“That’s not how we do things around here. You need to step it up!”

Imagine overhearing one of your employees saying this to another employee. How nice would it be to have your employees holding one another accountable to high standards of performance and customer care? Does that sound too good to be true? It’s not. It really is possible. This is exactly what Ron Parmely of Overhead Door Company in Casper, Wyoming is setting out to do with the Step It Up Program he is implementing.

Like many business owners, Ron has high standards for how he wants his employees to treat his customers. Yet, over the years, he’s been disillusioned by stepping in to do the work for employees who are doing just enough to get by. No more! Ron is doing things differently. He’s stepping it up and he’s expecting his employees to do the same.

After attending an industry conference, Ron came back with an image in his head that he couldn’t shake:

He knew he wanted to create a workplace culture where meeting high expectations is the norm, not the exception. We set out to make this happen.

One Meeting Leads to BIG Change

At Ron’s company, employees didn’t pitch in and cooperate across departments …until now. Ron introduced the Step it Up Program in a Monday Morning Meeting and change happened almost immediately.  

Ron says, “We had a mindset here of the Door Department versus the Glass Department. But after our meeting, something extraordinary happened. The door guys went out and helped the glass guys unload some freight, a job usually done by only one or two people. We now had six or seven helping and it got done much faster. For weeks after that, people were asking each other if they needed help. The glass guys stayed late to help me. Finally, everyone was pitching in!”

Ron’s Step it Up Program quickly gained momentum, and everyone wanted to be part of it “During the snowstorms, some of the employees came in early–on their own initiative–to shovel the sidewalks before the other staff and customers came in.”

“Another of our employees now carries a broom in the back of his truck so he can clean the customers’ garage after replacing their door. This same employee also took the initiative to fix a potential safety hazard with a tool instead of waiting for it to break. When his truck is dirty, he stops at the car wash to keep it clean. This is the kind of professionalism that sets us apart.”

Customers are noticing, too. Ron received a voicemail from a customer complimenting this same employee for the job he did when he repaired her garage door. She said, “…he is very professional, did an excellent job and represents your company very well.” Of course, Ron took this opportunity to recognize this employee for a job well done by printing the customer feedback and posting it for all to see.

Ron says, “We’ve always asked employees who attend conventions to share what they learned. This was usually done in general conversation if it was done at all. But, this time around, one employee really stepped it up! When he came back, he typed up notes and sent me an email that he wanted to forward to other employees in the front office. With a small suggestion from me, two days later he was heading the meeting on customer service, along with typed notes for everyone to follow.”

The Psychology of What’s Working

All of us prefer to receive praise rather than criticism. The Step it Up Program praises employees for choosing to step up their customer care and teamwork.

The Step it Up Program is based on the most powerful means of shaping human behavior: intermittent positive reinforcement. For example, let’s say you encounter your employee, Jane, “stepping it up” by going the extra mile for a customer. You would then reinforce that behavior by letting her know that you noticed what she did and you appreciate it. Jane is now much more likely to continue to “step it up” in the future.

It’s not likely you will catch every incidence of an employee stepping it up. After all, you’re busy and have a lot on your plate. This actually works to your advantage! By acknowledging some but not every incidence of an employee stepping it up, you are utilizing intermittent positive reinforcement.

Intermittent positive reinforcement quickly gets us to repeat our actions. To grasp the power of this technique, consider why gambling can be addictive. If you drop a nickel (I’m a cheap gambler), into a slot machine and $100 in nickels comes pouring out, it’s pretty darn tempting to drop another nickel in to see if that will happen again. Because your random act (i.e., dropping a nickel into the slot machine) was reinforced ($100 in nickels pouring out), you are much more likely to keep putting nickels in to see what will happen.

What’s even better is that because of the power of social observation, we don’t even have to be the one winning at the slot machines to get lured into dropping in a nickel to see what will happen. We can walk through the casino, hear the sirens going off and money pouring out of a machine, and we’ll be tempted to drop a nickel in on the off-chance we might win. Simply observing someone else win creates hope in us that this could happen to us, too.

The power of social observation is at play in Ron’s company. He starts meetings off by acknowledging others for examples of stepping it up and asking peers to share their observations, as well. Employees hearing their peers being acknowledged for stepping it up are going to want the same acknowledgement for themselves. They are much more likely to step it up in the coming week just to see what will happen.

Not only is this reinforcing the positive behavior Ron wants to see more of from his employees, he’s also boosting morale by inviting everyone—including himself—to focus on positive, proactive behavior, rather than complaining and grumbling about problems. Way to go, Ron!

