Attaboys and Attagirls. Recognition is a key element of employee engagement


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This is a draft excerpt from the upcoming book, What’s Your Green Goldfish? Beyond Dollars: 15 Ways to Create Employee Loyalty and Reinforce Culture:


1st inchOnboarding

2nd inchFood & Beverage, Shelter / Space, Transparency / Openness

3rd inchWellness, Time Away, Modern Family

The fourth INCH

YOU MATTER. These two words can change your mood, change your mind, and have the power to change lives and the world world if we understand and leverage them in the right way” (Source: Angela Maiers, TED Talk June 2011)

The fourth inch on the 9 INCH journey to the heart of your employees involves Recognition.

When I was in law school, I distinctly remember having a conversation with a classmate named John. John was from South Carolina and was in the process of telling me about his summer job working in a law office. I asked him if he would consider working there full time after school. He shook his head and said, “No way.” When I prodded further he revealed that he had an issue with the senior partner that was managing him. “He doesn’t give any attaboys.” I had never heard the word “ATTABOY” before, but no explanation was needed. John felt that his work wasn’t appreciated at the firm.

Recognition fuels a sense of worth and belonging in individuals. No rocket science here, as humans we crave acceptance. Dale Carnegie spoke of the importance of recognition nearly 80 years ago. Here are a couple of quotes from his classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Be lavish in your praise and hearty in your approbation. A drop of honey gathers more bees than a gallon of gall [vinegar].”

Recognition resonates. Thirty-five percent of workers and 30% of chief financial officers cited frequent recognition of accomplishments as the most effective nonmonetary reward. Thanking people for their hard work and commitment is the key to making them feel appreciated. (Source: Accountemps Poll)

Let’s have a look a Baker’s Dozen of companies who give a little extra when it comes to Employee Recognition:

Kudos and Shout-outs

Every week The Nerdery (#305) agency compiles a video of shout-outs, with employees publicly praising their fellow nerds for going above and beyond. Five shout-out recipients are chosen for free lunches the following week. The weekly shout-out video is played for all at the Friday afternoon Bottlecap Talk, where the agency celebrates the successful launch of a recent project with a show-and-tell demo led by the rockstar developers who made it happen. (Source: Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal)

Simple things at LaBreche (#301), like our Fishbowl Friday, through which people give kudos to each other for simple, everyday things that are done extraordinarily or out-of-the-park big hits. (Source: Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal)

Bespoke Awards

Rackspace (#435) created a special award for employees who give fanatical support. It’s simply called the Jacket. It signifies fanaticism and hence is a straightjacket. Only one employee wins the jacket at a time. (Source: YouTube)

The Container Store (#459) has an award called The Gumby. Being Gumby is about doing whatever needs to be done to serve a customer, help a co-worker, or complete a task. It’s about not getting “bent out of shape” when a customer makes a request of you that you’d rather not do. And it’s also about bouncing back quickly after having a tough encounter with a challenging customer. Every Container Store employee is strategically trained to think flexibly to solve customers’ organization problems. And the company does this with an air of excitement by using the 1950’s Gumby clay-figure TV star. The company constantly reinforces the Gumby culture by having a 6 foot tall wooden Gumby in the lobby at the company’s headquarters and giving away the annual Gumby award to the employee who exemplifies flexibility. (Source: Myra Golden)

Decision Lens (#712) awards top-performing salespeople with custom-made action figures designed to resemble the employee. According to founder John Saaty, “It’s a humorous way to acknowledge the great efforts of our sales team, and something that’s more memorable than the usual plaque or something like that,” (Source: Entrepreneur)

zappos hero award green goldfish

Executives at Zappos (#122) pick a “hero” each month and award them with a cape, parade, covered parking spot for a month, a $150 Zappos gift card, and a cape. (Source: YouTube)

Marco (#308) distributes quarterly and annual C.A.R.E. (Customers Are Really Everything) Awards to employees who are selected by their peers for outstanding performance in teamwork, customer satisfaction and innovative ideas. Winners receive gift packages and award certificates and recognition at Marco’s annual shareholders meeting. Being employee owned also helps Marco attract and retain long-term employees who understand the relationship between the company’s success and our customers’. The “think like an owner” attitude of our employees is demonstrated through the long-term relationships they have developed with clients over the years. (Source: Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal)

