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19 min watch with captions and full transcript

In 2016, Mathew Paine was tasked with opening the new 1.5 billion dollar International Convention Center Sydney, and attracting and hiring 1800 new employees. He spoke to Debra Corey about why he prioritized implementing a custom-made employee recognition program from day one.

In this interview, Mathew shares his tips for:

  • How to align your reward program with your employee value proposition
  • Why you should make reward and recognition about choice
  • How to touch all demographics across your employee base


Tidbits from Mathew’s rebel advice:
  • Tailor your reward program to your workforce
  • Use an incremental rewards system to distinguish behaviors and values
  • Reward employees how they want to be rewarded
  • Create multiple moments of recognition
Our favorite quotes:

Given that our team is so operational we had to look at a program that would be able to get through to all of those employees.

For me, building the employee value proposition was one of the first tasks that I set about when we opened up.

Mathew's interview

DEBRA COREY: Hi there, I'm Deborah Corey and I'm the co-author of Build it: A Rebel Playbook for World Class Employee Engagement. And I'm here today with Mathew Paine from ICC in Sydney, Australia. We have a really fantastic and rebellious story about what they've done in regards to recognition in a challenging environment. What percentage of your employees are online?

MATHEW PAINE: Only around 25% of our employees.

DEBRA COREY: So just a bit of a challenge. Well first of all thank you for joining me today, really appreciate it.

MATHEW PAINE: Thank you for having me.

DEBRA COREY: It's a lovely facility, I'm never going to want to leave. Tell us a little bit about the company.

MATHEW PAINE: So, ICC Sydney - International Convention Centre, Sydney, - it's a 1.5 billion dollar building that has opened 12 months ago now. Part of the New South Wales State Government owned asset. But I work for the operator AEG Ogden, who manage the building on behalf of the State. So we have 1800 employees, a large proportion of those are casual. 330 are permanent and also a very large proportion of our workforce are operational employees so they're based on the floor and they're not online as we mentioned. So, a very diverse workforce and we promote diversity inclusion so we also have a mature age segment of our diversity strategy. And our reward program is tailored to make sure that it touches all of our demographics across our employee base.

DEBRA COREY: And it's interesting because you talk about diversity of workforce and we've just been walking around today and the diversity of what's going on on any day is just amazing. And your employees must really have to be engaged to be able to talk to, I think she was saying a motorcycle stunt person at one moment-


DEBRA COREY: Yes. And then a banker at the next moment. So that definitely has challenges there.

MATHEW PAINE: Yeah, so, ICC Sydney is a convention, exhibition and an entertainment precinct in one. So on any one day we may have a concert and live entertainment at one end and a corporate function in our ballroom for 2000 people for a bank at the same time. So, very diverse. Every day is different, we hold numerous events here, we've had over 1,000 events this year and over one million visitors to the -

DEBRA COREY: Just in one year?

MATHEW PAINE: Just in one year. So very diverse in employee base but also the demographics of our customer base.

DEBRA COREY: Great. And in the book we talked about the play that was in the book was about recognition, but as we were just setting up Mathew and I were talking and we've got probably about two other plays that we can talk about later to include because it sounds like you've been doing some amazing things.

MATHEW PAINE: Thank you.

DEBRA COREY: I guess the first question is why did you decide to be rebellious and also why did you decide to do recognition at the beginning of your journey as you were just starting to open? What made it so important to do?

MATHEW PAINE: Right. Well I guess why being rebellious is the first question, so we always had a vision to be an employer of choice in the hospitality and events segment of our business. And we are in a labor market that's very compressed in Australia. For us being the employer of choice and attracting the best talent was always going to be a challenge in this market. Opening up a new building, looking for 1800 employees-

DEBRA COREY: Wow, no challenge there.

MATHEW PAINE: Exactly, so for me building the employee value proposition was one of the first tasks that I set about when we opened up ICC Sydney. And it was really critical that, for me one of our values is innovation and creativity, that we live that internally. That we do things differently and that we also consult with our operators, our employees, to make sure that the programs that we come up with across the business suit their needs. So, that was really important for us, our recruitment campaign, which won the best recruitment campaign of the

DEBRA COREY: Congratulations.

MATHEW PAINE: Thank you.

DEBRA COREY: And we are going to, don't worry, don't worry, I'm going to write a play up on that, so stay tuned for that one. Definitely.

MATHEW PAINE: So we attracted 44,000 applications from one campaign and that's why I think we also won the campaign of the year. But the team is really very much reflective of our innovation and creativity value. And we also won the HR team of the year in 2017, so we have some great programs.

