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Beyond Dollars: 9 Little Extras for Employees that Make a Big Difference

Where is the Love?

Motivation for employees is sagging. Recent reports show it has fallen at more that half of all companies. In difficult economic times, how can companies boost employee morale and drive high performance?

One thing that always surprised me in prior work experiences is when your assets walk out the door each day, why aren’t companies doing more to value the people doing the business?

- Robert Murray, CEO iProspect, Former Analyst Bain & Co

The simple answer is doing the little extras beyond compensation to demonstrate commitment to your employees. I’ve taken a look at how companies go above and beyond to create signature extras. The Green Goldfish Project is a quest to find 1,001 examples of employee lagniappe. I’m currently at 795 examples. A few themes have developed. Specifically the  different types of green goldfish can be categorized as the Three B’s:

  1. Basics – Create a stable environment where people can thrive
  2. Belonging – Enable high functioning teams and recognize their efforts
  3. Building – Empower employees to learn, give back and take control of their destiny

Here are examples for each:

Basics

1. Onboarding – Onboarding is the process for bringing on new employees. Zappos does a strong job over 4 weeks to acclimate new employees into its customer service culture. To garner full commitment at the end, the company makes “The Offer”:

Green Goldfish #3 – At the conclusion of training, everyone at Zappos is offered $3,000 to leave. According to Fast Company Co-Founder Bill Taylor, “It’s a small practice with big implications: Companies don’t engage emotionally with their customers–people do. If you want to create a memorable company, you have to fill your company with memorable people. How are you making sure that you’re filling your organization with the right people? And how much are you willing to pay to find out?” In case you’re keeping score at home, roughly 2-3% of trainees have taken the offer since it was rolled out. [Source: HBR]

2. Food / Shelter – Surroundings can make a big difference. A big kitchen can boost both collaboration and morale as in the case of HOK:

Green Goldfish #325 - A few years ago, HOK’s office space in St. Louis was a federal bankruptcy court with courtrooms that “looked like bad funeral-home chapels,” recalls former vice chairman Clark Davis. So when executives decided to renew their lease at Met 1 and moved all of their employees to one floor, the world-renowned architecture firm did what it does best: transform the space into one of the most environmentally friendly offices in St. Louis. “We essentially created a loft-quality space inside a 20-year-old building,” says Davis. Now the office is an airy environment with a prime view of the Arch and Busch Stadium that everyone can share. Stationed in rows of desks, architects and designers debate blueprints for a project in Saudi Arabia. “Almost everything we do is based on collaboration,” says Davis, “so we wanted to encourage communication and bring people together.” An open kitchen serves as a common meeting place. Glass-walled “huddle rooms” offer intimate spaces for employees to chat.  [Source: St. Louis Business Journal]

3. Wellness / Time Away – A healthy employee is a productive employee. Clif Bar puts an emphasis on fitness with these two little extras:

Green Goldfish #105 and #139 – California based Clif Bar sports an extensive gym at its Emeryville HQ. The company literally pays people to work out. Each employee receives 30 minutes of paid time to work out and exercise. In addition, everyone gets 2.5 hours of personal training each year for free. The company was born on a bike and remains very environmentally conscious. Employees are given a subsidy of $500 to buy a bike as long as they ride it to the office at least twice a month. Does all this stuff add up? Clif Bar’s Retention Rate is 96%. [Source: ABC News]

Belonging

4. Team Building – Happy Employees create Happy Customers. A big reason people are happy to come to work are their colleagues. Smart companies like Decision Lens create special opportunities to help build a collegiate atmosphere:

Green Goldfish #711 - Decision Lens sponsors excursions twice annually during usual work hours. They are paid for in full by the company. The founder worked at several large corporations and was turned off by what he called “lame” annual company barbeques or bowling excursions. He wanted to engage his employees with group activities and trips they otherwise may not be able to on their own. For example, Decision Lens paid for its 35-person staff to visit the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Space Flight Center about 20 miles northeast in Greenbelt, Md., where they listened to astronomers discuss how they’ve been using the Hubble Telescope. Last month, employees geared up for a day of competitive go-kart racing. “If you want to play paintball or go bowling, you can do that with your friends on your own time,” says Saaty. “The idea is to inspire people to do what they didn’t think they could do. If an employee has a bad day or run of days, I want them to remember that these are the people that had his or her back and who shared an awesome, one-of-a-kind experience. That goes way beyond work.” [Source: Entreprenuer]