At this social game and advertising company RockYou (#144), good ideas are recognized every six weeks with the YouRock Awards, hosted at the company’s all-hands meetings. The YouRock Awards started as a way to promote a bottom-up employee nomination process so people could recognize those whom they work with daily. Driven by peer nominations, RockYou awards teammates for solving a problem, designing a game, demonstrating innovation and exhibiting behaviors aligned with the RockYou values. YouRock nominees spin a wheel to choose an award such as cash, concert tickets, an extra day off or an iPad. All YouRock recipients also receive a golden bobble-head cow trophy, offering them desktop bragging rights. The open forum in which people can be recognized and recognize others fosters a compassionate and playful company culture. (Source: Mashable)

Our coveted peer-nominated Water Carrier award at CamelBak (#430) is presented annually to a group of employees who uniquely embody and transfer company culture and values to other associates. The award is named in honor of the Native American tradition of carrying water to fellow tribe members to sustain life and provide one of the essential elements for survival. (Source: Outside Magazine)

The Tabar (#411) Thumbs Up Award is a roaming statue that sits on an employee’s desk when he or she goes over and above the call of job performance. (Source: Outside Magazine)

Martin | Williams (#307) gives out an annual award called The Ribble, which is a trapeze term for a great catch, something the audience just expects. It goes to people who day-in and day-out come to work and do such a good job that people come to really depend on them in ways that almost blind them to their importance. They represent the best of our culture. (Source: Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal)

You may not need to wear formalwear to pick it up, but if you’re caught doing great work at Undertone (#745), you may win an “Undertonie.” It’s just one way digital advertising company Undertone encourages and rewards creativity. There are also weekly massages, manicures and a free-beer cart. (Source:

Immediate Recognition

Each SC Johnson (#530) office has its own Now Thanks! program that provides on-the-spot recognition for great work with praise and a monetary award. (Source:

American Express (#532) has a “Prize Patrol.” A group of four or five leaders, get together and surprise their coworkers with flowers or a gift in front of their colleagues to celebrate their accomplishments. (Source:

Take note “The Best Things in Life are Free”

A recent study confirmed that the cost of recognition awards has only minimal impact on employee perception of appreciation. Fifty-seven percent reported that the most meaningful recognition was free. Just look at some of these quotes to judge the impact:

I received a hand written thank you in the mail from my manager and my CEO. I smiled like an idiot.” – Bill A.

“I got a bonus with a handwritten note. I read the note several times; even took a picture of it. Bonus was good, too but no picture.” – David H.

“Because few people expect much in the way of reward these days, a small but personalized thank-you can have a big impact,” says Steve Richardson, founder of Diverse Outcomes and former chief talent officer for American Express. “Even when I send a recognition note to a big group or team, I try to add a personalized paragraph in each person’s email, so it’s highly tailored to the individual.” (Source: HBR)


Taken from a post at HBR by Doug Conant, former CEO of the Campbell Soup Company (#21). In Doug’s words:

“Look for opportunities to celebrate. My executive assistants and I spend a good 30 to 60 minutes a day scanning my mail and our internal website looking for news of people who have made a difference at Campbell’s. For example, as of this writing I just learned about a woman named Patti who just got promoted in our customer service area, so I made a note to congratulate her.

Get out your pen. Believe it or not, I have sent roughly 30,000 handwritten notes to employees like Patti over the last decade, from maintenance people to senior executives. I let them know that I am personally paying attention and celebrating their accomplishments. (I send handwritten notes too because well over half of our associates don’t use a computer). I also jump on any opportunities to write to people who partner with our company any time I meet with them. It’s the least you can do for people who do things to help your company and industry. On the face of it, writing handwritten notes may seem like a waste of time. But in my experience, they build goodwill and lead to higher productivity. (Source: HBR)

The managing partner at Windes & McClaughry Accountancy (#220) actually hand writes all employee Welcome, Birthday and Anniversary cards, and he gives a red rose to women employees and cookies to men employees on Valentine’s Day. (Source: Los Angeles Business Journal)

Plan B Technologies (#266) attributes its success to going the extra mile for clients, and it does the same for staff. Employees enjoy fully paid health-care premiums, an $85 monthly contribution to a health savings account, regular telecommuting, quarterly awards and spot bonuses, frequent free meals, and handwritten thank-you notes from the CEO. (Source: Washingtonian Magazine)

