[Disclaimer: The author harbors no resentment toward companies who care only about growth and the bottom line – it just seems that way. Profit is, after all, the lifeblood of an organization right?]
Some parts of our industry are so mired in cliché and rhetoric it’s difficult to find a true best-practice when it comes to demonstrating respect for employees. Every organization spouts some mantra about how important “people” are; every conference has a group of c-level executives who sit on a panel discussion and nod in unison when someone mentions their “number one asset.” Call me kooky, but reality seems to play a different track and many of us in the “HR” realm walk the halls clinching our teeth in an attempt to stave off cynicism, if just for a little longer, grasping the last vestiges of hope that one day “leaders” – on a broad scale – will talk themselves into a serious commitment toward this “number one asset” they hold so dear…putting their [company’s] money where their collective mouths are so to speak.
Enough of that rant, this is not a whining diatribe about how HR never gets its share of the pot. I know plenty of colleagues who leverage everything they can get to create great employee recognition programs, and I’ve worked with companies who prioritize the same. Not enough companies by far, but I guess that’s what creates a best-practice: the industry needs an example to show what can be done and how to do it well.
RESPECT, RECOGNITION AND REWARD
At Raising Cane’s we call it “Cane’s Love” and it is a very serious endeavor, a strategically prioritized year-round effort that from one perspective may look like an amalgam of grade-school craft gifts for mom yet on another level is a clear demonstration of how important one company believes in its crewmembers and their contribution to the success of the organization.
IT STARTED WITH A GHOST POP
Shortly after opening the first Raising Cane’s, Todd Graves, the company founder, wanted to show his appreciation to the crew for all the hard work and effort they’d put in over the first couple months. Being the first restaurant, there wasn’t a lot of money to spend and certainly very little time so in an effort to show he cared he came up with the Ghost Pop as a Halloween gift. Over night Todd put together Ghost Pops out of Tootsie-pops and tissue, made a little face on one side and then handed them out to the crew on Halloween with a big “thanks.” It might have been a little cheesy, it wasn’t an expensive gift by any means, but the crew thought it was one of the greatest things they’d seen. No one had received a ghost pop since like, second grade, and this gesture was a clear demonstration that their leader was thinking about his crew. Mark it down as one of those innocent first steps on a path that eventually defines a company’s culture…
At Valentine’s the next year Todd started another tradition – giving a box of candy hearts out to the crew. One crewmember took a heart that said “To the One I Love” and scratched off letters until it read, “One Love” – the company’s statement about its passion: Chicken Fingers. “One Love” would eventually lead to “Cane’s Love” as a means for describing all the stuff we do for our crew today.
Raising Cane’s has a wealth of ideas that can be adopted by any company – wholesale or given a twist to match your own culture. Today the company distributes gifts of appreciation year-round, all with a personal touch, including the Ghost Pops at Halloween, Valentine’s candy hearts, St. Patrick’s Day themed commemorative buttons, Easter Egg hunts at all stores, cards to crew who have children on Mother’s Day – and yes, cards for Dad’s on Father’s Day…
Also included on the annual calendar of crew appreciation are stockings filled with funky old-school stuff from your childhood Christmas, Spring Parties where every store shuts down early one day to enable all crew, plus a spouse or friend, to relax and enjoy the company of one another outside of work. (Another crew party is thrown for every store during the Holiday season.) Managers receive a Ham at Easter, Steaks for July 4th, a Turkey for Thanksgiving and a bottle of Champagne for New Year’s Eve.
All stores close, or close early, for eight holidays a year; reminiscent of the founder’s action taken during that first holiday season – “If I don’t want to work on the holiday, why should I make everyone else? Everyone deserves to have a life.”
GIVE A LITTLE LAGNIAPPE
“Lagniappe,” a Cajun term for “a little something extra” is given out all year in a variety of ways to recognize individual and team efforts. It comes in the form of movie passes, retail gift cards, coupons and discounts or tickets to special events. Several contests are held to reinforce company culture with winners receiving tickets to such events as the BCS Championship Football Game, college sporting events, pro basketball, minor-league baseball or just plain cash. Life-events such as a wedding or birth receive recognition through gifts and internal announcements so everyone can celebrate. Who does all this? A full-time Manager of Cane’s Love (with a direct line to the CEO) and a Cane’s Love Assistant coordinate the affairs but all management is involved in the process, especially in terms of fully supporting and executing each effort with enthusiasm.
One of the biggest hits is still a free batch of new uniform shirts twice a year for the Spring-Summer and Fall-Winter seasons for all full-time crewmembers. The list is crazy-long and it really does take a full-time effort to ensure everything fits with the company’s culture – everything comes with a story, most date back to a tradition started or key event in the company’s history and all are intentional reinforcements of the culture, a culture described simply as “cool” by our crew.
People may want to debate the fiscal responsibility of such giving (oh my, what will the shareholders think!), but it is hard to diminish the continued performance of a company that has grown from 1 to 70 stores over 11 years. We’re not taking over the world, we’re not even trying to do that; it’s a concept about One Love (chicken fingers) and Cane’s Love (appreciation for our crew) and it’s arguably a success.
SO, HOW DO YOU DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS?
1. Make sure company leaders and champions of such an effort genuinely care about others, otherwise its just another false promise
2. Think small. As one of my colleagues said, “This isn’t brain-science.” (Huh?? I don’t know…must be a portmanteau of brain-surgery and rocket-science…regardless...) It doesn’t take a gargantuan effort to show you care – think ghost pops – and operate from an “it’s the thought that counts” mindset
3. Don’t be afraid to be silly or goofy or even a little crazy. Have fun, don’t take the effort too seriously because then well, it’s just not fun
4. Do something – anything. It may not be perfect but it’s something and it shows you care. You can always do it differently next year
5. Follow through. Don’t promise what you’re not willing to commit to long-term – be honest with yourself and your organization’s capacity to deliver – don’t start something and let it drift away into the flavor-of-the-month hall of fame
6. Did I mention the Be Genuine part? If your leaders really don’t care (be honest), and you’re not in a position to affect change, no one will be fooled by your attempts to dress-it-up as such; just bludgeon yourself now and go find a new job