Company Surprises Employees with $10 million in bonuses!

Spotted this in the Washington Post. Apparently, employees of the company were surprised with bonus checks that averaged $50,000 but maxed out at $270,000.  Better yet, the amount was based on seniority.

My first thought: “How soon can I apply?”

As the article says, the bonuses were “life-changing”.

The reason for the award? According to the owner of the company: “I steer the boat, but they’re the ones that run the boat. They’re the ones that make the boat go.”

The article says that the bonus was in recognition of reaching a goal set 14 years previous, to double the size of the business.

It’s nice to hear that this senior manager understands the value of the people working for him and believes they should be rewarded for their work.

But obviously, that big cash award didn’t play any role in the work it took over the prior 14 years to reach the goal.

I’d be curious to see if, during the 14 years they were working toward the goal, the management team used the philosophy of “many mini” goals.

Research by Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham revolutionized goal-setting theory.  Among the takeaways are that setting sub-goals, or “many mini” goals, and feedback lead to higher performance.

So, I’d bet that the management team did just that. They set an ambitious goal 14 years ago. But they set many sub-goals. They gave feedback on the performance regularly and rewarded the achievement of those sub-goals.

And 14 years later they had a lot to celebrate.

Finally, the smoke begins to clear on Safety Incentive programs … or does it?

Over the last four years, there’s been a lot of confusion over OSHA’s stand on Workplace Safety Incentive Programs.

Early in 2016 OSHA proposed a final rule that seemed to prohibit almost any workplace safety incentive program.

Organizations of all sizes and across industries responded to the proposed change. Predictably, companies that used safety incentive programs liked them and wanted to keep them. One of the most powerful responses came from the Great American Insurance Group.

Great American has insured over 1,000 companies over 23 years in challenging classes of business–such as foundries, sawmills, and industrial fabricators.

They cited remarkable results. The companies they insured that had safety incentive programs had:

  • 39% lower costs, and
  • 58% fewer catastrophic claims (defined has claims greater than $475,000)

You can read their comments here.

But anyone who’d been following OSHA starting with the Clinton administration could see the handwriting on the wall.

Labor organizations had been strongly in favor of eliminating all incentive programs, especially any incentive linked to a BBS (Behavior Based Safety) process. It’s no surprise that they’ve historically resisted any effort to reward their member’s individual achievements. They’d much prefer to negotiate an incentive that rewards everyone exactly the same thing.

Unfortunately, that type of group incentive removes individuals’ motivation to go “above and beyond” and quickly becomes a benefit to be bargained over.

On May 12, 2016, OSHA published a final rule that seemed to pretty much outlaw any Workplace Safety Incentive program.

But, in early 2017 a new administration arrived in DC and many safety professionals believed the rule would be reversed.

I was eating lunch with a safety director at a large manufacturer who had started a cash-based incentive program tied to lagging indicators like the number of OSHA Recordable Injuries and Lost Time Injuries.

I was suggesting that he instead reward leading indicators like the number of safety activities engaged in by a worker. My argument: “You don’t want your incentive program to upset OSHA”.

He told me straight up: “We’re confident the new administration is going to roll this back. We’re not going to change anything.”

He wasn’t the only safety director with a lagging indicator incentive program that wasn’t going to change.

But was he on solid ground not just with OSHA, but with current thinking in the safety profession?

To be continued …

Why Cash & Store Gift Certificate Incentives Often Fail

When you ask employees what they’d rather have, cash or a gift, they always say, “Oh, just give me the money.” So why is it that when you give them cash or cash substitutes like Gift Certificates to the local mall, it’s less effective than doing a gift program like ours? There are several reasons. […]

I’m Confused…

I’m confused . . .

Recently I was greatly honored to be asked to do a keynote speech at the Behavioral Safety Now (BSN) conference (

“Who, me?” I asked.

Most of you know that the folks at BSN have pretty much set the gold standard in behavior based safety (BBS) thought leadership for some time. In fact, I learned when I got there, that I was the only non-PhD keynote speaker ever in 17 years!

So what could a guy like me bring to the party that hasn’t been discussed already?

Now, my usual morning routine is to push a 100-pound dumbbell up into the air (one per arm) while listening to Bon Jovi at a level which usually gets my wife pretty mad, although my dog Elvis seems to like it.

Lately, my wife’s been pretty happy, since I’ve decided to forego my favorite music in favor of listening to my collection of past presentations from the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), the National Safety Council (NSC), BSN, and the like.

It’s taken a lot of self discipline to go from working out with Bon Jovi to pumping iron with BBS consultants, but I am glad I’ve done it.

And, having sifted through the absolute BEST and WORST speakers of these conferences, I have become . . .


Here’s why:

I heard a BBS consultant do a presentation on the role of steering committees in BBS. I was eager to learn more!

The gentleman started with a few introductory comments saying, “I have absolutely no research to back up what I’m about to say; it’s my opinion.”

(Immediately, red warning lights flashed through my brain! I almost dropped the 100-pound dumbbell on my head but caught it in the nick of time.)

So, ok, I’m about to hear some consultant give me an opinion without any research to back it up. This should be fun, I thought.

