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Employee Motivation—and Celebration

“Since the overwhelming majority of laundry tasks are repetitive in nature, how do you motivate employees and celebrate successes?”

Commercial Laundry: David Griggs, Superior Linen Service, Muskogee, Okla.

Piece work is a tedious job whether it is performed in a laundry or on an assembly line of an automotive factory. Keeping workers engaged in these jobs is a challenge for all industries.

Fortunately, since this is an issue that faces so many industries, there are many resources available that can help you decide the best method to implement in your plant.

It all starts with tracking and giving feedback to your employees. If an employee does not know what is expected from them, they cannot maintain any type of motivation to improve. Trying to tap into an employee’s internal pride is the basis for production improvement. Some employees need very little motivation, while others require more effort.

Once you have established your expectations and tracking methods, then there are several methods that you can use to keep employees engaged in the job, following are a couple that we have used over the years:

1. Bonus for reaching numbers. There is no doubt that giving bonuses for achieving high production numbers is very effective.

On the surface, this seems to be the easiest form of increasing production and rewarding employees who get their numbers. It does require a solid tracking method and strict rules on how the bonus is paid.

Piece numbers are easy to get, it is the tracking of any machine downtime, either from equipment breakdowns or lack of product, that can tie up a supervisor’s time and can lead to unethical bonus pay outs.

There are quite of few solid tracking systems out there that can help you monitor this. We put our electronic system in because of the unethical numbers we would get when we made all calculations by hand. The bonus paid for employee that threw 5,000 sheets in 7.5 hours versus the bonus they received for throwing 5,000 sheets in 6.5 hours, when downtime was factored in, was huge.

There are a couple downsides to the bonus system that I feel I should mention.

Ergonomics. When an employee figures out that they get their best numbers when they are throwing blankets from their right side, they get to where they don’t want to either rotate out of that job or throw blankets from the left side. This will eventually cause a repetitive motion accident and then both the employee and the company lose in the long run.

Overtime rules. When you are paying a piece bonus, then you really need to pay a higher amount for the piece bonus that was earned when the employee was working in an overtime state. This naturally can become a tracking nightmare. NOTE: I am not a labor lawyer, but if you are considering this methodology, I would certainly reach out to one.

2. Real-time electronic coaching. This is my preferred method. Each employee has an individual counter that tells them whether they are reaching their standards or not.

I prefer the system to give the feedback via the color of their lights—red if they are below standard, yellow if they are close to being too slow, and green if they are at the correct pace. Most systems allow for you to have a separate standard for each employee. A new employee cannot produce as fast as experienced employee.

We try to analyze an employee’s numbers each week and change the target count accordingly. If an employee is always in the red or always in the green, then the target number should be adjusted. Keep the target number to where they are constantly working to stay in the green or out of the red, this will help keep them engaged.

Equipment Manufacturing: Bob Fesmire, Ellis Corp., Itasca, Ill.     

Being in manufacturing of large capital equipment, we have some tasks that are repetitive, but nothing compared to feeding napkins into an ironer all day. I see many good examples in plants of people being celebrated for their work.

I can say that for us at Ellis and Ludell, we do our best to rotate jobs and cross train as much as possible. This way our people kept active in learning multiple tasks. This is good for our people and for the company in that no one person only does one task.

To that end, we created what we call a Skillset Matrix. This rates people 0-4 on every task in our plants, with 0 being no experience and 4 being they have skills to teach others.

Some people push to learn more; some we ask to learn more. It depends on the person’s motivation.

The different levels also mean more pay, so if they wish to get paid more, they need to learn more. It helps us in taking away personal bias that can naturally occur.

We can all do a better job of public recognition, but when done properly and in the right intervals, it is a great tool for employees and, frankly, the right thing to do as well.

Consulting Services: David Bernstein, Propeller Solutions Group, Park City, Utah

Several months ago, I found myself in a client’s waiting room, waiting for their previous appointment to end so that we could start our planned meeting. Adorning the walls were items I’ve become accustomed to seeing in waiting rooms around the world, including framed business licenses, association membership certificates, accreditations, sponsored sports teams and photos of the business going back to when laundry was delivered by horse drawn carriages.

Among these was one of those motivational “Successories” posters, this one showing a small stand of trees standing apart from a larger forest. The sun shone between and among the trunks of the small stand of trees, each casting a long shadow on the grassy meadow in the foreground.

Beneath the photo was the word “collaborate” in all caps and a slogan that stuck with me. It said, “to stand apart from the competition, you must first stand together as a team.”

Isn’t that the truth?

Don’t get me wrong, there is no management challenge that can be solved through the use of posters or signs alone, particularly the challenge of employee recognition and motivation. If that were the case, parody web sites like would not be selling spoofs of these ubiquitous motivational posters.

That said, there is wisdom in the thought expressed by that poster in the laundry company waiting room, especially in troubled times during which people need to feel welcome, appreciated and part of a greater effort.

And while every single team member (you included) is motivated by the money in their paycheck, there are other ways to help motivate, inspire and reward team members to help ensure their personal success and the success of the entire enterprise.

