Behaviour-based Recognition

Reinforcing the little things pays off big for employees and employers alike

By John Schofield

The deadline was looming, and Chris Whitworth and his team at Calgary-based Canadian Pacific (CP) had to get the job done. To finish the payroll processing for a complete reorganization of the railway giant’s non-unionized staff, Whitworth and about six colleagues worked late nights and weekends over about two weeks last April.

For going the extra mile, their boss in CP’s Human Resources department recognized each member of the group with a silver card under CP’s Traction recognition program. For his reward, Whitworth ordered a straightening iron for his daughter. The project “was very time-consuming,” says Whitworth, a data metrics and controls specialist and a 33-year veteran of the company, “so it’s nice to be recognized like that.”

Launched in 2008 with support from Montreal-based Rideau Inc., the Traction program is based in large part on something called behaviour-based recognition (BBR), which reinforces positive actions by employees in the course of a company’s everyday operations. Front-line managers at CP receive bronze, silver and gold recognition cards, and are empowered to reward staff as soon as they see a positive behaviour. Special achievements like a money-saving innovation are recognized at the platinum level.

Under CP’s previous recognition program, special achievements were the main focus, and many of CP’s 17,000, largely unionized workers were left out, says Len Haraburda, the general manager of CP’s HR Service Centre. Recognition also had to be approved at the VP level, so it took longer. “We really wanted to do something that catches people doing things right,” says Haraburda. “We wanted to recognize consistent performers who are here every day getting things done.”

Recognized behaviours are often safety related, but can be in line with any of CP’s five core beliefs: service, safety, productivity and efficiency, people, and growth. Rewards range from CP logo hats or backpacks at the bronze level to luggage or furniture at the gold level. In the first year of Traction, says Haraburda, the number of awards doubled, while the cost of running a recognition program dropped by 12 per cent.

BBR differs sharply from incentive programs, which reward employees for meeting a pre-set goal. Rideau president Peter Hart uses the example of a golfer: Everyone can see a 200-yard drive, but what were the behaviours that led up to it? “Behaviour-based programs,” he says, “are usually recognizing the little things that lead to achievement.”

Do the Right Thing
The basics of behaviour-based recognition (BBR) can be boiled down to a few key principles, says Bill Sims Jr., president of the South Carolina-based Bill Sims Company, a leader in the field. Done properly, BBR is an extremely effective way to change corporate culture. “It blows the doors off traditional approaches,” says Sims. “It’s like the difference between driving a Camero and a Porsche.”

Map it out. A company must define the results it wants and the behaviours that will produce those results.

Now! Not later. Recognition should occur almost immediately.

Checks + Balances. A system should be implemented to reward and track behaviours.

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