The consultant went on to offer his advice:

1) “I tell all my Steering Committees you should meet weekly to decide who to positively reinforce or in behaviorist lingo.”

Good, weekly is sure better than monthly recognition, I thought.

2) “You should go out and find a person who has done an observation and recognize them in front of their peers.”

Huh? I thought that public recognition can backfire, since some people are afraid that their peers will perceive them as the teacher’s pet. From what I’ve read, you never publicly praise a person in front of others without asking that person’s permission in advance.

3) “You should know your employees, and know what’s really reinforcing to them. So, you need to learn as a manager what each person likes and find something you can say that links to that. For example, if they like bonsai trees, you should find an article about bonsai trees and give it to them and tell them you thought they’d like it.”

Now, maybe you know a lot of guys who like to grow bonsai trees but I don’t. And if I ever do take up bonsai growing, I’d probably like a bonsai tree more than an article about one. Plus, while it’s important to know what people like and are interested in, it’s also important to let them choose what’s positively reinforcing to them.

4) “You should celebrate improvements in the process monthly, but never do the same kind of celebration twice in the same year . . . and oh yes, never, ever give people tangible award gifts. Mix up your celebrations; do pizza this month and watermelon the next. That’s the key.”

Hey, last time I checked, pizza and watermelon ARE TANGIBLE . . . unless someone has invented anti-matter pizza. While there is a place for company picnics and they have some value, one safety director lamented the fact that “We feed them for being safe and the next minute we tell them to lose some weight in our new wellness program.”

5) Celebrations should be linked to contingencies. Don’t throw a safety party, but be specific about what your team did, and why we’re celebrating.

Now I like this one! The whole idea of pinpointing a behavior or result and then celebrating as a team how we improved performance is a powerful concept.

6) It’s wrong to focus on gifts and awards; you lose the personal touch. You shouldn’t give the same gifts to people, but if you do, make sure they have a logo on them.

“Ahh, earth to consultant, the latest research of Fortune 100 managers puts logo gifts as the least effective motivator of all. Bill Sims research shows that over 90 percent of us have received a logo gift we didn’t want, need, or use. Conclusion: most logo gifts become throwaway items in a landfill.

7) 500 coffee mugs isn’t R+ for anyone.

I totally agree, but you have contradicted your earlier statement, where you suggest that giving everyone watermelon or pizza is a positive reinforcer. If we can’t make 500 people happy with a coffee mug then logic says we can’t do it with 500 pieces of pizza. Plus, I just started my new Dr. Atkins high-protein diet!

8) Make the recognition cost as little as you can. When you budget for recognition, less is better.

Hold on here a minute! If you do that, will you be giving people a pepperoni pizza minus the pepperoni and cheese? Now, that is positively punishing in my book. Instead I say walk softly and carry a big P.I.C. no pun intended Aubrey 🙂 National research shows $100 to $200 per employee for the year is the norm for recognition and the numbers are climbing steadily.

9) Assume everyone will be at 100 percent participation.

This is a classic beginner’s mistake. In this scenario, the beginner takes his or her tiny $25 budget and assumes a worst-case scenario that all employees will participate, and so they make the reinforcer an “itsy bitsy, teeny weeny” whatever. In fact, it’s hard to get 100 percent of people to do anything. Studies show that 40 percent of all employees do not cash in their Wal-Mart, Visa, and American Express gift cards. So, by planning that 100 percent of the people will participate, you actually shoot yourself in the foot. Instead, make the R+ bigger and you’ll get more people to engage.

10) You should reserve 10 percent of your budget for individual recognition and 90 percent for monthly group celebrations.

This one flies in the face of all logic and reason. First, of all, we know that the most powerful R+ is that which is linked to the behavior within 15 seconds. That means we need to reinforce INDIVIDUALS and NOT GROUPS. Group reinforcement, while creating powerful peer pressure, may be positive, but it certainly is NOT IMMEDIATE and, by George, it is UNCERTAIN. In Aubrey’s book and in mine PIC blows the doors off PIU’s hands down.

Maybe you are as confused now as I was. There sure seems to be a lot of confusion on the part of companies who have implemented BBS over the last 15 years. Some of it is absolutely hilarious. For example, a company was interviewing BBS consultants in their selection process. One PhD was asked, “How many failures have you had?”

He replied, “We don’t know. We don’t follow up with our clients after we train them in our process.”

To prepare for my BSN keynote I conducted a survey of companies to see how their BBS processes are going. You can get a copy of that survey along with a link to one of my presentations free of charge by going to this link:

In a future blog, I’ll give you my analysis of the BBS survey data. But the bottom line is this:

Lots of today’s mature BBS processes are STUCK. People go through the motions, collecting data, with the pencil whipping and negative or non-existent R+. We need to help these companies build a culture, as my good friend Bob Veazie says. We’ve done that for many companies, helping them fix broken BBS systems. In my next blog, I’ll share more thoughts on how to do it.

In the meantime, if you’re doing your workout, I suggest you join me and Elvis as we listen to Bon Jovi. At least you won’t be . . . confused.

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