Old Navy's Culture Rewards are Tailored for Awesomeness [interview]

Great Mondays' founder Josh Levine interviewed Edgar Membreno, Manager of Product Creation at Old Navy, to learn about the peer-to-peer reward system that the fast-fashion retailer recently implemented. In the program, anyone can nominate a team member for exceeding one of the company's eight stated values. This program is an excellent example of formal recognition from peers, one of the four types of rewards defined in Levine's book.



Josh Levine:

Hello, everyone. I am excited to share with you one of the core components of Culture from The Great Mondays book: Recognition. I have with me Edgar Membreno, who is the Manager of Product Creation Strategy at Old Navy. He is also one of my students in the MBA for design strategy at the California College of Art in San Francisco.


During the class on this component, Edgar brought up that he thought one of the ways Old Navy has been starting to recognize particular values synced nicely with the strategy I suggest in the Great Mondays book.


I asked Edgar to tell us a bit more about it, both for my own edification and so that we can get that information out into the world. So thanks, Edgar, for chatting with me this morning.


EM:

Of course.


JL:

When we talked about Recognition as a key part of Culture that really helps a Company culture improve and work, you shared with the class what you're experiencing at Old Navy has been like. Tell us a bit about that process. It sounds like a revised approach and I'm excited to learn about it.


EM:

Sure. Our process was recently updated because as a company we just modified our Values and that prompted a refresh of the total system. What we do as an organization is we actually have a system in place which allows for internal recognition to happen between peers. There's a peer-to-peer network where you're able to recognize someone that you work with for exceeding one of our set of values. We have a total of eight values now and we call them the words to live by, as an organization.


Anyone can nominate a peer and it goes through an approval process internally. It goes up to the manager of that person so that they're aware of it as well. It actually gets tied to your HR profile as well. So it's part of your entire makeup in the organization. Once it's approved, you're rewarded with an award. It’s usually done in a weekly team meeting or a divisional meeting, so that you're getting that peer recognition in front of others. It's a really great system.


We also have an internal intranet page which has been built to look like a social media page. There's a feed where you can actually see who's been recognized throughout the company for different reasons. And it creates this environment where everyone is aware of everyone's accomplishments and it creates transparency. I think it also really creates a lot of impact because people really feel the connection to the values of the organization and see their results being rewarded for those actions.


JL:

Is the process different if it's a manager rewarding you versus a peer rewarding you, or is it all the same system?


EM:

It's all the same system. It also creates a level playing field on that side of the fence as well. So it can be a peer or a manager, and you'll still get the same level of reward.


JL:

So as far as the expression of that acknowledgment, can you tell us a little bit about what someone gets? What does it look like on their HR profile? And then the other piece is extrinsic motivators. Are there coffee cards? Are there, I don't know, Old Navy bucks or whatever it is, what is it that you're actually getting?


EM:

Yes. So they do give you a little certificate that gives you the recognition with a little blurb from the person who recognized you. So there's a personal connection on that actual certificate, but on top of that, there are several awards that the leadership can choose to give you.


You do get a badge that you can put on your company signature that shows your recognition to others as well when you're emailing internally in the company. You also are eligible for different awards. You can get a coffee card, you can get a free lunch on us, which will provide you basically with a meal card to eat at our cafe. Financial incentives can also be rewarded depending on, I think that depends specifically on what the person did and how impactful it is to the organization.


JL:

I heard you say that it needs to be approved. Did you say who, how that happens? What approval is and looks like?


EM:

It's basically, from what I understand, validation that the facts that are being provided are accurate in terms of did this person actually perform this duty?


JL:

Got it. So you can't gain the system. So it's a little extra check-in place. Very cool. And how long has it been going on, this particular system?


EM:

This iteration has been probably about five months now. There was a similar setup created for our previous set of values, but I don't think it was as well developed as it is now. So it feels like, with this new implementation, there were improvements made to provide, I think, additional rewards.


JL:

Do you know what it looks like on your HR report?


EM:

Well, funny enough, the day after I emailed you about this system, I actually ended up getting a reward myself, which was unexpected. So I actually got to see what that looks like on the HR side. It really just says that you received an exceed award for this year and the quarter in which you received it. So it's just allowing them to see that you've been recognized by your peers.


JL:

I see. Does it say specifically which value or which word to live by it was rewarded for, or is it just marked down as an exceed?


EM:

It did tie directly to the value and I believe the intent is for it, once we get to our annual recognition time period or our annual review process, for that to already be attached to that value so that when you go through the process it basically says, well, he's already received an exceed award for this value. So obviously, he's meeting these expectations. So I think it's also helping to facilitate the annual review process down the road.


