Volkswagen and the Leap to Recognition

Read a great article in the February 2010 edition of FAST COMPANY magazine about Volkswagen’s “drive to succeed in America.” 

1968 VW ad photo courtesy of

Author Ellen McGirt asserts that if Volkswagen wants to be the world’s number one auto maker, it must first win over America. 

Tough stuff.  America that is. 

By the way, how many beans do you think are in that car? (The answer is at the end of this post…) 

Anyway, the article caught my eye as I grew up in a Volkswagen household, so nicknamed “King Gee” for our old 1968 VW bus noise which made a “king-gee, king-gee” sound as the engine turned over (which was great to fall asleep to as kids laying on top of the engine, which was in the back of the vehicle in those days) and subsequently turned into an adult user with three VWs to my name before I jumped the Autobahn to Honda. 

Why Honda, you ask?  

Because it met my needs

More from the FAST COMPANY article: 

“Volkswagen, originally a beloved, albeit quirky, counterculture brand, has never seemed to fully grasp the American market. When Jacoby took over the U.S. operation in 2007, Volkswagen (including Audi) was clinging to a 2% share of the U.S. market, down from 7% during its Beetle heyday in the 1970s. (VW is now at nearly 2.9% — a significant increase, but slightly less than Hyundai’s market-share jump from 2.9% to 4.3% during the same period.) The dealer network was in disrepair, fatigued by shipment delays, product complaints, and a confusing and occasionally short-lived parade of brands. The German reputation for design and engineering excellence sometimes came across to distributors as arrogance: You will accept the perfect cars we give you, not the rolling living rooms you ask for. Except the cars weren’t always perfect, especially for Americans…” 

Guess when I switched brands – you got it, 2007. 

What I take from this article is that in order to get Americans to drink the VW bug juice (yes, pun intended!), Volkswagen automakers have to recognize and meet their needs.  I don’t know about you, but I spend a TON of time in my car and so my car needs to (a) have a place for my diet Coke, (b) have a trunk big enough to load four deck chairs, six backpacks, 20 towels, two 20-packs of Gatorade and enough protein bars to feed a swarm of hungry swimmers, (c) have a decent air conditioning system so my drive is cool and comfortable, and (d) be sturdy enough to not have to be in the shop every other month.  Oh, and I forgot – be AFFORDABLE.

But I digress – those are my needs, not all Americans. 

Back to the story.  I’m reading this article and it got me thinking about recognition and meeting needs.  And making the leap – doesn’t recognition need to meet employee’s needs for it to be effective?  You bet. 

Various motivational theories tell us that all people have different degrees of need for acceptance, approval, and appreciation.  It’s up to the supervisor to figure out what those degrees of need are and craft a individual recognition plan that will compliment recognition provided from an organizational perspective.  For example, a 2007 survey conducted by  Accountemps found that a simple thank you wins over most employees.  They also found that 35% of workers and 30% chief financial officers cited frequent recognition of accomplishments as the most effective nonmonetary reward, followed by regular communication (20% for employees and 36% for CFOs).  

Now, notice the difference in the statistics – CFOs appear to have less need for frequent recognition of accomplishments, but a higher need for regular communication.  So, would a CFO care to be told everyday that the he/she is doing a great job?  Maybe….or maybe not.  It depends on the individual. 

Here’s three things to consider when giving recognition to individual employees: 

  1. Recognition it must be respectful, timely and attached to a specific goal achievement or outcome. Not everyone likes goofiness and sometimes goofiness can overpower the intent of the recognition. Reminds me of when my sister-in-law hired a singing gorilla to sing to my brother at their wedding reception. Totally true story.  Goal? Check.  Timely?  Check. Respectful?   No check. The guy was thrilled mortified.
  2. Keep recognition as a mix between public and private.  Some people just love, love, love jumping on a stage to receive their kudos.  Others don’t.  The occasional recognition in the boss’s office can pack just as much punch as an announcement in the company newsletter.  Find out from the employee what they prefer.  One of my favorites is a hand written thank you note.  I still have one note from an employee of mine who told me I was the best supervisor she ever had.  I treasure that thing.
  3. Ensure you have a balance between formal and informal recognition.  Not only is it good practice, but it helps to meet a broad range of needs.  Cost can be an issue for formal programs, but there are many inexpensive ways to recognize service anniversaries, employee of the month, etc.  Check out the cool ideas, here, here, and here.

So, how did I get from Volkswagens to recognition?  Oh yes, it’s all about recognizing and meeting needs.  Once I’m done hauling Gatorade and towels, I think my next car is going to be a VW Bug!

And how many beans did you say?   There are 1,612,462 beans in the bus – gotta love their advertising!


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