Departments - January/February 2009

Case in Point

MAX!-imum Recognition for MAX!-imum Effort

By Catherine Eberlein Pfister


hile we know that a cookie-cutter approach to developing programs doesn't work—and that what works in one company may not work in another—we also know that any successful program follows well-documented criteria that give it its fundamental shape: objectives, goals, communication, management support, informal and formal recognition and rewards, along with measurement. The program also must define how you'll get there: past/current successes; past/current failures; best practices.

With that in mind, what better case study to begin this new section with than American Express Incentive Services' (AEIS) Max! Employee Reward & Recognition program. Not only did the program garner a 2007 Circle of Excellence Award from the Incentive Marketing Association, but it also was recognized outside of the incentive business community with a Bronze Quill Award from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).

And the program is still going strong in 2009. "We have 100 percent participation with our points recognition program, and it's wonderful watching our workforce and the energy they put into it," said Deanna Baker, vice president of employee development and human resources.

Practicing What They Preach

We've all heard the phrase, "Doctors don't make the best patients." But in this case, AEIS firmly took hold of implementing incentive best practices to develop an even healthier high-performance culture.

It's evident that the company lives its definition of recognition: "showing an employee that you value them for their contributions and as a worthwhile person." AEIS focused on the areas of profitable growth, customer value and having a high-performance culture. It took the approach that culture equals people and work environment.

To link recognition with high performance and to convey the value that AEIS places on its people, it created The Max! employee recognition program. The theme was based on the premise that the maximum performance of AEIS employees is worthy of maximum recognition.

Bringing life to the program, literally, is Max!—a graphic blue-skinned character complete with red cape and briefcase. "Max is a part of our everyday life, and helped along the way by AEIS peers, supervisors and officers who know the value of recognizing and rewarding achievement," Baker explained.

Both Max the character and Max! the program were introduced in April 2006 through multimedia kickoff meetings that included an animated video. Focus was placed on providing program training and explaining the guidelines for effective recognition. Employees were also provided with support materials to reference as the program unfolded.

Through its extensive approach to recognizing and rewarding employees and their performance, AEIS is "practicing what they preach." Recognition of the company's 186 employees is awarded through four general types of programs: all-employee programs, management-driven programs, company-driven programs and the Circle of Excellence sales incentive program.

All-employee programs provide employees at all levels the ability to give and receive recognition to or from any other employee in the company. There are two programs included under the all-employee-driven umbrella.