Watching the Academy Awards the other night I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if every industry had a recognition event like that?  I believe in the power of recognition to deepen employee engagement, or “employee happiness” as my hero Tony Hsieh (of Zappos) would say.

Years ago I worked as a corporate HR director for a big hotel company that used to put on annual conferences and award dinners for its general managers and directors of sales.  The GM conference in particular was a big deal; getting an invitation to attend, if you were not a GM, was like getting a ticket to the Oscars.  Our chief operating officer, a man who truly understood how to create a unique and motivating organizational culture, would spend months planning for the conference.  His team would assemble photos of the award winners to beam on the big screen and would find out their favorite songs, so that when they came up on stage they felt like rock stars.  He shot video in advance, and created hilarious little skits and jokes that played on the personal strengths, quirks and foibles of the general managers, or on some of the company’s significant achievements or bloopers that year.  Everything was put together by talented and creative audio-visual experts to make a full night of entertainment; one year when the conference was in LA, he even hired an A/V company that had done some work for the Academy Awards ceremony before.

The banquet room was usually set as though it was Oscar night too, with glitter and glitz and mood lighting and beautifully decorated tables.  I remember feeling a sense of enchantment when the doors opened each year and we all streamed into the ballroom to find our name cards and see who we were sitting next to.

It cost the company a lot of money to do this every year, not only because of the expense of the evening but because the GMs had to fly in from all over the country.  Sometimes I would hear some of the other executives criticizing our COO for spending so much money on one event.  But every time I saw the look in a GM’s eyes as she climbed the stairs to the stage, every time I visited a hotel and heard a GM say, “I want to be on that stage next year,” I knew it was money well spent.

What do you do to make your people feel like rock stars?

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