Quality at the Tennant Company

by Bob Nelson ©

Publisher: Meetingsnet.com
May 1, 2003

Founded in 1870 by George Henry Tennant, The Tennant Co. started out as a sawmill, grew into the largest manufacturer of wood flooring in the upper Midwest, and became one of the premier manufacturers of industrial and commercial floor maintenance equipment.

When Roger Hale initiated the quality revolution at Tennant in 1979, he invited quality guru Phil Crosby to play a major role in setting the company's course. Tennant adopted Crosby's groundbreaking book, Quality Is Free, along with Crosby's 14-step quality-improvement process as its guide. Step 12 — employee recognition — received special attention.

Tennant began by defining an objective: to recognize superior quality performers. But the company soon discovered a very important principle: Different people respond to different kinds of rewards and recognition. So Tennant developed a 3-D program of rewards and recognition.

The First Dimension

First is the formal awards program; each year, up to 2 percent of the work force receives a 10-carat, gold-and-diamond ring and a plaque. Specific rules govern the selection of recipients:

  • An employee can nominate anyone except someone to whom he or she reports directly.
  • Recipients are selected by a committee of employees of different rank and from different departments.
  • The criteria for selecting recipients were established by the company and is printed on the nomination forms.

The Second Dimension

The monthly Koala T. Bears (take-off on “quality”) program, grew out of employee desire for more frequent recognition. Winners are surprised with a visit from a costumed bear and the recognition committee. Each recipient receives a Koala T. Bear and a certificate. The nomination process is less stringent.

The Third Dimension

The final level is much less formal: a program to recognize people who meet specific goals that can be tailored to individuals and groups. Managers give immediate recognition to someone they catch doing something right.

While any one of these dimensions might be considered a complete program, Tennant believes that all three have to be present to maximize employee motivation and performance.