The Graveyard Whistlers

Maritz Inc., the St. Louis giant nobody knows, the company that created the gold retirement watch and other corporate incentives, faces the future with a frozen smile

Across every company, the corporation that once slipped secret, proprietary, customized success formulas across mahogany conference tables is veering toward standardized products available on the Web. Industry giants that once opened on-site offices for Maritz travel agents can use a Maritz self-booking program. Marketers can pull obsessively updated reports from an online Maritz Research database. Companies can track their customers' loyalty online and off, automatically conferring award points.

And the new eMaritz company, announced last July, has spun the altar of noncash incentives back to front, taking years of specialized behind-the-scenes knowledge, boiling it down into formulas, packaging them as software and selling them online. Now mom-and-pop companies can buy Maritz's expertise cheap without ever talking to a Maritz salesperson. "No-touch" has become a compliment.

The old Maritz endures alongside the new: In a corner of the travel building, a skinny little guy who's been there since God was born stares happily at a laminated wall, tracking 23 award trips and VIP junkets to hot spots such as Aruba and Palm Springs.

Rick Sealock
Rick Sealock

Across the highway, in the info-tech lair, a row of young computer experts sit in front of a wall of monitors, watching for performance glitches, overloads on one of Maritz's 400 client Web sites, interlopers hacking too close to Maritz's firewall. All systems are monitored 24/7, and behind the glass doors one can see the guts of sentience: bunches of colored wires thin as broomstraws, boards glowing with pindots of yellow and green light.

These are technical professionals, and whereas the guy in travel might be delighted with a toaster, what they want is "a high level of autonomy over the conditions, pace, and content of work," says the Sept. 28 HR Reporter. "They have a strong need for self-management [and] a leadership style that gives them as much independence as possible." Worst of all for Maritz, they "tend to identify first with their professions and second with their organization."

Asked whether the high-tech influx is changing internal thinking about incentives, Fitzpatrick says no: "People are people, and whether they thrive on recognition or on earning something they wouldn't normally spend the money on, I'd say we are all pretty well motivated by it."

But Hoffman, who leads Maritz's exploding tech force, admits "there's a different type of reward and recognition they look for." Stuff doesn't interest them, he says, sounding relieved to air this. "Most are just energized by the technology itself. They want training and opportunities to use new skills. And they look for reasons why they are doing their work."

Why are they doing it? What will technology allow Maritz to do for its clients and employees 10 years from now?

"Say you have this wireless device you carry all the time," says Hoffman, "and you're shopping. You might want to provide customer sat[isfaction] info and get paid points for it. And while you're still in the shop, you might be able to make a purchase with those points, and by providing loyalty to a particular brand, you'd earn points again. Then maybe you'd check your account and find out you had enough to purchase some travel, and by going to a particular site and using a particular hotel, you'd earn points again. There's a whole reward mechanism that builds behavior."

It's the classic Maritz reward mechanism, slicked up for the future. They already know it works like a charm.

As long as people still want stuff more than they want autonomy.

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