Long before he became CEO of iProspect (#739), back as an analyst at Bain Capital and KPMG, Robert J. Murray had an idea on how you should run a services business. “One thing that always surprised me in prior work experiences is when your assets walk out the door each day, why aren’t companies doing more to value the people doing the business?” Mr. Murray thinks he’s found the answer to that, and quite a large number of his employees happen to agree. Mr. Murray’s formula: hire competitive people; promote early and often; give constant feedback, including “iProps” — notes of encouragement. “We are a meritocracy. When positions come open, we don’t care if you’ve been here six months or six years — we will promote the best person into that position,” he said. (Source:

“Thank you Thursdays” at Professional Placement Resources (#511) fosters a culture of gratitude that extends to clients as well. On Thank you Thursdays, the CEO asks employees to send a specific number of thank you notes to both internal and external customers. (Source: Great Place to Work)

Recognizing Milestones

The tenure program — Shades of Green — has blown up into a competition and become a status symbol among employees. Every teammate gets a free shirt, and the longer you’re with Sweetgreen, the darker your shirt. Who knew a free t-shirt could help to shape company culture? After a teammate has been with Sweetgreen (#140) for one year, you also get a pair of green high-top Converse sneakers. At two years, you get a t-shirt and a neon green iPod Nano Touch. After three years, you get a lime-green Sweetgreen bike. (Source: Mashable)

Clif Bar (#152) was born on a bike. Every employee in the company received a bike on the companies 20th anniversary.


My close friend told me about her friend’s first week working at O Magazine (#16). In addition to being an awesome gig, she got a $10,000 check and an iPad on her second day there. I first assumed that it was a good sign on bonus; however, she explained that it was not. Rather, it was just incredible timing; it was a onetime thank you gift Oprah gave to all the staff despite how long they have been with the company. (Source: Bryan Welfel)

Every significant anniversary at the St. Regis Hotel (#373) is acknowledged with a party, a plaque and a gift from Tiffany. (Source: Houston Chronicle)

Employees at Harbinger Partners (#285) receive a gift each month. Grausnick has distributed gifts that range from a Harbinger umbrella to flowers to iPads to big-screen TVs.

“It’s just really, really nice,” said Cindy Smith, Harbinger’s finance administrator. “It’s so much fun to get some mail. It’s all about the little things they think of.” (Source: Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal)

The Hotze Health & Wellness Center (#344) gives employees a piece of Waterford crystal to mark key accomplishments and anniversaries. Every new employee, including accountants and publicists, must pass an exam on the first try that shows they understand the entire treatment regimen at the clinic. It’s stressful, especially for those who aren’t used to the medical terminology, so Hotze likes to recognize the accomplishment with a piece of crystal from Waterford, said Christy Hammett, assistant director of public relations and marketing. Each staff member gets two more pieces – typically wine goblets or Champagne flutes – at the annual Christmas party and on their yearly anniversary they receive another, Hammett said. Patterns are assigned based on availability. Founder and CEO Steven Hotze, a longtime fan of Waterford crystal, wanted to give his employees something they’d treasure and pass down through the generations, said Hammett, who has amassed six or seven Champagne flutes in the Elberon pattern. She brings them out when she entertains, as she did earlier this year to toast her engagement.

“I didn’t even register for crystal,” she said. “I’m getting that at work.” The perk began 21 years ago and impresses job applicants as well. “They get so excited when they get the first one,” Hammett said. (Source: Houston Chronicle)

Brady, Chapman, Holland’s (#369) “diamond program” encourages generosity in daily work life.When a BCH employee does something exceptionally well for a client, fellow employee or the community, an acrylic “diamond” is tossed in a jar, Clark said. Once the jar fills up, they celebrate. They might play a game or go to a sports bar for food and drink, Clark said. (Source: The Houston Chronicle)

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Roger Staubach once said, “There are no traffic jams on the extra mile.” How about this example of helping an employee. One of the agency principals at Mantis Pulse Analytics (#366) was alerted that one of the employees was having major car issues. He then went on Craigslist and found a transmission. He towed the employees Jeep to his house and fixed it.

All of the examples in this post were taken from the Green Goldfish Project. The Project is a quest to find 1,001 examples of marketing lagniappe for employees. Green goldfish are the little signature extras given to employees. They help differentiate a company, reinforce culture, increase retention and drive positive WoM. The book, “What’s Your Green Goldfish?” will be published on March 29, 2013.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is the Chief Measurement Officer at 9 INCH marketing. 9 INCH helps organizations develop custom solutions around both customer and employee experience. Stan believes the 'longest and hardest nine inches' in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is the author of Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and Golden Goldfish.


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