BONUS BENEFIT to YOU: The Step It Up Program gets you focusing on the positive. The more “Wins” and successes you notice from your employees, the more positive your frame of mind will be. This increases your resilience. As entrepreneurs, we have lots of setbacks. The more resilient we are, the more likely we will persist and succeed in our businesses.

5 Quick Tips for Successfully Implementing your own Step It Up Program

  1. When acknowledging an employee, be specific about the behavior you appreciate. A general statement such as, “Good work!” doesn’t tell the employee enough about what you appreciate. Instead say, “I really appreciate you stepping it up to fix that tool before it broke and became a safety hazard.”
  2. Find out how employees like to be acknowledged and honor their preferences. One employee may squirm uncomfortably in his seat when acknowledged publicly in a meeting. That employee may prefer a short thank you note dropped in their box. Another employee may bask in the glow of being recognized in a staff meeting.
  3. Acknowledge “step it up” behavior quickly. Saving these acknowledgments for an annual review will be much less powerful than acknowledging employees in the moment.
  4. Vary the ways in which employees are acknowledged for stepping it up. We remember surprises. Change it up. Do the unexpected.
  5. Don’t drop the ball. Once you introduce your Step it Up Program, put some structures in place to help you keep it up. Create a weekly meeting agenda. Start off each meeting asking for employees share their observations of their peers stepping it up.  Start a Step it Up List you carry with you. Write down your observations to share in your next weekly meeting.

The Bottom Line

What you focus on grows. Choose your focus wisely.

Ron Parmely, co-owner of the The Overhead Door Company of Casper Inc., has been involved in the garage door and glass industries since he was 13 years old. Since taking over the family business with his brothers as partners, sales have multiplied 6 times. This year, The Overhead Door Company of Casper is proudly celebrating 45 years in business! Taking exceptional care of our customers is our #1 priority. We use only the highest quality manufacturers in the industry and we continually train our employees to better serve our customers. Visit our website at www.overheaddoorcasper.com.

Sabrina Starling, Tap the PotentialWritten by:

Sabrina Starling PhD, PCC, BCC

6 replies
  1. Donna
    Donna says:

    This is so intuitive, yet most of us naturally focus on what people are doing wrong, and ignore or overlook what they do right. Especially in a business situation, we think they’re just doing what they’re supposed to be doing and we fail to acknowledge it. This article is a very strong reminder that praise is a powerful tool!

  2. Fred Pieplow
    Fred Pieplow says:

    What do you say to a supervisor who refuses to give people an ‘atta boy’ for “just doing their job”? For example, maybe he or she thinks sweeping the garage after an installation is just common sense, not worthy of a pat on the back.

    • Dr. Sabrina
      Dr. Sabrina says:

      As an owner, you want supervisors who are willing to “Step it Up.” So, if a supervisor is unwilling to acknowledge an employee for stepping it up, that’s a problem. Also, since the Step It Up Program is focused on employees going above and beyond their job description to serve customers, the owner and supervisors aren’t necessarily acknowledging employees for just doing their job.

  3. Donna Leyens
    Donna Leyens says:

    Just to play devil’s advocate, isn’t it possible that one person’s definition of “above and beyond” is another’s definition of “just doing their job?” Perhaps if managers and supervisors are expected to participate with intermittent praise as well, the management team should agree on some guidelines or clear definitions of what constitutes above and beyond.

  4. Sabrina Schleicher PhD, PCC, BCC
    Sabrina Schleicher PhD, PCC, BCC says:

    Good point, Donna. Clear job expectations are key. Initiating a Step it Up program can be done without clear expectations on place, but it’s a smoother process when everyone is on the same page. If they are not, it leads to needed discussion to clarify expectations (another benefit).

  5. Ron Parmely
    Ron Parmely says:

    The main focus of the Step It Up Program is that of the positive things all employees do, but mostly recognizing the extra things they are not asked to do. Having a supervisor/manager/owner that refuses to acknowledge these items is a person that needs to Step It Up themselves. But we are taking the program a step farther and having fellow employees nominate those that they feel have stepped it up in one form or another. This removes the negative supervisor and allows those positive actions to still be recognized even if not witnessed by the manager or owner. Our next step is having customers nominate employees. Even if it is part of the employee’s job description (sweeping the garage floor), if recognized by the customer as doing something extra special for them, then that employee has stepped it up by creating the wow factor with that customer. Which is the point of this program, “we do things different around here.”

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