Employee recognition has spawned a cottage industry of books, articles and seminars. Even as we hurtle toward mind-boggling structural change at work and elsewhere, one conundrum sticks around: How do business leaders show their best employees that their hard work is appreciated?
It’s clear workers feel the credit is sorely lacking. The topic has spawned millions of words, from columns in Harvard Business Review to rants on Facebook.
Businesses spend a lot of money to retain their best people. When they do invest in effective recognition programs, employee satisfaction measurably improves, and turnover drops. It’s clear that recognition is a key element of building a healthy, productive workplace and an effective way to keep the good workers happy. But it takes a lot of time and money. Adding to the general disgruntlement, salaries haven’t kept pace with economic growth, especially in Idaho.
Enter Jeanne Huff, the special sections editor at Idaho Business Review. If you are familiar at all with the publications that go along with IBR’s recognition programs, such as Accomplished Under 40, Women of the Year, Leaders in Law, and CEO of Influence, you have seen Jeanne’s work. Whenever I tell people where I work, everyone seems to know who Jeanne is, and not just because she has purple or blue hair. She’s an Idaho institution.
While IBR’s account executives publicize the events and work with Jeanne to design the awards programs, Jeanne’s the editor behind the profiles and the mastermind behind the judging process.
Jeanne processes the torrent of applications that come in year-round from all over Idaho. She organizes a large and complex system of judges, most of them honorees from past years and leaders in the community, and tabulates the several scoring sheets that are turned in for each nominee to come up with the honorees. She fields dozens and dozens of phone calls from nominees who have questions about the application and judging process, and coaches the judges who take on the time-consuming task of scoring the applicants based on a rubric.
Jeanne individually learns what drives the honorees to focus so hard on their work and community service, and then she works with her writers to create profiles that tell the honorees’ stories.
Jeanne’s been the personality most closely associated with IBR’s employee recognition programs for six years, and in that time they’ve grown hugely, attracting more and more nominees from all over Idaho, not just the Treasure Valley.
The problem is, there’s no award program here for someone like Jeanne. I can’t exactly nominate her for Women of the Year, as she’s in charge of the judging process. And while journalism has its own rewards, of course, it’s hardly enough to say “thank you.” Plus, as at most companies, everyone’s much too busy most of the time to reflect on all the good things their colleagues are doing, or to find a way to show appreciation.
So for those who ask about Jeanne, here’s who she is. Jeanne’s a mother of three and a very active grandmother to four cute kids. She’s a recent widow whose husband, Bob Neal, was a well-known and much-loved local artist. She’s a former midwestern cheerleader and a fearless traveler who is pouring her own heart, her hard work, and her weekends into acknowledging the efforts of the honorees. She’s a perennially curious community member and a scholar of the human condition who is still intrigued by the stories behind the individuals, even though she’s written or edited hundreds. To be exact, 300 profiles for Women of the Year, 240 for Accomplished Under 40, 100 for Leaders in Law, 39 for Excellence in Finance, and 40 for CEOs of Influence – for a total of 719. By mid-June, she’ll have added 40 for this year’s Accomplished to that tally.
It’s entertaining to watch this process unfold. It’s incredible to read the stories of Idahoans who are taking their work and public service so seriously. If it weren’t for these programs, I would have no idea how much time and energy my peers are pouring into public service projects and jobs. And it’s nice that so many honorees remember, when they step on stage to receive their awards, to thank Jeanne for her part in making them shine.
Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.