When working for Commercial Services at Monash University which had 750 staff over 28 sites providing a wide range of services for the students and staff of Monash University’s nine campuses, the CEO asked me to lead a recognition and reward project called Project Grateful.
He was a fan of Disney and had previously attended the Disney Institute’s leadership programs.
He handed me a ‘Star Card’, a card the size of a business card that read, “You’re a Star!” on one side, and had room for an employee to identify a colleague and create a short hand written note to either thank them or congratulate them for doing something useful, on the other side of the card.
He asked if I would be okay sharing the idea with the project team in the context that they might like to adopt and modify such a system for our program.
I wasn’t keen on the idea. “This is American. Aussies won’t go for it.” I said.
He asked that I provide it to the project team and let them decide. I agreed and in a very unenthusiastic manner, shared the concept with the team.
They loved the idea! After a few minor modifications, ‘our’ Star Card system was born.
The system was simple. Every staff member was provided with a stash of cards and were encouraged to use them to thank or recognise other staff or contractors who were ‘just doing their job’, but you wanted to recognise them nonetheless.
Upon receiving a card, staff could choose to enter their card into their local monthly Star Card Draw where staff would gather for a few minutes to see who would be drawn out to win a $25 gift card. This was more about getting together, recognising how many cards had been entered and having a bit of fun.
To my surprise the system worked very well.
Early one morning, when covering for the Gym Manager who was ill, one of the cleaners came and spoke with me. Chisholm Hall at the Caulfield Campus was literally next to the gym. The previous night the hall had been used for a music concert and a ‘special clean’ hadn’t been organised when it should have been.
Gloria, the cleaner (from a contractor) said, “Gary. The hall is a mess and the university are setting up for enrolments that start at 1pm. Can you come and help me clean it?”
I wasn’t able to leave the gym unattended so I promised Gloria that I would recruit some other staff and come over at 11am to complete the clean. She seemed happy with this decision.
Upon arriving at the hall at 11am with some other staff, the hall was already spotless and university staff were calmly setting up for enrolments. I spoke with several of them to thank them for assisting Gloria and apologised for the mess.
“Oh, no, we didn’t help her. She just worked like a Trojan and did it all herself!” they told me.
The next morning, I found Gloria and thanked her for her work. I gave her a Star Card and explained how the program worked and if she wanted I’d place her card in the monthly draw for her. She smiled and thanked me and asked if she could keep the card, which was fine.
A month passed.
One morning, this time in my office, Gloria knocked at my door.
“Gary, the cleaners cage was broken into yesterday morning and my purse was stolen.”
“Oh no Gloria, that is just terrible. Is there anything I can do?”
“Yes. How can I get another Star Card?”
“Oh, that’s simple. I have some cards with me right now. I can write you out another card if you like and give it to you now.”
“Yes please!” was Gloria’s response.
I wrote out the card and handed it to Gloria. She smiled and turned to leave my office.
It dawned on me that here was a mature woman who was more worried about losing her Star Card than losing other valuable cards that must have been in her purse.
Curiosity got the better of me.
“Gloria, do you mind sharing with me why this card is so important to you?”
“Oh yes, of course.” She replied.
“Fourteen years ago, my husband and I moved from Chile to Australia. I was a qualified child psychologist and he was equally qualified. Unfortunately, our qualifications were not recognised in Australia, so we became cleaners to earn a living and have been cleaners ever since.
Over those fourteen years, no one has ever told me that I have done a good job – until you gave me that card. That’s why I wanted to see if I could get another one.”
If you could have seen my face, you would have seen a “SOLD” sign appear. At that moment, I was sold on the system.
Here was a mature, intelligent woman who genuinely believed that she hadn’t been thanked or recognised for her work over a 14-year period. To me, no organisation should have staff who genuinely have that perspective.
The question is, do you have any Gloria’s working for you?
If so, what are you going to do to change that reality?