Celebrate the Awesome With Video “Wow Stories”

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Jul 13, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

One of the best, and easiest to implement, ways of boosting employee engagement and strengthen your culture is to “Celebrate the Awesome.”

Perhaps no organization knows the power of this practice better than Ritz Carlton. Celebrating the awesome plays a central role in their “employee engagement, keep-our-culture-strong, and deliver-the-ultimate-guest-experience” strategy.

How do they celebrate the awesome?

They include “Wow Stories” in their daily team huddles. A wow story is a verbal show and tell that illustrates an employee delivering an amazing guest experience or embodying Ritz Carlton’s core cultural values.

Sharing these stories achieves three important organizational outcomes.

  1. Make important cultural values and brand promises clear, understandable, and relatable. Doing so makes it much easier for employees to act in ways that reflect these values and ways that deliver your brand promise. In a sense, these stories act as virtual training videos that illustrate high value behaviors.
  2. Provide an inspiring and fun way to recognize and appreciate greatness, thereby satisfying a core human need to feel appreciated and valued.
  3. Communicate “You matter. Your great work makes a difference.” Celebrating employees making a difference reminds employees “You CAN make a difference here. You DO make a difference here.” This reminder helps employees stay engaged during difficult times and during difficult tasks. It also reminds employees whose jobs aren’t particularly glamorous how important their job really is, and therefore, helps them stay motivated.

Video the awesomeness

Just recently, I was talking with a client who wanted to help communicate his organization’s cultural values more effectively. His organization had undergone major growth, resulting in the influx of many new employees. Leadership was concerned that the outstanding culture might become weakened by this rapid growth.

Added to this concern was the fact that this company has a number of very high stress, highly demanding jobs. These kinds of jobs — such as customer service, tech support, and patient care — can easily lead to employees becoming weary, resulting in a degraded customer or patient experience and diminished employee engagement.

After sharing with him Ritz Carlton’s practice of “Wow” stories, we brainstormed ways his company could apply this principle.

For each of the ideas we discussed, I recommended capturing the stories using cell phone videos because:

  1. Video is usually more compelling than the written word, especially in today’s digital culture.
  2. A growing percentage of people won’t read, but will watch a video.
  3. Simple, YouTube-quality videos have a more authentic look and feel to them, and fit with the cultural norms of millennials.
  4. Capturing these stories on video allows you to curate them and use them for all aspects of talent management, from employer branding, to hiring, to onboarding, to ongoing employee engagement.

Here are the types of videos I recommended and why.

1. Managers at all levels describing what they saw an employee doing that embodied organization’s cultural values or was just plain awesome. Doing this accomplishes the three objectives mentioned above.

2. Employees describing what they saw another employee doing that embodied the cultural values or was just plain awesome. This accomplishes several important objectives over and above the three previously mentioned. It also:

  • Enables front line employees to be the star; the “on air talent.” Not only does the employee who is celebrated get attention, but so does the employee telling the story. As anyone even minimally aware of our celebrity culture can recognize, this is very appealing to many.
  • Increases everyone’s awareness about cultural values. Not only do these real life stories make these values, inviting employees to look for and capture these examples makes everyone more aware of these values when they encounter them being practiced. Even those employees who might not want to be videoed are more likely to notice excellence in action.
  • Builds a culture of peer recognition and celebration. Because employees are celebrating each other — rather than the employer only using top-down recognition — it strengthens the sense of camaraderie and collegiality.

3. It fosters a sense of “I’m a player here” and “My voice matters.” Employees want to matter. Millennials especially want to feel like they matter. With employees playing a major role in capturing these stories, they get the chance to have their voice heard and make a difference.

4. Employees who “rocked it” are interviewed about the secrets to their success. This brings a deeper layer of knowledge sharing to the process. This type of video is especially useful with stories that involve customer service or delivering a great patient experience. By asking the employee to explore and share why they did what they did — their thinking behind it — and what they did that made the “Moment of Truth” so successful, you turn celebratory stories into significant knowledge sharing vehicles.

What about those unmentioned?

Often when discussing Celebrating the Awesome, the issue of whether doing this will be demotivating to people who don’t get featured.

I have two thoughts about this, one tactical and the other philosophical.

First the tactical

While you can’t control how others will react, you can obviously influence their reaction by how you frame this.

In communicating the rationale of Celebrating the Awesome, you will want to emphasize these messages:

  1. We want this to be a great place to work with a great culture, and part of how you do that is to communicate what our values look and sound like in action, and what greatness looks and sounds like in our organization.
  2. We also know how vitally important it is to continually let you know we notice and appreciate the great work that you do, and this is one of the ways we want to do that.
  3. We also want to do our part to communicate clearly what excellence looks and sounds like, since we can’t expect excellence from you if we’re not clear about what it means in real life. Sharing these stories will help us do that.
  4. We also want to build peer-to-peer relationships and foster peer-to-peer appreciation, and this can be a fun way for some to do that.
  5. We will have other ways of recognizing and Celebrating the Awesome for those people who don’t feel comfortable being on video.
  6. We also want to make this the kind of place where employees know they get to make an impact and have their voice is heard. That’s why we want a significant percentage of videos to be employee-generated.
  7. We will provide suggestions and even coaching to help make your stories usable. We will have a selection team review the videos. We will be very clear on our selection process, and, for those that don’t get selected, we will let the creator know why. We will also give them the opportunity to re-do it if they choose. While it is our responsibility to only post those that do a great job communicating, it’s also our responsibility to communicate clearly why those that aren’t shared weren’t, and how to remedy that.
  8. We plan on collecting stories over time. We aren’t just shooting for a set amount and then stop. Because these stories are gathered by both managers and front line employees, everyone has the power to capture and share. Anyone who does a great job has the opportunity to be the subject of a story. If someone gets featured on a number of videos, that doesn’t prevent anyone else from being featured. It simply means they are doing a stellar job.

Now the philosophical

Here’s my philosophical perspective on the issue: “What about those people who don’t get mentioned? Won’t that de-motivate them?”

This is where having kind, yet strong accountability conversations comes into play. If someone complains about “the same people always getting mentioned” I would recommend a conversation that first acknowledges their perspective and why that might be frustrating or de-motivating, and then transitioning into exploring why they think that’s the case.

As part of that conversation, I would invite them to be honest with themselves and examine whether they are doing things that are celebration-worthy and, if they don’t know, work with them to get clear on what they can do to be celebration-worthy.

It’s critical to address the “How come the same people always get recognized?” issue if it comes up, because the last thing any employer wants is negative peer pressure to prevail. You do not want the sub-par performers and the people with negative attitudes to make leadership fearful of recognizing, rewarding, and celebrating those who are doing great things.

It’s happening in Boise

Please don’t just read this and think “Oh, that would be a cool thing to do.”

Do it.

Be like LaVay Lauter, senior director Center for Learning and Development at St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise, Idaho. She attended one of my presentations at the June SHRM conference, the one titled “Why Your Employee Engagement Survey Doesn’t Cut It: How to Customize the Employee Experience.”

One of the practices we discussed was Celebrate the Awesome.

Unlike the majority of attendees, Lauter didn’t just like the idea, she acted on it. She went back to Boise and shared this idea with her team, which is now about to launch a video recognition program with the goal of eventually rolling it out throughout the entire health system.

Now it’s your turn. Let’s do this.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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