Gail Angel
Cognos, Inc.

In a company culture that is performance-driven, where people can work many extra hours in dedication to the project, how do you thank your staff for good efforts, build and support an environment of teamwork, and contribute to morale?

At Cognos, many years ago, we realized that while big company-wide awards are valuable, we needed a way to thank people any day of the year for the littler things they did that went above and beyond their daily jobs and typical work assignments. A past Director of Documentation Services came up with Superstar Awards.

We know that any reward or recognition needs to be sincere, appropriate, and defined. We wanted a way to sincerely demonstrate our appreciation for colleagues that go out of their way to make our jobs easier. We knew that the small things should not be overlooked, yet we needed a public forum to say thank you that was in scale with the effort. And we needed the criteria for the award to be clearly defined and understood.

At Cognos Documentation Services, the Superstar Award is presented for notable individual or team performance relating to a specific and significant job-related goal. Nominations are for performance beyond that which is normally expected and typically involves extra personal effort and initiative towards successful completion of a short-term objective.

Any member of Documentation Services can nominate someone to be a Documentation Services Superstar. You can nominate anyone (inside or outside Documentation Services) who:

  • Contributes significantly to the success of a specific Documentation Services goal, such as a short-term, critical project.
  • Demonstrates personal effort and commitment above the level that would normally be expected.

Over the years, we have had awards given out for a wide variety of things—from helping out a time-crunched fellow writer, to running a lunch-and-learn about a topic of interest, to volunteering for a usability test. The writer who nominated the recipient retrieves the award from the Documentation Services Director, and delivers it in person (where possible).

So, what exactly is the award? It’s an 8.5”x11” certificate printed on good stock. The recipient’s name is at the top, followed by a few sentences that explain what the special effort was all about. To accompany the certificate, we give a $25 gift card to spend at a large chain bookstore. (Our international recipients get the equivalent for their country.) We budget $500 CAD a quarter for Superstar awards. It’s a good investment, with excellent return on morale and productivity.

So, after a few years of this award, you can visit a writer’s (or manager’s) cube and find Superstar awards proudly pinned on their wall, and they never come down, no matter how faded they get. It doesn’t cost much, but it really goes a long way.

When we give these to other people in Cognos, in Development, Quality Control, or Product Management, the recipients are delighted, and are happy to help us again next time. In cases where the recipient is outside Documentation Services, the manager of the nominator sends an email to the recipient’s manager and copies the recipient. We try to make it a big deal, to build rapport with our SMEs. Extending the range to include anyone in Cognos means that we build goodwill with our colleagues, and we have a way to show each other how much we appreciate having them on the team.

Would we be where we are today without Superstar Awards? Sure. We have a reputation here in Ottawa of being the best employer a technical writer could have. Along with the other great things that go with working at Cognos, this reputation among technical writers and contractors also comes from paying attention to the little things, like the small thank yous, and the expressed heartfelt appreciation from your colleagues.