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The process of holding people accountable took an imaginative turn at Jurgens canvas factory in New Germany, South Africa. The institution of the Canvas Gallops proved to be a light-hearted but effective and inexpensive way of rewarding teams which consistently went the extra mile. And overall production increased even before anyone had received a reward.

In its workshops, Legitimate Leadership tries to take the mystery out of the process of holding people accountable by only having four options, two positive and two negative.

Once you have agreed what you expect of the person and the standard required, you follow up by observing the person in action and taking note of what he/she is contributing to the functioning of the team, to the production process, or to the customer.

When you observe, you are looking at whether the person is careful or careless, or deliberately does more than is required, or deliberately does not do what is required. Once you have noted whether the contribution falls on the positive or negative side of the agreed standard, you need to decide whether to have a conversation (for careless or careful work) or to take action (for deliberate malevolence or going the extra mile).

In the years of working with leaders, we often hear that they only give feedback when things go wrong; they go into “counselling” mode for the first failure and perhaps even the second, and then when it becomes too much they take action and issue a warning.

It is not so simple on the other hand, when people reach or exceed the standard.

Many leaders do not acknowledge people who take the trouble to carefully deliver what has been agreed. The reason they give is usually “why do I need to say thank you when they are doing what they are paid to do?”

But that is exactly why: they have done what was asked of them and so acknowledgement is appropriate. We teach children that it is good manners to say please and thank you and this needs to continue into the workplace. A recent study of 200,000 employees across various organisations in the USA showed that what made people happiest at work was acknowledgement and appreciation for their work. Leaders, please say thank you!

The next level of positive accountability is rewarding people who go the extra mile. We find that this too is neglected by leaders. Especially at first line level, leaders say that “this is out of our hands and I don’t have the budget or the authority to do this”.

Well, that was not so in the case of the Jurgens canvas factory recently.

There, leadership decided to introduce a novel and inexpensive way of rewarding those teams which consistently went the extra mile.

Said the young production manager: “It is called the Canvas Gallops and we introduced it with the idea that it would be fun and something lekker (nice) to do on a monthly basis to reward people.”

Each production team chooses its own horse’s name and jockey colours, and horses are moved forward in line with daily production scores (each item produced has a minute value). So, as a team produces, its horse advances. Obviously, if teams produce more than their daily target, their horses advance even further for the day.

There are also penalties for teams that hand in sub-standard work, supply poor quality and have timing issues.

This generated huge interest – far more than was anticipated – with each team not only wanting to do well itself but also wanting to do better than the other teams.

Teams are calculating by the hour how much they need to produce to advance at a faster pace, exceed their targets, and beat the other teams. By making the scoreboard visible to everyone, people are more engaged and motivated to maximise their contribution.

In the first month, the output for the factory increased by 5% and the rewards cost the company a mere R1,600 ($115). The top three teams that exceeded their targets were given big slabs of chocolate for each person; those who did not exceed their targets all received token smaller slabs of chocolate for participating so enthusiastically.

People were extremely motivated every day for the entire month. And supervisors were totally focused on doing what they should do (that is, set their teams up to succeed, rather than breathing down their necks). So, it was a no-brainer: targets were achieved and exceeded.

In one easy step, supervisors shifted from what they wanted to get out of their people to what they needed to give to their people. All because their managers found a simple and creative way to measure and reward people for their contributions.

The Canvas Gallops did not require any sign-off or adjusting of authority levels, and they certainly did not break the bank.