A Little Motivation

When our organization started its Six Sigma deployment back in 2004, we designed a small round pin that was given to certified Change Agents, Yellow Belts, Green Belts, and Black Belts. The pins are gold-backed and have the appropriate color (blue for Change Agents) around the outer rim, with the appropriate certification title, and our health system logo in the middle. At first people thought they were cute and some people wore them while others didn’t.

Now, a couple of years later, “the pin” has become highly valued. Associates who are awarded certification must complete training and a project for all levels; and I am receiving many inquiries about whether people are eligible for a pin. Those who receive pins tend to wear them – not only their highest certification, but all the others too!

I’m not down-hearted about people focusing on the pin, because I know they have had to demonstrate their competence in order to get one. I’m happy to tell them which classes to take and inform them of the required project. Most are eager to complete the requirements. The pins and certificate are awarded at operating unit leadership meetings for a very public recognition ceremony.

It’s a small thing, but very meaningful.

Another small thing that means a lot is our badge pulls. These are handy little devices that clip onto your collar or pocket, and have a retractable string that attaches to your ID badge. You can pull the badge away from the holder in order to swipe into a card-reader to gain access to an office or parking lot, without having to unclip the badge holder from your clothing. We ordered black pulls for our BBs and green pulls for our GBs. The shipment came in a couple of weeks ago, and we handed out the first pulls yesterday as we concluded a two-day Define session.

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Today I received a lot of requests from the GBs who had formerly taken the class – “Hey I saw those green badge pulls, how come we didn’t get them and when can I get mine?!?!?” The badge pulls generated a lot of interest from everyone.

Certification pins – about $25 each. Colored badge pulls – about $1.20 each. Motivation, excitement, enthusiasm, feeling of being part of a special group…


Comments 6

  1. Randy

    I have seen great improvement in my hotel business, by posting employee’s of the month and assigning simple privileges such as parking spots. Great post :)

  2. SiggyJ

    In our firm, I imagine the reaction to the pins would be quite the opposite – unfortunately, quite a lot of cynicism abounds yet about LSS (as well as any/all other corporate initiatives).

    I’m not sure if that’s due to the demography of our workforce (highly educated, technical) or just our corporate culture, but I can see such a motivator completely backfiring on us.

    Do others have motivational ideas that have worked in such environments? I’m all ears.

  3. GaryPCox

    I find motivation always an interesting topic for discussion. The question I ask my peers and belts who are leading projects who say their team is not motivated, or that they find their employees are not motivated is: Is it our responsibility to motivate or it is our responsibility to provide an atmosphere where self- motivation can exist?
    This question often causes people to consider what kind of work environment they support the growth of. For example, when a frontline employee has suggested an idea and it is overlooked, shrugged off, or rejected without letting the employee know why, we contribute to an environment that kills motivation.
    When an employee feels that they are not respected how is motivation impacted? I suggest even the techies or highly educated need to feel respected and appreciated for what they bring to the team for an environment of motivation to exist in order for them to be motivated.
    So, that to say, motivation is very personal, what motives me may not motivate you, but one thing we have in common; respect me for what I bring to the team. This is what the pins do for Sue’s team.

  4. Sue Kozlowski

    Thanks SiggyJ and Gary for your comments. I agree that creating an environment in which people can motivate themselves is the key. For SiggyJ, if cynicism about corporate initiatives is predominant, then naturally any "recognition" from a corporate source will be suspect. I have been in a situation in which we employees could give each other recognition "tickets" that could be redeemed for free cup of coffee, $5 gift shop coupon, etc. The environment there was such that people routinely wrote up tickets for all their friends so as to get the freebees. Naturally it lost all meaning as a motivator or method of recognition.

    The pins were introduced very early on in our deployment. The training, provided by GE in the first 3 waves, was rigorous and we wanted to have a visible symbol in addition to the paper certificate and executive handshake (although executive recognition in public was also appreciated by the early Belts). At first some people wore the pins, some didn’t – they weren’t mandatory. Now almost everyone wears them.

    Now that we’ve internalized our training, we’re still seeking ways to provide visible signs of obtaining the "certified" status for our Belts. We have just added padfolios with "Lean Green Belt" embossed, to further increase the visibility of the LGBs – we hope that will also be well-received!

  5. Steven Bonacorsi

    Hi Sue,

    Excellent topic. I believe it is impossible for a manager to motivate an employee or anyone other than themselves, people are just not that powerful. On the other hand, I do believe we do have the power to create an environment from which motivation will occur. The premise is that each of us already come with a set of needs from which motivate us already and the right environment can pull that energy from us. Sounds like you have uncovered some old wisdom that it doesn’t have to cost much (pins) to inspire a whole gang of Green and Black Belt change agents in your business.


    Steven Bonacorsi
    Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt

  6. Sue Kozlowski

    Hi Steven, thanks for your comment. The other factor that we considered was the effect of diminishing returns – if you reward greatly for an initial effort, people expect the same or increasing rewards for future work. We wanted something small, meaningful, and not inflationary over time.

    My thinking on this has been influenced by a book called "Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes" by Alfie Kohn. It might be an interesting read for others thinking about motivation.

    I entirely agree that we set the stage for people to become motivated – we can’t strong-arm or mind-control other people into positive attitudes!

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