Many organizations use recognition and rewards to celebrate good times, but sparking the attention and energy of employees is even more significant in challenging times. A case in point can be found with the Orange Post Office in Orange, Calif.

Going into the 2008 fiscal year, Postmaster David L. Eng knew that things were going to be tough. “Our budget was significantly reduced, and there was pessimism about achieving our financial goals.” The team, which consists of a station manager and 10 supervisors who each has 30 to 35 employees reporting to them, had been ranked in the top 20 percent of the largest post offices in the Santa Ana district, but Eng felt they could achieve more.

“I've always believed that attitude was more powerful than skills,” says Eng. He decided they would win the rank of best large office in the district on the U.S. Postal Service's National Performance Assessment.

“What would it take us to get there?” he asked his supervisors. “How about if we each got a jacket like you have on?” one of them replied. Eng looked at what he was wearing — a nice leather jacket with a USPS emblem on it that he had earned many years before — and promised, “Sure, if we earn the top ranking, I'll see that you each get a jacket like this!”

Being ranked No. 1 would be no simple feat, and the first month of the fiscal year did not go well. But Eng and his team got focused on a short list of goals: 1) work safely; 2) stay healthy; 3) be productive and efficient; and 4) provide outstanding service.

Each of these goals was discussed in brief meetings every morning, and metrics were tracked monthly. For example, “stay healthy” translated to reducing sick days, which decreased paid overtime and reduced attendance costs against that which was budgeted. “Be productive” encouraged daily and weekly positive feedback on office and street performance. “Provide outstanding service” led to revenue-generating ideas that included weekly public workshops teaching “How to Sell on eBay” (which of course provided information on shipping packages with the Postal Service).

Positive and Proactive

Each month, Eng asked every supervisor to nominate two or more employees who had gone above and beyond in contributing to the group's goals. Each of those employees received a certificate of achievement and a nominal gift. During the third quarter, to get everyone pumped up, Eng held a raffle. That built momentum for the final quarter.

The team succeeded, and the Orange Post Office was ranked as the top large post office in the Santa Ana District, based on more than 11 metrics. Besides bragging rights, the group was able to achieve a $634,799 increase in revenue and a $476,851 savings in expenses, which combined for a net $1,111,650 contribution to the United States Postal Service.

To celebrate, Eng and his supervisors took each shift to breakfast where the leaders served the employees and thanked them for a job well done. And the supervisors? They all got the jackets they were promised!

Bob Nelson, PhD, is president of Nelson Motivation Inc.; a frequent presenter to management teams, conferences and associations; and a best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees and The 1001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook. Visit for more information.