The Inuksuk (pronounced ee-nook-shook) was a stone monument erected by the Inuit — the first people to inhabit portions of Alaska, Arctic Canada, and Greenland — to provide direction for travelers or communicate a message that would make the journey safer and easier for those who followed.

Every Inuksuk is as unique as the individual stones from which it is built. These stone figures can be small or large, a single rock, several rocks balanced on top of each other, boulders placed in a pile, or flat stones stacked. Each rock that forms the Inuksuk is dependent upon the one above and below it for the meaning that it provides.

A bit of interesting folklore of an indigenous people from a time long past in a land far away? Yes — unless you work for The Ford Motor Co. At Ford, the Inuksuk is an award, started three years ago, that embodies the essence of what it takes to excel in the marketplace.

This award, for which any employee or supervisor can nominate another (either known or anonymous), seeks to capture the spirit of those who are always there for others. It celebrates employees who are nurturing, honest, enthusiastic, and exert a positive influence over others. One manager was nominated in the same year by her vice president and then again by her administrative assistant, demonstrating that trust and respect can occur in any relationship in any direction in the organization.

People who nominate someone have to tell a story about the nominee that illustrates some “hidden” knowledge that person has. “Stories provide a picture of not only what the nominee did for the nominator, but also how he or she did it,” says Allen Wolf, employee and organization development manager for marketing, sales, and service at Ford. “The ongoing awards process reveals important lessons over time that will grow into a valuable source of insight and wisdom for the organization and its leaders.”

Recipients are honored, even awed, by the recognition. “It's amazing how a simple award can come to mean so much to people,” says Wolf. “Yet, at the same time it makes sense, given the thought and care that has gone into the shaping of this honor and every nomination along the way.”

Bob Nelson, PhD, is president of Nelson Motivation Inc. ( in San Diego and the author of several best-selling books, including 1001 Ways to Reward Employees and Managing for Dummies. He is also a frequent presenter to management groups and conferences.