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Last Update: Thursday July 29, 2021

Key Idea: Reward with a Splash

Never in all of our studies of small and growing companies have we ever run into a group that has as much fun rewarding people for accomplishment.  Top producers get to be the stars of a film made by a fellow employee.  With a "Star Wars" theme, this Modern Postcard Image Award film was a big hit.

Key Question:


Modern Postcard has something called the Image Awards and one of the employees, on his own time and with zero budget, makes a film every year which stars the winners.

Why do you think the film is so useful?

It can be shared with friends and family outside the company and it can be shared over and over and over. It is not like a banquet where awards are passed out -- that would be a one-time event with a limited guest list. Michael Foster, the film maker told us that lots of children say to their parents, "Let's watch the movie Daddy's in. Or, let's watch the movie Mommy's in." This is very powerful.

Also, there is something magical about the TV or film screen. We have grown up watching TV and the people we see there seem bigger than life, right? The film is not the only reason the awards program works.

You heard Sara say the prizes are designed to give the winner an experience rather than cash. This way when the employee comes back from a spa or a trip to Las Vegas, they get to tell the story of what they did. They pass along the good feelings they had when they were experiencing the prize. This creates a long-lasting buzz. If a person wins a trip today, they might not take it for several weeks. They come back and now there's more excitement about the prize.

Sara also told us that annual awards are only part of the recognition process. Anytime a manager sees someone doing something great, the manager hands out a Spot Award. The Spot Awards are movie tickets or coupons for Blockbuster movies and the prizes change quarterly as do the Image Awards gifts.

Think about it

What are you doing now to recognize accomplishment? What can you do to make it more fun and more exciting? One company we know about has a Fun Team. The task of this team is to create fun on a regular basis. Can you combine fun with recognition and see what happens to the energy at your place?

Clip from: Modern Postcard

From 16 to 250+ employees

Carlsbad, California: Can an entire industry, the business of performance management, be reduced to a postcard? Can the deep study of kaizen and the work of business gurus like Peter Drucker be reduced to a link?  The quick answer is, "Yes." Visit Modern Postcard and meet Steve Hoffman and his team  producing over 100 million postcards a year for some 150,000 customers.

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Modern Postcard, Inc.

Steve Hoffman, CEO

1675 Faraday
Carlsbad, CA 92008

Visit our web site:

Office: 7604317084

Business Classification:
Printing, publishing

Year Founded: 1996

Reward with a Splash

MICHAEL FOSTER (Team Consultant): We have worked on pretty much a zero budget.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Michael Foster's title is team consultant, but he's also a filmmaker.

(Excerpt from The Image Awards)

MICHAEL: Well, the recognition program was going on, and I just felt like it needed a video. So I knew how to edit video and shoot video. (Voiceover) So we started with very small projects, and I think they're three-to-four-minute projects, and we just worked our way up to "The Image Awards" video. (Another excerpt from The Image Awards)

MICHAEL: (Voiceover) Steve gave me hundred bucks to buy blue screen paint, and we actually did some blue-screen effects for the third one.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Very cool. And you kind of do this in your spare time?

MICHAEL: (Voiceover) Yeah. Initially I had to. There just wasn't any time during the day to do it. It wasn't something that the company was saying, `We want you to do this.' I was the one that initiated the whole thing, so I only thought it was fair that I do it on my free time. So I would do it on the weekends.

 (Another excerpt from The Image Awards)

SARAI: The employees get really motivated. They get jazzed about seeing, not just themselves, but their team members and other employees that are on the video, and we feature them. And any employee can nominate any employee or manager or peer or person that reports into them. I mean, the prizes are pretty significant. And we want them to walk away with an experience. So contrary to what most companies do, is throw money at employees, whether it's, you know, $50, $100, $500, etc., we give them an opportunity to pick, and the idea was for them to walk away with an experience, so that when they're actually at doing whatever it is they're doing, whether it's in Las Vegas or whether it's a spa day with their best friend, they've got an experience to come back and share. And they come back refreshed and rejuvenated, and they're, you know, ready to work.

STEVE: (Another excerpt from The Image Awards) Thank you, to all of you.

SARAI: (Voiceover) 'Cause we want to make sure that we not only hire top talent, I want to make sure that we retain our employees as well. I'm having a blast. This is much better than large corporate America.

HATTIE: I want to talk about a time that maybe you wanted to quit. Was there ever one? JIM: Actually, it was ye...

STEVE: Last week.

JIM: Yeah, exactly.

STEVE: I talked him into staying.

HATTIE: I was going to say, do you have to do that, like, every day?

JIM: This must be Kismet. I mean, it's like...

HATTIE: Did you think of it? Did you think, `I've had it. This is it'? JIM: I think in the early stages.

HATTIE: Was there a point where you said, `I don't need this, I quit'?

STEVE: Oh, twice. Two or three times, I came--actually during actually about 1992, there was a time when I didn't say, `I quit,' but the company was losing a lot of money, probably losing more money than we probably made in the previous 10 years, and there's a couple times where I said, `Wow, this is a lot harder than I thought. I'd better turn this around,' but I never seriously said that I was going to quit. I got a statement back from the Social Security Administration. I was amazed. I'm going, `Oh, my god, I was literally the lowest paid employee for 18 years.'

HATTIE: Why do you think this relationship works between the two of you? JIM: Well, you know what. I don't think it was always ever looking at, you know, the money that would come out of it. It was always kind of being driven by the success of the business. And also, I think, you know, the respect from Steve of being able to be involved in the operations of it and help develop, you know, the direction of the company, you know, he put that in me, too. So I mean, you know, we developed a relationship, you know. And once again, as everyone has talked about, it's always kind of in that yin and yang, you know. We are basic...

HATTIE: Which one are you?

JIM: Well, don't I look Asian?

HATTIE: So would you be yin or yang? I don't know.

JIM: I could be either, yeah.

HATTIE: You look like you could be either one. A few brains are always better than a whole lot of money?

STEVE: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that I have always seen is that when you throw money at the problem, you never solve the core problem.

JIM: I think every year brings a new set of issues, you know, as we grow. And I think even if you take today, I mean, we're transitioning once again, where, you know, we looked at how to scale the business at this point. You know, we brought it at this certain level, and now, we've brought in a whole different set of people.

BILL: But now we have a situation where you have a handful of people, small management team, very, very tight management team, and they have taken over responsibilities where Jim and Steve used to basically wear all the hats.

SARAI: I wanted to be able to influence change and be part of a management structure that appreciated hard work. And I found that in Modern.

ARNIE: And it's a great company, because Steve and Jim, the president and vice president of the company, encourage us to be innovative and creative. When I saw the ad for this position, and they said, `free lunch,' I thought they were kidding, but sure enough, we get to have lunch every day, and it's great. So I'm having a blast. It's the last place I ever want to work.

JIM: You just don't think of it as an everyday just putting ink on paper. And, you know, I think that's where everybody's trying to push the envelope.

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