But reward for us, very important given we were tasked with opening one of the largest buildings in New South Wales for many, many decades. The largest infrastructure project for New South Wales government in a very long time. So, with that is a lot of hard work. For most people it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of such a pre opening project, so reward really goes hand in hand with that. Rewarding and recognizing people for the efforts and the hard work that they put into get us to open to market. But now we're in the operating phase and now it's really about business as usual and making sure that once the glitz and the glamour are over, pre- opening is over, it's really into the real world where people have to work with our clients. And it's about rewarding and recognizing those achievements.

DEBRA COREY: I think it's great because so many of your employees are customer facing and without that recognition, they're not going to know what good looks like and they're not going to be motivated, they're not going to be engaged. So the fact that you overcame the challenges of a diverse workforce and an offline workforce. Maybe we could jump into the what then, so it sounds like the why aligns with your values, your EVP, which is brilliant, I think that's a great place to start. What exactly did you do?

MATHEW PAINE: Yeah. So, given the demographics of our workforce and also that only around 25% of our workforce have a computer so they're not really online at work. The program that I came up with was a reward cheque. So I've actually got the team reward cheques here.

DEBRA COREY: Because you're going to give me one at the end of the interview.

MATHEW PAINE: I am, I am, yes.

DEBRA COREY: I have to actually deserve it, so I'll try to do a good interview here.

MATHEW PAINE: So, it's called the Bank of Extraordinary, and extraordinary is one of the keywords in our EVP. So, together we do the extraordinary is our internal strapline. So the Bank of Extraordinary is aligned to our EVP and our values.

DEBRA COREY: Sends a strong message right there just with the name people know how it fits in with the organization.

MATHEW PAINE: Yes, definitely. I mean from the very first point of application, which we use the word extraordinary through all of our adverts online, through to their first day of orientation, their corporate induction and all of the HR programs that we've got in place. They're all reflected around the word extraordinary, so the Bank of Extraordinary was a no brainer for us to make sure that we reflected that. And yeah, all of our leaders and our employees are able to recognize are the peer to peer or leaders who employee, but also cross functionally from department to department. And we have a points scale of 5, 10 or 20 points for the cheques. And various different reasons to be able to reward those and
award those cheque. And once an employee has received a cheque, they can either bank it in, cash it in for a prize then and there or they might want to save it up for a larger prize, which we've got a whole variety of types of prizes that they might be able to redeem.

DEBRA COREY: One of the things that I like about the program is that with the different point brackets you've got specific behaviors. So there's no guessing as to when do you give 5, when do you give 10. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

MATHEW PAINE: Yeah, sure. Yeah it was very important for us to define what is a 5 point behavior versus what is a 20 point behavior. So a 5 point behavior is typically for our frontline employees when they get mentioned by a guest in a feedback either verbal or a written comment that comes through to us for someone that's going above and beyond and helping out and using their discretionary behavior in the workplace.

10 point is really going above and beyond. It could be helping out a department in crunch time that they require some assistance. We have various times of the day where there may be up to a couple of thousand or through even our arena can take 9000 people. So we might need assistance at some point during the day. So a 10 point behavior would be to step out of your usual role and go and help out.

And a 20 point behavior could be around aligning to our values or the
completion of a milestone project, something that an employee has been
working on. Or in line with innovation and creativity, one of our other
straplines is continuous small improvements and it would be to reward
somebody for implementing their new idea into the business.

DEBRA COREY: It's great. So again it's alignment with values, EVP, the behaviors that you want to draw. How do employees learn about that? So how do they learn about the different levels so that they can use them more effectively?

MATHEW PAINE: Well when we first launched the program we did a training session with all of the leaders and before they are actually given a chequebook, they go through the training so they know exactly-

DEBRA COREY: You don't get it until you go through the training, that's good, hold it back.

MATHEW PAINE: That's right. So you have to know what it's about and why we have this program in place first. And then ongoing, now it's built into our orientation for all of our new starters. We mention it in our online learning training, in our culture training. We make reference to it almost daily. And it's really embedded in the departments now. So for example yesterday I had my own HR team meeting and I gave out three cheques in front of about 20 people in the team and talked about the behaviors of why those three people were deserving of the cheque for this month. And everybody publicly clapped and recognized those people and they get their cheque and they get to redeem whatever prize they would like.

DEBRA COREY: I think it's great because we call them moments of recognition, you've created two moments of recognition when you physically give the person the cheque, but then when you put them under the spotlight. So it just continues with that recognition.


DEBRA COREY: That's fantastic.

MATHEW PAINE: Thank you.

DEBRA COREY: So you've got five, you've got the different categories.


DEBRA COREY: How did you come up with what is in each point category because I love some of the things that you do, they are a bit cheeky in Australia and I have to admit, I really like them though.

MATHEW PAINE: We actually went out to, well first of all the HR team and said what would be deserving in each of the categories, the 5, 10, 20 points. And then banking them up. So we've got four categories actually. And then once we came up with our initial list, we went out to the business and we said what do you think? I consulted with my peers, my executive team and my CEO. And they gave some really great feedback, but we also consulted with other levels in the business as well to say, if you were given a cheque for 5 points what would you expect to receive versus a 20 point cheque. And yeah, some of the fun things that we came up with for a 5 point, somebody might be in desperate need of a block of chocolates, so come and get-

DEBRA COREY: Who isn't?

