Departments - July/August 2009

Case in Point

Soaring to New Heights:
How Engagement & Recognition Help Lead Change at Delta Air Lines

By Catherine Eberlein Pfister


hrough bankruptcy, reorganization, changes in leadership and now a merger involving a combined workforce of 80,000 employees, engagement and recognition continue to help lead change at Delta Air Lines.

It's a big reason why the company's MyDeltaRewards program took top honors recently from Recognition Professionals International (RPI). The program was named 2009 Best Practice Standards Award Winner by the association. The process—and the results—are impressive.

"Generally, the industry average for program participation is approximately 30 percent," said Stephanie Merchiore, manager of employee recognition for Delta. "In 2008, prior to the merger, we had more than 72 percent of active employees registered in MDR, about double that of average participation rates."

And there are other, equally impressive returns on recognition results. In 2008, the program:

  • Produced 490,002 recognition contacts (the number of recognition receipts).
  • Cost $17.35 per recognition contact.
  • Saw 1,470,006 recognition impressions (a broader measurement of the impact of recognition in terms of the sender, receiver, and how recognition is shared or socialized).
  • Cost $5.78 per recognition impression.
  • Delivered $346 million in value to the business in terms of initiatives supported with programs.
  • Delivered a 3,975 percent return on recognition (ROR).

All of Delta's recognition efforts are driven by its Employee Recognition Group (ERG), which is located in the human resources department and led by Merchiore. She is supported with one full-time coordinator, along with an informal, internal ambassador team for the program's Chairman's Club event and an outsourced team of more than five FTEs with Delta's vendor and partner, Diamond H Recognition. This designated team, Merchiore said, ensures that all elements of the recognition platform, programs and processes run efficiently to ensure returns to the business.

Producing these kinds of results didn't happen overnight, of course. To find out how engagement and recognition have played a continuing role at Delta since 1996, when the company first began programs, we asked Merchiore to take us through some of the evolution (and what she learned along the way) that brought the company to where it is today.