ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

December 1997


Whole Foods Includes Whole Self
Capitalizing on Human Resources Encourages Growth at Whole Foods Market

Making Waves With Employee Recognition
Rewards and Recognition Practices at Sea World

Honeywell's High Flying Division Shows Company The Way To Participation
Union-Management Relations Help Airplane Part Manufacturer Excel


Freedom's Just Another Word
by Peter Block

Highs and Lows Of Participation
by Cathy Kramer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review


Making Waves With
Employee Recognition

People gasp as orcas soar through the air. Children laugh as penguins slide across the ice. And everyone tightens just a little as nine-foot sand tiger sharks glide through the water. But what about the people who make this all possible? Well, thanks to a new employee recognition program, Sea World employees are getting some of the credit they deserve.

The Make Waves program at Sea World of California, in San Diego, began in January, 1997 to revamp an aging employee recognition system. Sea World implemented TQM five years earlier and Make Waves was designed to reinforce the values of TQM, recognize employees who work in a team-based environment, and involve everyone in meeting the goals of the entire park.

A design team of five people created the program - three from human resources, one business analysis manager and Donna Parham, a total quality administrator. According to Parham, "The old employee recognition program was losing pizzazz, there was little excitement around it, and management wanted to get everyone involved with the TQM program." Through Make Waves, now everyone from animal trainers to cafeteria staff is being rewarded for their contributions.
With 1500 year-round employees (up to 3000 during the summer), the current Make Waves program consists of 35 teams, each comprised of anywhere from two to two hundred people. During the program's development managers grouped workers into Make Waves teams based on natural work groups. The only stipulation being that each employee is able to personally contribute to the goals of the team.
Sea World has park-wide goals for safety performance and goals within four quadrants of a balanced scorecard - innovation and learning, guest perspective, internal perspective and financial. The Make Waves program is designed to involve all employees in meeting those goals and reward them for their contributions. In doing so, each team pulls together historical data and identifies a list of aids and barriers to success in their work. Teams then set their own goals in each of the same categories from the balanced scorecard. Managers are encouraged to involve their team members in goal setting because, Parham believes, "When people are involved in setting their own goals, the goals tend to be more realistic and people are more committed to achieving them."

While there is no actual team dynamics training, Parham believes, "In retrospect, that might not have been a bad idea." However, there are 35 facilitators and 21 quality mentors available to help with team meetings and goal setting.

How It Works
There are four different recognition categories:

Splash: Awarded for exemplary displays of teamwork and performance, this individual recognition is bestowed by fellow employees who feel their coworkers are making an extra effort. Each team member is allotted four Splashes per month to dispense as they see fit. Not all four must be given every month, it is entirely up to the individual. Employees may redeem their Splashes for awards - two Splashes for something small in the cafeteria, up to ten for a nice meal - or save 20 and trade up for a Wave.

Wave: Every employee on a team earns a Wave when their team meets or exceeds a quarterly goal from the balanced scorecard. With five scorecard areas and four fiscal quarters, there is potential for each team member to receive 20 Waves in a year. Combined with any Waves gained through culmination of Splashes, individuals can save all their Waves until reaching an award level of their choice. Nine Waves are worth a $50 gift certificate - with a broad array of alternatives ranging from restaurants to paint ball events - up to 18 waves worth a $100 gift certificate.

Ripple: Awarded to individuals by supervisors, managers, directors or vice presidents, a Ripple is recognition that someone is making a difference in one of the balanced scorecard categories. A Ripple can be cashed in for prizes or exchanged for a Wave.

Swell: "Basically an employee of the month program in disguise," Parham describes the Sea World Exemplary Leadership League (SWELL) as recognizing team members who exemplify the qualities of service leadership, continuous improvement and teamwork. Any team member may nominate another for induction. Each month a volunteer panel of nine park employees from different departments (currently no managers are serving on the panel) preside over the entries and select up to 10 nominations they feel are most worthy. Inductees select a prize (or a Wave), receive a reserved parking place for one month (normally reserved only for assistant managers and above), lunch with the park's
general manager, a limited edition polo shirt and a special nametag.

Young and Evolving
Since the program's inception in January, management support has varied. Selling the program to management initially was not hard - most were very enthusiastic. But now some managers feel the program may be too complicated - a concern also shared by the design team that created it. Parham and her associates are currently discussing ways to make the program easier to understand. One idea involves presenting the program in pieces. New employees find it difficult to understand the relationships between different recognition categories. It can be hard to discern between Waves, Ripples and Splashes when an employee is still 'getting their feet wet' with other job responsibilities.
Teams have found varying degrees of success with the program. Parham observes, "Those who put the most in, get the most out. Employees from teams that have fully embraced the program are very satisfied with the results." While those who do not - for whatever reason - are a concern to the design team in their effort to increase participation. One means for improvement includes regular posting of team progress on a bulletin board in a common area. As other teams see the success of their colleagues, they increasingly pressure their own teams to get more actively involved. Parham insists their dedication to improvement is imperative - nothing is set in stone. Her team is constantly testing the effectiveness of the program to see where improvements can be made.

The park is currently on schedule to meet or exceed their safety and financial goals, while for other slightly less quantifiable goals, it is still too early to tell. And while the animals may still draw the crowds and steal the show, the employees are getting a lot more than fish for their efforts.

December '97 News for a Change | Email Editor
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