CAMP ZAMA, Japan (May 21, 2021) – An employee’s offhand comment in the U.S. Army Garrison Japan housing warehouse set in motion a program that has since recognized the excellence of hundreds of workers here.
Col. Thomas Matelski, commander of USAG Japan, said he was touring garrison facilities soon after he took command in July 2019 when a worker told him, “This is the first time that I’ve seen one of the senior leaders in a while.”
The comment stuck in his mind, Matelski said, and he began thinking of ways he could get out and see the garrison’s team of more than 3,000 employees throughout USAG Japan’s 15 sites and facilities across Japan. He decided to recognize employees in person based on positive Interactive Customer Evaluation comments.
Not wasting any time, Matelski kicked off the program July 22—five days after taking command—and began visiting employees to thank them for their good work. Nearly two years later, Matelski has recognized hundreds of employees, and he spreads the word of their good deeds via an emailed “Garrison Commander Spot Report,” which quotes the positive ICE comments.
“Even though it’s just a small way of recognizing excellence within the garrison organization, it changes attitudes,” Matelski said. “It creates a positive working atmosphere. It helps everybody get to know each other, and it helps us as senior leaders get to know our workforce.”
Employees agree. Matelski has recognized Lucinda Ward, relocation readiness program manager and volunteer coordination manager for Army Community Service, 11 times for her work, and she has seen the program’s effectiveness.
“I have been able to witness the boost in morale from many of the employees who have received recognition,” Ward said. “I have also witnessed a rise in employees going above and beyond in their everyday tasking. This program has given workers a double shot of confidence and pride in their work.”
Ward said all employees love to hear they are doing a great job every now and then, and the program demonstrates the garrison leadership’s sense of community and engagement.
Matelski has recognized Johnie Hickmon, who makes identification cards for the installation, three times, and Hickmon also said the program improves employee morale.
“It lets [employees] know they are doing a great job, and [that] leadership is recognizing it,” Hickmon said. “Sometimes we may feel our work is taken for granted, but with this program, it lets us know our work is truly appreciated.”
Likewise, Tohru Yamaguchi, a window clerk at the Camp Zama U.S. Post Office, said the program has recognized him once, and he is happy that Matelski and USAG Japan Command Sgt. Maj. Justin Turner recognize that he is working hard.
The recognition helps inspire him to continue working hard, said Yamaguchi, who has worked at the post office for more than 20 years.
Meanwhile, the program has recognized Dominique Alvarez, a passport agent and personnel actions officer for the garrison’s Directorate of Human Resources Military Personnel Division, three times, and she said she likes the program’s personal touch.
“I think that it’s nice that Colonel Matelski takes the time to appreciate all of the workers in person,” Alvarez said.
Matelski said he is happy to recognize employees personally because he knows the care and commitment that goes into taking care of everyone on the installation, and sometimes people overlook that work due to its everyday nature.
In addition, Matelski said meeting people at their work locations also helps him in his job by seeing different parts of the garrison.
The program also fits in well with the U.S. Army Installation Management Command’s Service Culture Campaign, Matelski said. The campaign started in 2017 on the premise that customer service excellence is a byproduct of how leaders treat employees, and it includes employee recognition programs, standardized customer service training, and welcoming “on-boarding” programs.
The ICE system is an important tool to gauge customer satisfaction, and although many refer to the comments as ICE “complaints,” data at USAG Japan reveals only a small percentage show dissatisfaction. Since 2017, for example, about 85% of comments showed customer satisfaction; about 5% expressed dissatisfaction; and about 10% were neutral.
Anecdotally, garrison directors have seen an increase in the number of satisfactory comments that name specific personnel since the spot recognition program began.
Matelski said the first time an employee receives a positive ICE comment, he and Turner give the employee a command “poker chip,” similar to military “challenge coins,” and for every comment after that, the employee receives a certificate of appreciation that highlights the positive contribution.
Matelski said the response has been overwhelmingly positive, and he and Turner have recognized some employees many times.
“It inspires the rest of the workforce because they see that their co-workers are getting recognized,” Matelski said. “It’s really inspired a positive working atmosphere throughout the garrison.”