JL:

Absolutely. Is it less likely that you'll get another one if you one or it's the same stats all the way through? Because the way you're saying, "Oh, I got one this year, I got one this quarter." Is it possible to get two or three, or is there a limit?


EM:

No. There currently doesn't appear to be a limit to how many you can receive.


JL:

Okay. Fantastic. Tell us what got rewarded for.


EM:

I got it for: "Do it, Own it, Done". That is the value. And it was in regards to a pretty significant financial project that we were doing as an organization to try to understand how much it would cost us as a company to convert all of our polyester investment to recycled polyester by the year 2030. I actually built the financial model for that process. And it was quite a challenging process, but I managed to get through it. And that's what I was recognized for, was for creating that financial model.


JL:

Wow, fantastic. That's terrific. Congrats. That does not seem like a small feat. We talked a little bit in class about being recognized in front of your peers. Sometimes extroverts appreciate it, and introverts think it's actually a punishment to be recognized in front of people. Is there any consideration for that?


EM:

Right. I think it depends on the manager. And I think that can be a point of contention. Because I think people often don't realize that people appreciate different levels of recognition and don't always want their name blasted everywhere. So I've had leaders in the past that have actually been very cognizant of that. And they will actually tell you about the reward on a one-on-one touch base and then ask you if you want to be recognized in front of your peers. That obviously would be the ideal way, but I've also seen leaders that just get so jazzed about the reward that they just go for it and just present it in front of the team.


JL:

Well, I think that's a great thing about the Old Navy culture. That you kind of have permission to do that. So I think that's great. Have you recognized anybody else on your team or maybe cross-team for one of these awards? Can you tell us a little bit about that, just as another example?


EM:

Yes. So that was actually back when I was on my previous team, I actually recognized my boss at the time because I felt she was being overshadowed. I knew how much work she was putting into what we did. And I felt like she was also not necessarily giving voice to all the work that she was doing in front of people around us. So I actually decided to take one of the examples of a time where she really went above and beyond to help me get to my goals. And I used that as a way to get her recognized. So I was able to get her recognition through the team. And I think it also just brought to light, at the time for management, some things that were happening that they were not aware of as well, that she was doing for the team.


EM:

So I think it also helped open up a level of communication for her so that she could actually start having a pathway to start to talk about those things. So it ended up working out pretty well. She was very excited about it. She didn't know who it came from. And overall she was just really happy that it was a recognition type of thing. When I left, she actually asked me if I was the one who did it and I did let her know at that point, it was me.


JL:

You copped to it.


EM:

I did, I did. I guess she must have put the pieces together. But I felt like it was a great tool that I could utilize to help elevate someone that I felt was not being recognized in the way that I felt like they should have. So it ended up being pretty useful in that regard.


JL:

Well, so what I'm reflecting on as I learn more about this is that it's not like a quick one-off. It actually requires some investment on someone to say, "I'm going to actually invest some time and energy into putting this in." And so I think the plus side is that it actually has real heft to it, whether it includes money or not, it's almost the time and energy that's required to actually make this happen. It doesn't sound like it's just like, oh, these things are falling all over the place. So I think that's a benefit.


Are there other opportunities to recognize peers more regularly inside? And if not, is that something that you think would be helpful or is it just a distraction and maybe would take away from the exceed awards?


EM:

There are a lot of additional ways that teams recognize each other. I know, in my previous team, pretty much anytime that someone did something that we felt was special, the leader would step up and recognize them in our weekly touch bases. And that was a much smaller scale type of scenario. But every once in a while, they would also say, "Everyone's been doing such a great job. Let's just all take a walk and go to Starbucks and get a coffee." So there were small moments of recognition like that just to liven up our days and have leaders constantly remind us that they appreciate what we're doing.


I think that also keeps the energy level going. But the part that I think, and exactly what you touched on, the methodology or the way that these other rewards are implemented in the process allows for them to feel very valid for the person because there's so much work put into it. So for example, when I got that reward, it really took me aback because I was not expecting it in any way, shape, or form. I've also never received that type of reward in my career. It's all been an annual type of company rewards. Yeah, I exceeded my sales goals, top team, that kind of thing where you get a company reward. But it doesn't have the same power.


I think that having a peer-to-peer recognition system that's really well thought out has.


JL:

Yes, agreed. We are in agreement. Thanks, Edgar. I really appreciate it. This was really helpful. I love to hear these kinds of case studies in action and I only get so much exposure to the ones that my clients do or don't have. So this is really wonderful to learn a little bit more about recognition in the context of the six components of Great Mondays. And so thank you for being part of that and for bringing it up.


EM:

Of course.


JL:

Awesome. Thanks so much.


EM:

You're welcome.




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