Fifteen years ago, I visited PT Pupuk Kalimantan Timur (PKT), a state-owned enterprise that performed well then and continues to do so. It was not only my first visit to the company but also my first to Kalimantan.
Of course, I was really worried. I was worried because PKT is one of PPM School of Management’s clients that pay great attention to the quality of its consultants and training providers. I was also worried because I was in Kalimantan.
My worries dispersed upon being welcomed by PKT employees at Balikpapan airport. First, I felt surprised that they instantly knew that I was from PPM (perhaps because I was more verbal than other the Garuda passengers).
Second, they asked whether it was my first visit, and when I answered in the affirmative, they explained about their company, about the employees of PKT, about Balikpapan, about reaching PKT (located in Bontang).
Then when they found out that my husband was from East Java, they showed me a restaurant where I could eat East Javanese food while waiting for my flight to Bontang. And on it went. If I had to confer a medal for such favorable treatment, who would I give it to?
Who deserves a medal?
“Of course, the president director, since he is the captain of the ship,” said a fellow participant in a mailing list discussion that I regularly take part in.
He said the progress of an organization and the behavior of its members are highly dependent on its leader. Without quality leadership, the ship will flounder. Agreed! However, what happens if the crew leaves the ship? It is very likely that the ship will not simply flounder, it will sink.
So, if this is the case, it is the managers that deserve the medal, said another friend. In fact, it is on the shoulders of these managers that the huge operational burdens and concrete challenges lie as the high-ranking officials can just attend meetings and mingle with each other on the golf course. Not bad.
But then, do the managers do things alone? What about their staffers, who work with dedication to meet all their assignments and responsibilities, which are in a different league to that of their managers?
This time a fellow manager voiced his agreement. He said he would give a medal to his secretary. His secretary, he continued, has many outstanding abilities. The results of her work are OK; she is smart in arranging the time of her superior, skilled in managing administration and flexible in dealing with bona fide guests and those pretending to be guests.
In addition, she never complains and dresses well. Well, it seems there is an appropriate person on which to pin a medal.
But wait, this fellow manager should first describe the performance of his other staffers as accurately as his description of his secretary. Well, he cannot because every day only a handful of people, including his secretary, have direct contact with him. This means that this manager feels it is his secretary that deserves a medal because only this secretary deals with him.
Sorry, but it seems that it is very difficult to use “frequency of meetings” as the criterion for an employee to deserve a medal. This secretary may deserve a medal because her performance is good.
However, would it be correct to say that the performance of this secretary is indeed better than the performance of the driver of the president director or of the salesman in the shop owned by the company?
What conferring a medal is for
Why should a company give a medal to achieving employees/executives? The answers are varied: (1) to maintain the loyalty of an employee whose performance is above average; (2) as appreciation for an achievement of the highest target; (3) to increase working productivity; (4) to promote motivation; (5) to popularize a positive habit of competition. There are many goals and there are many ways.
There are many ways to reward an employee because there are diverse jobs in a company. Just imagine the criteria to be applied on the jobs of a secretary and a salesman vis-…-vis that of a driver. Never say that one job is the spearhead of the company. If this is the case, does this mean that other jobs are merely just parts of the spear? Never forget that the spearhead can hit home only if it is fixed firmly and the spear is strong.
The basis on which a medal should be conferred must be considered well. One company once applied a medal of merit system on the basis of group performance. According to the management of the company, the conferring of medals of merit on the basis of groups would nurture the practice of cooperation.
However, group-based appreciation can also give an opportunity to freeloaders. Employees that sleep on the job may also share a medal while in fact their contribution is very little. It would be more appropriate to categorize these freeloaders as liabilities rather than assets! Group-based appreciation can also lead the groups that have never won any appreciation to be destructive.
The theory of organization behavior shows that a group that often wins will have the tendency to continue to win the competition because a victory is a positive reinforcement for group performance.
If group-based appreciation is chosen to encourage the development of cooperation, individual-based appreciation can also develop a constructive competition habit. Everyone will try to give their best performance so that they will deserve a medal.
Of course, this approach has its shortcoming because it can create shining stars so that this will give rise to envy and could instead develop destructive competition. In such a climate, a star can no longer be a motivator but will instead be a de-motivator.
As a midway, most companies show their appreciation to a group, for example a work unit or a division with outstanding progress in performance plus appreciation for individuals with super-bright performance.
Recruiting only the best people is the principle that a company must hold on to firmly when recruiting employees/executives. When an employee or an executive joins the company, he or she must have an ability to make progress and develop. It must be ascertained that all have equal opportunities.
Don’t forget the element of subjectivity, which, according to some people, constitutes the art of judging in determining who deserves a medal. A company must be fair, just and transparent. There is only one sun but there may be quite a lot of stars, which decorate the sky, or rather, a company.
*This article is taken from The Jakarta Post, January 2, 2008.