“In the middle of a big event, how are we supposed to recognize someone?!”
“We can’t afford a budget for recognition!”
“We have recognition program but no one really uses it..”
Many organizations are focused on enhancing their customer experience, but too many underestimate the role employee recognition plays in achieving customer-centric outcomes. To answer some of these objections, we sat down with Kevin Weickel, former Disney Institute Engagement Manager and longtime Tournament Director of Walt Disney World’s PGA Tour event.
During his 27 years at the Walt Disney Company, Kevin was recognized with some of the highest honors you can achieve as a Cast Member, Disney’s Legacy Award and Partners in Excellence Award. So he knows a thing or two about the power of well-executed recognition.
Excerpt from EngageMint’s podcast, Flip the Switch: Episode 003 - Running an Event the Disney Way
David Millay: I want to talk a little bit about recognition because I think it is such an important part of the events space. And Kevin, you had a blue name tag, which for guests, that’s all they saw it as. I don’t know if it even registered for a lot of them, but for us internally as Cast Members, that was the biggest honor you could possibly get! So talk a little bit about the Legacy Award, what that was, and what that meant to you and your peers who were in that elite club, if you will.
Kevin Weickel: Sure. So the Legacy Award was a really high honor because it was an award that your peers and leadership put you up for. To me, I think it was a recognition that… I felt like I was always trying to be inclusive of everyone and get them engaged and involved and felt like, they’re the ones that were the most important part of whatever it was I was doing, and how could I help them. Even though I may have had that responsibility to make it happen, I always looked at it in the other direction. So recognition goes really far, even when you’re not expecting it.
I always approached it like “I’m doing my job, I’m doing my job the way I feel it should be done.” I don’t feel like I need the recognition. But when you get it, you realize, “Wow, that really feels good.” And then you know that a lot of people love to be recognized, then you go, “Gosh, we really need to make this a point, to make it happen.” Those 40 different departments that I talked to you about with the PGA Tour event, we would always have an “appreciation tournament” afterwards, where we would close the golf course down in the afternoon and we would invite the leaders plus usually one or two people from their area and we’d have a big celebration.
And that was their recognition, they got to come out and play golf on the PGA Tour course, and then we’d give them more food than they could possibly eat. And then we’d give them prizes. Everybody won a prize. Which is again, another form of recognition. But just to show that we’re going to stop what we’re doing and make it happen. And the Disney company really was great about that, making sure that recognition was integral and you needed to be doing it.
And it was funny how the more you recognize, the better people performed.
David Millay: That’s really great. I do think it’s interesting, sometimes when we work with clients and we talk about recognition, we ask about recognition. And you hear anything from, “I just wish I got a thank you every once in a while” to “we’ve got this employee of the month program” and I think a lot of people think of recognition as a standardized, “we have one program.”
When you think back to our time at Disney, the Legacy Award was an annual thing that less than 1% of the top performers got, and it was nominated by peers. And you have to write a 25-page application to nominate somebody. So you really only nominated somebody if you thought they were incredible. So you add something big and overarching like that to our Four Keys Fanatics Cards that we use for daily recognition, things like that at the tournament that you guys do, and it all adds up.
Recognition is much more than just one program and as a leader you’ve got to constantly be thinking about how to recognize people in new and creative ways.
Kevin Weickel: Well, what I’ve found, with my experience, and in talking with people and also working with other companies, that they get confused between recognition and rewards, right? So they think a rewards program is recognition. No, recognition is showing consistent, respect and admiration and support for someone. And that’s what recognition is all about. A reward is a fun thing, a tangible thing. But the recognition is really what it’s all about. And it’s respect. And so when there’s an award, like the Legacy Award, because recognition is so universally given at Disney, when there’s an epitome of recognition, then it becomes special, because you know recognition is part of the culture and this is saying that it’s a little bit above and beyond that, but there’s no reward behind it. That’s the great thing about the Legacy Award. You get a blue pin and you got a certificate, a framed certificate, and that’s it. Because it’s all about the respect and it’s not about a reward.
I mean you would think, “oh, Legacy Awards, would you get like a stock option? Did you get a night at the Cinderella Castle?” No, you got nothing. You walked away with your peers’ and leaders’ respect. That’s all you needed. And that is the most valuable thing that could ever be given, is for somebody to give you respect because that will last and, and you have to keep earning it, right?
David Millay: Oh, absolutely!
Kevin Weickel: All right, so now the blue name tag is like a bullseye, right? So you’ve got to keep earning it.
That award came with pressure, that was the heaviest name tag I’ve ever worn in my life.
David Millay: So, to clarify, everyone, for those of you not familiar with Walt Disney World or the Parks and Resorts, every Cast Member wears a white name tag that has their name and their hometown, and every one of them is shaped exactly the same. And it’s a white name tag. So Kevin, when you won the Legacy Award, you now had a bright blue name tag. So I didn’t even think about it from that perspective. Every day that you put that on, you probably felt this weight that, “oh crap, I’ve got to perform even higher than I’ve ever performed before because I walk in the room and people automatically think differently of me.”
Kevin Weickel: But the point is behind true recognition, is it drives performance. And so that’s what true recognition is about, respect, and respect drives performance and enhances the relationship that you have with that person that you’re working with. It’s not a rewards program because a rewards program is a transaction and that doesn’t equate into respect.
Mike Millay: You know, and there are so many organizations out there that, number one, have no recognition program at all. And it’s the difference between understanding what is “nice to have” and what’s “need to have.” Recognition programs are without question, paramount to be able to sustain long-term success. And, until top leadership understands the employee experience conditions that build a customer-experience, of which recognition is certainly one of those, they’re not going to be able to deliver to their maximum potential.
To hear the full conversation between Kevin Weickel, Mike Millay and David Millay visit: Flip the Switch presented by EngageMint
This is an edited excerpt of Flip the Switch, a podcast by EngageMint: Episode 003 — Running an Event the Disney Way