5. Attaboys / Attagirls – The simple exercise of recognition. A recent McKinsey study stated that commendation was the top incentive, stated by 67% of respondents as ‘extremely’ or ‘very effective’, compared to just 60% for cash bonuses. It’s important for everyone to be honored for their contributions. Great companies create signature awards that reinforce core values like McMurry:

Green Goldfish #65McMurry is a marketing communications agency. Staff members are honored with monthly V8 awards, annual Innov8ion awards, quarterly Collabor8ion awards and annual service awards. The 8 ties into the core values of the company. [Note: McMurry has 6 green goldfish in the Project. Other notables include: Managers tracking and encouraging Paid Time Off (#512), new mothers an $800 allowance for house cleaning, home health visits, meals, lactation consulting or other services (#694), and rewarding employees upwards of $10,000 annually for submitting innovative ideas (#706)]

6. Flexibility – Work is no longer 9 to 5. Companies need to become more flexible, putting a greater emphasis on results and less on time spent at your desk.

Green Goldfish #453 - Patagonia Inc. attracts outdoorsy types with its athletic clothing brand and laser-like focus on work-life balance. Time away from the office isn’t just tolerated here, it’s required. Patagonia’s 1,300 employees enjoy what the company calls “Let My People Go Surfing” time — a period during any work day where employees can head outdoors to get their creative juices flowing. [Note: Let My People Go Surfing is also a book by Founder Yvon Chouinard] Of course, employees can’t abandon their duties or ditch a meeting, but popping out for an impromptu climb or bike ride is encouraged. Patagonia’s flex-time policies are good for employee morale and invaluable to the company. “The time we spend outside the office helps us manage the storytelling process around our products,” says BonDurant, a 10-year Patagonia veteran and an avid mountain climber. “We’re designing ski and surfing apparel, we need to be traveling and trying things out.” [Source: Entreprenuer.com]

Building

7. Training – A healthy mind is a productive mind. When we are green, we are growing. When we are ripe, we start to rot. Great companies figure out signature ways to keep employees sharp and learning on the job as in the case of Evernote:

Green Goldfish #83 – In the words of CEO Phil Libin, “We recently implemented something called Evernote Officer Training. I got this idea from a friend who served on a Trident nuclear submarine. He said that in order to be an officer on one of these subs, you have to know how to do everyone else’s job. Those skills are repeatedly trained and taught. And I remember thinking that’s really cool. So we implemented officer training at Evernote. The program is voluntary. If you sign up, we will randomly assign you to any other meeting. So pretty much anytime I have a meeting with anyone, or anyone else has a meeting with anyone, very often there is somebody else in there from a totally different department who’s in officer training. They’re there to absorb what we’re talking about. They’re not just spectators. They ask questions; they talk. My assistant runs it, and she won’t schedule any individual for more than two extra meetings a week. We don’t want this consuming too much of anybody’s time. [Source: NY Times]

8. Pay it Forward – Enabling employees to give back. Great companies allow employees to utilize their skills, choose who they work with, provide them with the necessary time and follow up with additional support as in the case of Microsoft:

Green Goldfish #276 - Microsoft donated $844 million worth of software to nearly 47,000 nonprofits in 2011. The company has an annual giving campaign where employee contributions are matched dollar-for-dollar. An added benefit, organizations where employees donate time to receive $17 an hour for each hour of service. [Source: Oregon Business]

9. Empowerment – Empowerment is about relinquishing control over employees. Letting your employees have the freedom to achieve their personal and professional goals. One company that is all about empowerment is the Brazilian company Semco:

Green Goldfish #45, 190, 195, 340, 341, 371, 462, 785, 787, 788, 789, 795 – Semco is a democratic organization with minimal hierarchy. CEO Ricardo Semler allows each business unit to operate under their own complete control. There are no set work hours. Workers twice a year set their own salary. The books are completely transparent are available for all to see. Employees are encouraged to move around the office. In fact, you are not technically allowed to sit at the same desk two day in a row which eliminates the need for time tracking by management. Employees can reduce their hours or job share given their state of life. They can also ‘retire a little at a time’, taking time off during their working years and receiving proportional compensation in retirement.

The Green Goldfish Project is a quest to find 1,001 examples of marketing lagniappe for employees. Green goldfish are the little signature extras given to employees. They help differentiate a company, increase employee retention and drive positive WoM. The book, “What’s Your Green Goldfish?” will be published in March, 2013.

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