NBC Universal Gets An (((ovation)))

-Given the cost of turnover, it''s clear that employers need to put greater effort into measuring, monitoring, and improving employee satisfaction.
"It is time for me to move on."

When a co-worker makes that statement to their present employer that they are embarking on a new career path they are often met with mixed emotions around the office. Surprise - "I had no idea he was looking for a new job!" Happiness - "I am so glad she found something closer to her family." Sadness - "I cannot believe my cube mate is leaving me." Excitement - "Wow, does this mean I too can find something new?" Disappointment - "I was hoping to mold him into the next department manager." Jealousy - "Why don´t these great job opportunities happen to me?" Frustration - "How on earth will I replace her?"

As employees begin taking control of their career destiny, more and more they will look for new jobs with companies that have more attractive compensation and benefits. For the employee who feels unrecognized and underappreciated, a co-worker leaving can be the push they need to begin the job hunt. As employee turnover begins, employers´ frustrations will rise. Given that the cost of replacing workers is, according to a joint 2003 study by WorldatWork and the National Association for Employee Recognition (NAER), between 100 and 200% of an employee´s salary, it becomes extremely clear that employers need to put greater effort into measuring, monitoring, and improving employee satisfaction.

In order to attract and retain quality employees, an employer must create a work environment where an employee feels appreciated, recognized, and rewarded for his or her efforts. Employee retention directly leads to an increase in the company´s productivity rates and a decrease in costs. One way for management to successfully increase employee satisfaction, retention rates, and productivity is to implement and communicate an effective reward, recognition, and incentive (RRI) program.

Reward, Recognition and Incentive Programs are ImportantWorldatWork/NAER´s recent survey confirmed the growing importance of recognition (and retention) with 87% of respondents indicating these programs exist in their companies. Goals include "positive work environment" (80% of respondents) "creating a culture of recognition" (76%) and motivating high performance (75%).

Organizations are also thinking more strategically about motivational rewards, reward integration (HR, Sales, Marketing, etc.), how rewards create intrinsic value and what rewards are the most valuable to employees. The most prevalent form of recognition cited in the survey is Years of Service, or Service Anniversary Awards. These are the least differentiated reward programs of all, and they are not performance based. Years of Service is important to an effective, overall reward and recognition culture, but Years of Service Awards do not motivate performance based behavior.

When employees excel and are recognized and rewarded for achievement they are more productive, more involved, have higher job satisfaction, and a positive opinion about their employers.

Survey Says

One organization that recently took a hard look at the relationship between employee satisfaction and retention, and its compensation strategy is NBC Universal. NBC Universal conducted an annual survey of their employees. They found that while employees felt they made a difference in the success of the organization, they also felt that their contributions were not always recognized and spotlighted. Management understood that action needed to be taken to ensure that all employees felt they were an integral part of the organization and that their contributions were recognized and appreciated.

To achieve this, NBC Universal formed a partnership with IncentOne, a firm that specializes in RRI programs, and together they created the award winning (((ovation))) program. This program set forth goals to improve overall employee satisfaction, create a universal program that highlighted the role of recognition, and increase the frequency and public display of recognition.

IncentOne offered a solution where NBC Universal could award employees with the ultimate reward - choice. Employees who were recognized through the (((ovation))) program received an Employee Choice Award, which enabled them to select the rewards of their choice from the most extensive reward portfolio in the industry. In addition, each award recipient received a certificate of appreciation for public display on his or her desk.

Re-evaluation Time

Prior to launching the program, the existing reward and recognition program was evaluated. NBC Universal´s "spot" special award program was cash-based and awards were presented without fanfare. Although the program was well defined with good back-end controllership features, the front-end nominating process consisted of a paper nomination form that had to be routed throughout the company for appropriate approvals.

NBC Universal wanted to create a universal umbrella program that could be consistently applied to all NBC Universal employees. This required the implementation of a program that included a broad range of rewards that appealed to a large and diverse audience with a wide variety of recognition needs as well as technology that could be easily used by an employee population with disparate computer and technology skills. It also required that the approval process mirror the hierarchy that already existed in NBC Universal´s Oracle HR database.


(((ovation))) was chosen to brand NBC Universal´s employee recognition program because this word aptly describes the culture of recognition the organization desires to create and nurture. Eileen Whelley, EVP of Human Resources, launched the program in October, 2003 by saying, "The goal of (((ovation))) is to make employees feel that outstanding contributions and efforts are noticed and appreciated, to enable more employees to be rewarded for their contributions, and to make recognition a more visible part of the culture at NBC Universal."

The (((ovation))) program was designed to reinforce NBC Universal´s corporate values. Employees are recognized for a variety of behaviors including: successful launches; extraordinary effort; cost containment; customer service; imagination; initiative; innovation; leadership; teamwork; project support; safety; and volunteerism. A cross-functional team of NBC Universal managers, using GE´s Six Sigma process, established program guidelines based on "voice of the customer" input from operations managers. Recognition budgets were established at division levels and managed by HR managers in conjunction with operations managers.

Keys to Success

NBC Universal utilized a comprehensive award management system that automated and integrated all program rewards, administration and procedures. Eligible managers issued awards through an automated nomination and approval process that facilitated as many as four levels of authorization (for the very largest award levels). The core to this successful program consists of communication, choice, and public recognition.

Communication: The (((ovation))) communications plan targeted the entire NBC Universal population, with customized communications being sent to the HR community and the Presidents´ Council, NBC Universal´s core leadership team. The HR managers, charged with being the champions of the (((ovation))) program, participated in various in-person and on-line training sessions in the weeks leading up to the launch. In turn, HR managers, fortified with on-line training materials, met with their operations managers to educate them on the need for a recognition culture as well as how to access and navigate through (((ovation))). Several days prior to launch, the program was communicated to employees via email announcements and feature articles on NBC Universal´s intranet.

Choice: Key to the success of (((ovation))) is the appropriate choice of incentives and rewards that would appeal to the diverse audience and would support public recognition as an integral part of the NBC Universal culture. (((ovation))) offers the award recipients choice through the Gift Certificate AwardTM that enables them to select rewards from an extensive portfolio that included gift certificates, merchandise, travel packages, personal services, airline miles, and phone cards. The Gift Certificate AwardTM was specifically branded for NBC Universal as the "Employee Choice Award."

Public Recognition: Once a nomination is approved, a personalized congratulatory letter as well as a framed certificate of appreciation is sent to the nominating manager for presentation to the employee. The congratulatory letter also provides recipients with instructions on how to redeem their awards. All recipients receive an (((ovation))) Certificate of Appreciation, suitable for display, to assure that the employees´ accomplishments are properly and publicly recognized.

Frustration Problem Solved

Since the (((ovation))) program was implemented, the overall satisfaction rate of NBC Universal employees increased significantly, and employee retention rates are strong. With its very specific objectives, from increased awareness of recognition efforts to decreased costs, the (((ovation))) program has met or exceeded all of its challenging goals. And thus, the frustration levels of those who have to replace the employees leaving are reduced as well.

Commenting on the results of the program, Whelley said, "I am thrilled with the enthusiasm with which managers and employees have embraced the (((ovation))) program. Clearly, recognition of the accomplishments and outstanding work of our employees was something we needed to improve. This program has made an impact in this regard and is continuing at a fervent pace."


The benefits of RRI programs are numerous. From increasing employee satisfaction and retention rates, to reducing costs and increasing overall productivity, an RRI program can have a profound impact on the success of a company. Innovative programs such as NBC Universal´s (((ovation))) program show the positive results that an already successful company can achieve, and prove that other companies need to implement such programs in order to stay competitive throughout the future.

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