted to go back and improve on our solid achievements. When I returned to the office, people asked me how it was. I could tell they were hoping to get invited next year, too, and they were redoubling their efforts to outperform me. A healthy competition.

Shortly after that, my group was reorganized into an area that was no longer eligible to attend that particular event. Although I was disappointed I wouldn't be eligible, I actually had hoped that my coworkers would have the chance to attend because (a) they deserved it as much as I did and (b) I wanted them to feel the same pride and reward I felt coming out of the event. The 2009 event was recently canceled, and I feel a deep sadness that the people who deserve to go will be denied that opportunity despite the company having a strong enough year to acquire a major competitor and post an annual profit.

The people hurt by canceling these events are not the executives. The people hurt are the people most deserving of the recognition. The bookkeepers, the administrative assistants, the computer programmers, the project managers. The people who work hard to support their families and to help customers day in and day out, who were nominated by coworkers or customers for outstanding service.

It just makes me sad, and mad.


Blogless Troll said...

Was this the thing in Vegas? That sucks. Your company truly got shafted on the TARP deal. But that's government and the media for you. They've got their hooks in. It'll be half past never before they willingly take them out.

Sarah Laurenson said...

That does suck. A lot. I'm glad you got to go before this hit the fan.

We lost our morale events a long time ago in our industry. And we're lucky if the company cares one way or the other about you personally. Where I work now, there is still an atmosphere of caring, but it's only a small portion of the management who displays that. My current project manager even started our new project by saying our department was the root of all evil. When I see him, I question why I am still working there.

PJD said...

BT, it was not the Vegas event. That was a Mortgage event, one I'm not specifically familiar with. The one I went to was the Orlando one last May (Swan & Dolphin, you might remember I blogged a bit about it at the time, I think). It was done really well, and I really got a sense that the company--no, the management of the company--cared about the people being honored. In fact, the top managers were on task all week to act as tour guides, waiters, greeters, etc. for the attendees. Even though they were on site at a resort, it wasn't much of a vacation for them with the presentations they had to give and having to wait hand and foot on us peons.

Sarah, it is perhaps merely a sign of the times. Remember the heyday of the high tech industry? The parties some companies threw at Comdex were outrageous, and holiday parties were often lavish affairs with top name entertainment. That all stopped with the dot com bubble burst, of course. The financial industry appears to be going through something similar.

Personally, I think there are tasteful and non-lavish ways to make the honorees feel really special, even in down times. Perhaps especially in down times, when it's critical in a knowledge industry to retain and motivate your very top talent. It didn't seem that the Orlando event was over the top in terms of expense--it was a nice conference resort, and some extras were paid for that could in theory have been scaled back, and it was a HUGE event in terms of number of people invited--but compared to the annual payroll number, it's like spitting in the ocean.

Some folks might say "use that money to pay salaries of people being laid off." But does it make sense to keep a few dozen people on payroll in fictitious jobs, paid for by eliminating recognition for top performers? I guess that's one version of "spreading the wealth around," a stance I normally agree with. But in my mind, the value gained by this expense is worth far more to the company and the workforce and the shareholders and the customers than would be retaining a couple dozen other jobs.

In this case, I do think the news articles were unfair and intentionally misleading, with the purpose of riling up the masses.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Seems like the Haves who have suddenly become Have-Nots have looked around and decided that life is unfair.

It was unfair before, but now more people are realizing it. And the resulting tantrum is causing quite a swing in the pendulum.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Just had to post another because the word verification is: imsorre

Thought it fitting.

Blogless Troll said...

Not to mention it hurts Orlando's economy, or where ever this year's event was going to be.

Ideological arguments aside, the biggest practical problem with "spreading the wealth around" is that the decisions as to "who gets it" and "how much" are made by idiots. Just as the outside pressure to cancel this event came from idiots who know nothing about your company. Absolutely nothing. Nor do they care. No offense, but this situation with your company isn't extraordinary--it's how the slippery slope rolls.

PJD said...

Sarah, is that pronounced "I'm sore" or "I'm sorry"?

BT, no offense taken. If there's anything I have been reminded by in all this, it's that the public are too easily influenced by media, and media are too easily influenced by things other than Truth. Deadlines, convenience, herd mentality, sensationalism all play into it.

In fact, I almost--almost--feel sorry for the gotcha journalism that Sarah Palin suffered last fall. But that being politics, I expected newspapers to be biased, and I knew I was reading the papers that were likely to give me the slant I wanted to hear.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Ha, Pete. Could go either way.

Yeah, BT. You hit the nail on the ehad. Spend that money in the U.S. and stimulate the damn economy already.

McKoala said...

As usual, companies cut down on the perks for the regular workers first. Partner bonuses - the last things to go. Free fruit in the lunch room - the first.

The first thing reinstated when times get better - partner bonuses. The last, or possibly never - free fruit in the lunch room.

Chris Eldin said...

I'm sorry this happened. I agree with you--being recognized for achievement is a postive force that has a ripple effect. Then to have it taken away....