JetBlue Airways Corp. has long been known for having an engaging corporate culture. But as the business grew, it became harder for management to acknowledge individual crew members — the company’s term for its 15,000 employees.
“In the early days it was easy,” said Joanna Geraghty, chief people officer for JetBlue in New York. “We’d send a letter or host a barbecue. But we couldn’t scale that.”
Lack of recognition started showing up as a problem area in annual engagement surveys, and the leadership team realized they needed a more structured approach to recognizing employees. Their solution was Lift, a custom social recognition program using Globoforce software that lets crew members send each other online kudos to acknowledge performance related to one of the company’s five core values — safety, caring, integrity, fun and passion. “It’s a way for us to build recognition into those moments that you value as a team,” Geraghty said.
The program features various levels of lifts — level one lifts are simple thank yous that can be sent instantly with no manager approval, while higher-level lifts can include gifts or company perks, but must go through a review process.
“Ninety percent of the lifts we give are level one,” Geraghty said. “We’ve found that a heartfelt thank you is a lot more meaningful than a gift card.”
By tying the acknowledgements to the five core values, the company reinforces behavior that it wants to prioritize, while capturing useful data about whether employees are adhering to those values. This allows Geraghty to tailor programs and communications around specific needs.
For example, if she finds that few lifts are being given for safety, she might roll out a program to focus on safety actions. She also uses the data to make sure no employee groups are being ignored. If she finds that certain groups or teams rarely receive lifts, she may remind their manager to acknowledge their hard work. “You don’t want to forget the ‘steady Eddies’ who are there every day doing a good job,” she said.
The company’s commitment to recognition and its value-driven approach has made the program very popular. Since its launch in 2012, crew members have given more than 65,000 lifts, and use of the program has steadily increased.
JetBlue leaders recognize, though, that it will only remain popular if it’s modeled and encouraged. “You need to have leadership buy-in for social recognition to work,” Geraghty said.
To do that, company leaders and managers frequently talk about the tool with their teams, and make a point of using it themselves regularly. And if a manager isn’t using Lift, Geraghty will remind him or her that the tool is there to improve engagement, which is a top corporate priority. “We find that when leaders use it a lot, their teams use it a lot,” Geraghty said.
She also sends out frequent communications about the program, and regularly rolls out new features, such as anniversary recognition badges and mobile options so employees can give kudos from the road. “You can’t communicate about recognition enough if you want to keep it fresh.”