"Lessons From the Field" written with a black and white cow in a field

Cows and employee engagement

In Onboarding, Recognition and Engagement by Lori McKnight

What Cows can teach us about employee engagement

Lessons from the field

Scooping ice cream isn’t glamourous – the job comes with scraped knuckles, impatient customers, heavy lifting and ALOT of cleaning.

My first job was with a Prince Edward Island ice creamery. That work experience taught me more about engaging employees than a MBA and 20 years of business experience.

Lessons from the field

If you’ve been to the east coast of Canada you’ll know exactly the ice cream retailer I’m referring to. Cows was designated “Canada’s best ice cream” in a survey of readers by Reader’s Digest, named the world’s top place to get ice cream by Tauck World Discovery and were featured this month on Kelly and Ryan. @COWSICECREAM


So how did a little island ice creamery operated predominantly by seasonally-employed teenagers enjoy such prominence and success? Three words.

Leadership | Mentorship | Recognition

1. Leadership with a well-articulated vision

Cows was co-founded by an individual who had a clear vision for Quality and Customer Service. His senior leadership live and breathe this vision as do the people running the stores day in and out. Leaders visit the shops regularly to share observations and praise employees for the store’s appearance and their many positive customer experiences.

Lesson from the field: Leadership by walking around is more complicated today with global offices and remote workers. However, HR recognition dashboards (like the CSI STARS platform) let leaders share their expectations and vision efficiently by streaming video, showcasing customer stories and publicly thanking others for great work. In a global world, “walking the talk” takes a new format but not a backseat to the old-school way of articulating your vision. The key is Communication.

2. Mentorship matters

Cows took 15-year-olds with no work experience and turned them into supervisors and store managers. They trust their staff and give them opportunities to expand their skill sets and lead others.

Lesson from the field: You don’t have to offer the highest salary or cool perks to keep your employees happy and engaged at work. Promoting a culture of learning and advancement along with providing regularly-timed mentorship to your staff can make all the difference in how long talent sticks with you.

Think about your most positive work experiences. Did you have someone to go to for advice, someone who took the time to explain things and genuinely seemed interested in your career?

It all starts with setting up employees for success.

CSI STARS onboarding program helps managers build this relationship from day one with scheduled touchpoints and feedback mechanisms that encourage training discussions, strengthen the connection to your company’s big picture and inspire employees to work harder.

3. Giving, receiving and observing recognition

Cows understood from day one that people were the key to their success. Sure, the Wowie Cowie ice cream and signature waffle smell drew the crowds but it’s the whole customer experience that makes Cows stand out.

To pull this off requires a team of friendly, energetic, customer-focused people. Cows cultivated this attitude in the workforce by recognizing efforts and leading by example. It starts at the top. Leaders who give frequent public recognition create a culture of everyday recognition that permeates throughout the organization.

Research shows that receiving recognition is the number one thing employees want from their boss and that when employees recognize others they witness a 26% increase in engagement.

Lesson from the field: Giving, receiving and observing recognition increases employee motivation, enhances pride in the organization, and encourages a willingness to go above and beyond.

If you think about the job you most enjoyed in life, I’m willing to bet these three attributes were present.

In theory, it’s pretty simple:

  1. Communicate your vision
  2. Give people the support and training needed to do their jobs well
  3. Recognize and reinforce their efforts

In practice…you may need some help.

CSISTARS recognition and reward programs help companies cultivate a workforce that loves coming to work. Let us give you a hand!

Author: Lori McKnight

Lori McKnight
Lori is the VP of Recognition for CSI International Inc. She has a MBA with a minor in Human Resources, is a Certified Recognition Professional and member of the SHRM blog squad. Prior to joining CSI STARS, she worked at Mercer Human Resource Consulting and Youthography, a youth market research agency. Connect with CSI STARS on LinkedIn to learn how we cultivate a workforce that loves coming to work.