It has been said that an army marches on its stomach, and this holds true for laundry workers, too. It is one of the reasons why there are so many examples of providing food to teams to reward and to help keep them motivated.

Many of you are already familiar with how a simple pizza party, barbecue or morning doughnuts can help put a spring in your employees’ steps. Take these efforts further by, for instance, cooking up and serving those burgers and dogs yourself, surprising the team with popsicles or a sundae bar on a hot day, or serving up hot cocoa (don’t forget the marshmallows) in to-go cups as your team heads home on a wintry afternoon.

Many companies give their team members cards or send them emails to recognize birthdays and work anniversaries. Too often, however, these conventional means of recognition can seem impersonal and insincere, especially if the employee gets the same card or e-mail year-after-year.

Instead, consider making the celebration more personal by matching the card or e-mail (or birthday cake) to each team member’s interests, hobbies, families, upcoming vacations, etc.

“But David,” I can hear you saying, “what if I don’t know about each of my team member’s interests or hobbies?” That is an excellent question, and I am glad you asked.

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of touring the headquarters of near Las Vegas. While you might think that their business is about shoes, any Zappos employee will tell you that their business is about people, culture, and service, and that if you want to build great customer service, and deliver happiness to both consumers and team members, you need to know your people.

That’s why managers at Zappos are encouraged to spend 20% of their time with their team: to get to know them. Taking the time to get to know team members builds trust and team unity (remember the trees in the poster?) where both leaders and team members can learn from, grow with, and fight for each other.

According to Marcela Gutierrez, manager of Zappos insights and new hire training, “If you take the time to get to know your employees, I mean really get to know them, you will be able to become a mentor.

“The difference between a mentor and a manager is that you will know how to coach them and help them achieve not only professional but personal goals. They will also work harder for you because they will trust you 100%. There’s nothing better than to have someone you can trust and come to for anything.”

Speaking of mentoring, one way to motivate and encourage employees is by encouraging them to learn new and important life and work skills. One way of doing this is by having team members with certain skills mentor and teach those among the team who need those skills. Examples include teaching English, sign language, or computer and Internet skills.

Another way to encourage personal and professional development is by recognizing employees who show particular potential or motivation by offering to pay for outside training and classes that will make them more valuable to your business in the future and offer the potential for career advancement.

Many of our industry’s most respected senior managers have stories to tell about how some manager or supervisor in their past saw potential, even when their jobs involved sweeping floors, sorting soil, or driving a route truck, and how that recognition and encouragement led them to be the leaders they are today.

Another way of recognizing, motivating and encouraging employees is by giving them a voice. One familiar way of doing this is by putting team members from throughout the plant on a safety committee.

Another way is to form focus groups from among each of your various departments. Bring in lunch (or better yet, take them out to lunch) and take the time to ask considerate questions of the group to find out how things are going, what they think could be improved, and what ideas they have about making their jobs easier and your business more profitable.

Nobody knows more about the job than those who do it every hour of every day, so spend these times with your employees. Use the Zappos 80/20 rule and spend 80% of each lunch listening to your team. You will be surprised what you will learn, the confidence they will gain, and the improvements your business will achieve.

Do you have employees who volunteer their time in the community or fundraise for important causes? Celebrate them at work and, better yet, join in the effort along with other managers and staff members to help make an even greater impact on your local community.

Unlike contrived and oft-hated team building sessions, shared experiences at events like these can become among some of your team’s most treasured moments.

Imagine the genuine camaraderie you’ll create when you walk, run or cycle alongside your team members to raise funds and awareness for an important cause, the incredible feelings you’ll generate when you and your team help build or repair a home for someone in need, etc.

We live in the age of the Internet and social media, so be sure that you celebrate your team members publicly for each birthday, anniversary, and personal or professional achievement.

Like the aforementioned cards, be sure that your posts to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are personalized to each employee you’re celebrating, and be sure to tag each employee so that their families and friends can share in the celebration as well.

Last, but certainly not least, take the time to show your genuine gratitude to your employees and team members. It is amazing how much can be gained from a simple “thank you” and how much those two words can make someone’s day.

Everyone likes to know when they’re going a good job and when they are appreciated by supervisors and managers. Take time out of every day to show your team members how much you appreciate the work they’re doing,

Some of you may recall my answers to February’s Panel of Experts question about employee retention, many of which apply to this month’s prompt as well, so I encourage you to go back and read my thoughts about company culture, benefits and amenities, and employee engagement apps.

I closed that column by mentioning Underutilized Human Resources as one of the eight wastes of Lean Six Sigma. Making your employees feel welcome, seen, heard and genuinely appreciated can all go a long way to ensuring their long-term success. And yours.

It will likely not surprise you to know that, as I walked out of the meeting with my client, the last thing I saw before walking outside was a poster on the exit door with an image of a road bordered on each side by a row of pink-blossomed cherry trees.

Beneath the trees was the word “gratitude,” again in all caps, followed by the words, “Take time out every day to be thankful for the people in our lives that drive us toward the path of success and for those that have helped us get to where we are today. Have an attitude of gratitude.”

Spend part of each day encouraging collaboration by showing your gratitude, and I can almost guarantee that your business will blossom and stand head and shoulders above the competition.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].