McDonald’s “Employee of the Month” is a widely-known application for recognizing and motivating successful employees. Do you know that the pioneer of this idea was Robert Owen, who was a successful entrepreneur and paradoxically, a utopian socialist during the last decade of 1790’s.
Owen, created a new factory ethos, and used moral suasion rather than corporate punishment. He developed one particularly unique method, “the silent monitor” to aid discipline. Under this system, he awarded four types of marks to his superintendents, and in turn rated their subordinates. These marks were translated into color codes of black, blue, yellow and white in ascending order of merit.
A block of wood was mounted on each machine and the four sides painted according to the code. At the end of each day, the marks were recorded, translated, and the appropriate color side of the block turned to face the aisle. Owen reported that he “passed daily through all the rooms and the workers observed me always to look at these telegraphs- when black I merely looked at the person and then at the color”.
Owen used the tools of “peer pressure”, “self-respect”, “recognition” as a motivating factor. It was a humanistic application which was an innovative method in eighteen century, and it is still applicable after more than 200 years.