Topic: Company Culture


Heritage Bank: Creating community with ongoing recognition

Heritage Bank
Heritage Bank employees gathered around sharing success

Heritage Bank is more than a community bank. With locations throughout Oregon and Washington, the company encourages employees to be innovative and bring their brightest ideas to provide customers with exceptional service. And they use recognition to connect their people and build a culture of continuous improvement.


Recognition has always been an important part of the Heritage Bank culture. The Bank recognized great work during their annual Employee Appreciation Days but didn’t have the ability to orchestrate recognition year-round. Once a year, hundreds of employee award nominations were manually gathered and vetted. Employees loved the awards, but they knew they wanted to recognize more often, throughout the year.

The Bank needed a solution for more real-time recognition—a way to immediately recognize employees when great work happens. “By changing from once-a-year recognition to recognition throughout the year, we won’t miss the great work that is happening daily,” explains Barb Hedrick, Human Resource Officer.

Thus began the search for a partner who could offer more timely recognition, easier review and approval processes, and one consolidated program for both recognition and service awards. Eventually, they found O.C. Tanner.

“What O.C. Tanner offers is the opportunity to have all that recognition in one place. From the eCards, awards, to celebrating milestone anniversaries and retirements, and the online site to choose a gift—having all that together creates a better experience for both us and employees,” says Mike Nelson, Director of Talent Development. The Bank liked O.C. Tanner’s platform automation, accessibility, and customization capabilities. This partnership led to the development of Celebrate Great.


The Celebrate Great platform provides instant recognition and allows both leaders and peers to send eCards and submit nominations whenever they see great work happening. To celebrate milestone anniversaries and retirements, leader and peer comments are gathered in a printed keepsake Yearbook for the employee, in addition to selecting a gift. The Bank launched the Celebrate Great program during their annual Employee Appreciation Days event, when their President sent an eCard to all employees. They instantly loved it.

“Our workforce has embraced the Celebrate Great program as an effective way to quickly and immediately share stories of great performance and to stay connected with each other across multiple regions,” says Sabrina Robison, SVP Chief Human Resources Officer.

Employees enjoy the program’s Wall of Fame, which makes recognition visible across the Bank so everyone can see the great work happening. Executives like Kelli Wilson, SVP of Retail Banking, frequently highlight recognition and share stories of success.

Wilson blocks off time every Friday to read and comment on the recognition given to employees in her division. She looks at who is using the program, who might need additional encouragement, and personally thanks leaders for recognizing their people.

“It gives me insight into what is happening throughout our branches and acknowledge their great work on a regular basis,” explains Wilson. She also commits to reading the recognition given to employees at a particular branch before she visits that location in person.

Wilson shares one recognition each week with the entire executive team to encourage other executives to use the program and look at their own teams’ recognition. “It’s about prioritizing recognition. Our people are our priority. It’s probably one of the most important things I do each week. My calendar is packed, but it’s one of the things that matter the most to employee engagement,” Wilson says.

“It’s a great reminder that our executives are looking at the recognition on Celebrate Great and sharing in these successes,” echoes Hedrick.

Nelson agrees. “It’s about sharing the stories. We use the platform to tell the stories of the individual teams and what is happening with our employees and how they are contributing daily to our organization. Each one of the recognitions is a story.”

Heritage Bank actively promotes and integrates Celebrate Great in their employee experience:

• During quarterly all-employee and all-officer calls, executives share a few eCards or nominations and highlight employees who have done great work. There is a significant spike in usage of the program after these calls.
• Celebrate Great is discussed in new-hire training so employees are aware of and know how to access the platform.
• A link to the platform is included in monthly emails announcing new hires, promotions, and service anniversaries, so employees can send eCards and notes of congratulations to their peers.

“Celebrate Great serves as an ambassador of our culture across all regions and to all teams. It reinforces our core values with every entry celebrating successes and recognizing peer accomplishments.”
—Sabrina Robison, SVP Chief Human Resources Officer                                    


Celebrate Great has been very successful at Heritage Bank:

  • Over 8,000 ecards sent in the first 2 years
  • 96% of employees have used the platform
  • 98% of Yearbooks include leader comments
  • 99% of Yearbooks include peer comments
  • 84% of employees feel the Bank goes to great lengths to recognize great work
  • 96% said their service award presentation felt personal and sincere
  • 84% said the service award experience shows the Bank cares about employees

Employees who received recognition in the past 30 days are also more likely to feel positive about the company:

Recognition has become a more ingrained part of the Heritage Bank culture. A recent Engagement Outcome survey indicated that over 91% of employees feel accepted by their immediate co-workers at Heritage Bank. The Celebrate Great platform has contributed to this high level of acceptance.

Aligning the service award and performance recognition programs has brought more efficiency and impact to the process and employee experience. Previously, employees would receive an email directly from the vendor to order their gifts, and there was no involvement from the leader or team. Now the manager is providing an experience and the team members can be part of it by adding comments in the employee’s Yearbook and sending eCards on the anniversary date.

“Managers are doing a great job keeping employees connected with Yearbook. It gives us a chance for everyone to put their well-wishes in one place,” Says Hedrick.

The Bank looks forward to expanding the program even more and include other types of recognition. They continue to actively encourage employees to use the program throughout the year and further integrate recognition into the company culture.

“Recognition is critical. We want our culture to be the best culture. We want customers to know Heritage Bank is an exceptional place to bank, and part of that is because we value and recognize our people,” says Wilson.

Simple appreciation, quick and easy recognition, and a platform to do it. It’s what builds culture—and community—at Heritage Bank.

“We are a culture of continuous improvement and the Celebrate Great program has highlighted when people are doing great work, achieving new things, and helping our customers. Employees who feel more appreciated are more productive and feel more valued and connected.”
—Mike Nelson, Director of Talent Development                                    

Connection during crisis

Like all companies, Heritage Bank had to quickly pivot during the pandemic. Branches closed to customers, many employees transitioned to remote, and others stayed on-site offering drive-through services. But the Bank used the Celebrate Great program to keep employees connected:

  • When branch lobbies had to close temporarily, the Board of Directors sent a custom eCard to all employees with words of encouragement.
  • Managers kept holding celebrations for service awards, just remotely.
  • Leaders interacted even more with the Wall of Fame, liking and commenting on the recognition their employees received.
  • When the Bank wanted to give employees an extra day off, they paired it with an eCard to show appreciation.
  • The HR team held employee appreciation events virtually and leaned on the platform to bring employees together.

“During Covid, we had the conversation of what we could do for our bankers during this trying time. It was great to say, ‘let’s utilize our recognition platform’ to help them,” says Nelson.

As employees remain apart, the Celebrate Great platform is a way for the Bank to share stories of what employees are doing and how they’ve taken care of customers. It’s an easy way for leaders to connect with and celebrate their people, wherever employees are working.

“No matter where you are, at the worksite or at home, you can send appreciation to your colleagues and stay connected through the platform. Without Celebrate Great, I don’t know how managers would be able to do that in an easy way,” says Nelson.

“While we may not all be in the same place, it’s even more important to have a recognition program they can all access and use. It’s something that hasn’t changed with Covid.”

Outcomes are everything
We’d love to share what we’ve helped Heritage Bank and thousands of other clients achieve. Reach out to us to start your employee recognition journey.

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