MATHEW PAINE: That's right, maybe it's one of those days. And they can come and collect a large block of chocolate or a bottle of wine, red wine, white wine, sparkling wine. To drink at home, not at work. Through to the 10 and the 20 point could be a range of gift vouchers, iTunes vouchers, Spotify vouchers. So we can arrange really anything that the employee wants. And then some of them banking them up options we've got in house dry cleaning, so we could get dry cleaning, the employee could get dry cleaning for the week. They might want to have lunch in one of our cafes. They may want to have coffee for the whole week, through to arranging a hamper through to, if they've really saved them up, having their house cleaned. Or having a maintenance person come in, there's a company called Hire a Hubby, and that was quite, we thought well
people are quite busy, they probably don't have time at home to do some of the maintenance things around the house, let's arrange that and get someone in to do those things at home, those niggling little duties.

DEBRA COREY: It's a nice balance of physical things like chocolate and wine, which we love, experiences and then saving time also, which I think is really unique but I guess in talking to your employees those are the types of things that are important to them.

MATHEW PAINE: Yeah it is. I guess I should counter balance the unhealthy with the healthy because we also have trail mix and nuts-

DEBRA COREY: Nothing wrong with that.

MATHEW PAINE: And healthy options as well for those that are a bit more health conscious.

DEBRA COREY: And how's it been going so far then?

MATHEW PAINE: Yeah, look it's been really, really well received. Given that our team is so operational we had to look at a program that would be able to get through to all of those employees. So yeah, the feedbacks been really positive and certainly it's enhanced the culture at ICC, Sydney and that was really the main aim.

DEBRA COREY: Definitely. So if there's people who want to do something like this, do you have any words of wisdom, tips of what they could do to make it effective?

MATHEW PAINE: Yeah, look I think the first thing is really to understand the workforce and the demographic and how whatever program you come up with in an organization to make sure that it could actually filter through all the way through to the frontline employees. For us a purely online program wouldn't work because most of our employees aren&#39;t sitting in front of a computer. So an operationally based organization like us, the chequebooks work. If it's a corporate organization and everybody does have a computer, perhaps the online recognition, sending an eCard for example, that might work. So it's really about tailoring the program to the workforce and the demographic.

DEBRA COREY: No, I think that makes sense. I think the other thing that you did really well and I said this a couple of times, is the alignment and also how you embedded in different areas throughout your organization. I think that's really smart as opposed to just individual. And I realize I forgot to ask you about one of your other programs, which I think you have the Golden Tickets? How could I forget the Golden Ticket?

MATHEW PAINE: This is the Golden Ticket.

DEBRA COREY: I love the Golden Ticket, yes.

MATHEW PAINE: So the Golden Ticket is basically the ultimate reward for behavior and only the CEO, and our CEO Geoff Donaghy holds the Golden Tickets.

DEBRA COREY: Oh okay, he's like Willy Wonka.

MATHEW PAINE: Basically yes and actually funnily enough we put his face on a Willy Wonka photo at the beginning just as a bit of a joke.

: Have to have a bit of fun with these things.

MATHEW PAINE: That's right. So yeah, the Golden Ticket, the recipient of a Golden Ticket gets to have an extra day of annual leave.

DEBRA COREY: Oh that's nice.

MATHEW PAINE: Or they can go and stay at a five star hotel in Sydney as a staycation with their partner or family with all the perks that come with that. And it's really about recognizing somebody that's really gone above and beyond at the discretion of our CEO and of course upon recommendation from anyone in the organization that can say I think that somebody is really deserving of the Golden Ticket. And yeah again, it was really well received when we launched the Golden Ticket along with the chequebooks at the same time.

DEBRA COREY: And I think a constant theme is everything that you've done is this whole balance. So you don't just have one prize, you can have multiple prize, you don't just have one program you've got multiple programs and I think that really works with overcoming some of the challenges and the diversity that you have in your organization.

MATHEW PAINE: Yeah definitely. I think with any reward and recognition program there should be choice. We didn't want to just give out a shopping voucher because that may not be relevant for some people who may not like that. So it's about giving the employee choice and to select from a menu of items.

DEBRA COREY: Oh I think that makes sense. Well thank you for the story, I think it's a brilliant story and I think it just shows people that you can overcome challenges. You just need to, as you say, make it your own way, be a bit brave and innovative and it works. So thank you for that. And I guess just in the end I would just say go out and be a rebel, whatever that looks like, we're all different rebels, make it your own but just be a rebel.

MATHEW PAINE: Thank you very much.

DEBRA COREY: Thank you.