How I Promoted Perfection at Work

By Barry Raber, an EO Portland member and president of Business Property Trust

What do you say to an employee who achieves perfection? In America, when someone does something right the first time, we often say, “You nailed it!” This adage refers to a hammer hitting its mark with precision. The person who “nailed it” managed to do stellar work on a project, and often without being asked twice.

This saying is the inspiration behind Nailed It, my company’s innovative motivational program. Like the phrase itself, my program is deceptively simple. However, it took me a couple of years to fully flesh out a strategy that motivates colleagues to want to get a job done right the first time.

Today, more than five years into Nailed It, my employees are doing things the correctly in the beginning, rather than waiting to finish work down the line. The result: Work is completed accurately and quickly with far less time wasted, and my company is excelling because of it.

Nailing It Down
I founded Business Property Trust, a real estate investments firm, a decade ago. My colleagues and I specialize in ownership and operation of multi-tenant industrial properties. We have properties in Colorado, Arizona, California and Idaho, USA. On a daily basis, our office staff generates many letters, releases, business plans, deals and budgets. I have always required that such communiqués—as well as other work—be completed at the highest level.

Before I instigated Nailed It, however, often my requirements for quality fell on deaf ears; projects were revised and rewritten many times before they met my exacting standards.  Only about 20 percent of assignments were delivered to management correct on the first try. This burned hours and hours of top management time in the review and revision process— time that could have been used to lead the company.

Everyone in business needs incentives and rewards to excel. My long-time vice president, Kelly Wiebke, and I brainstormed and put into place a highly effective carrot program in which I, along with all members of my company, take part. A small, square-shaped glass dish sits on every employee’s desk. In each dish are nails purchase from a local hardware store. Each nail represents a “Nailed It job” and can be redeemed for lovely gifts. The more nails amassed, the greater the value of the gifts.

Each nail has a US$20 trade-in value. For example, three nails earn movie tickets or a gift certificate. Five nails garner a pass to the nearby Portland Japanese Garden. Roundtrip airfare on Southwest Airlines is worth more than 10 nails.

How are nails earned? Nailed It has only three rules:

  1. Nails may be awarded by anyone.
  2. Nails are given when a job is done perfectly the first time or work exceeds expectations; when an employee’s clever idea helps me solve a problem; or when a staffer resolves a vexing issue.
  3. An employee is eligible for a nail the instant a project is dropped on his/her supervisor’s desk for review. Nails are redeemable once a quarter.

Here’s a perfect example of how someone earned a nail:

We recently moved new tenants into a business park that had taken quite some time to lease. We needed to keep our new tenants—and those around them—happy. Once the property became 100 percent occupied, however, a problem cropped up: There wasn’t enough parking to accommodate all the tenants, as well as their clients and customers.

Kelly took the lead solving this delicate and complicated issue. She hired someone to watch the parking lot from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. to confirm who parked there. As she expected, a number of the people who parked in the lot were strangers, taking spots intended for tenants, customers and clients.

Kelly then implemented a mini, non-confrontational incentive program of her own: She talked to each person who parked in the lot, and then offered them US$5 every day to park off the property. They happily accepted. Kelly had essentially trained these people to park off-site. Soon, none of them were asking for the money, and we had plenty of parking available. I gave Kelly a couple of nails for her artful and long-term solution.

All in all, Nailed It subconsciously created a company culture that makes us all strive to meet high expectations. Our employees expect accuracy and efficiency of themselves and are always raising the bar higher and higher. Initiating this program helps them achieve success, and in turn, inspires them to continue to grow. In the process, we waste less time and get far more done than our competitors. Who knew a box of nails could contribute to my business’ continued success?

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