One of my favorite jobs (and the one I get asked about most in interviews) was my role as the leader of the Awesomeness Team. The purpose of this team was to develop a sense of connection between employees, which made working at the office, well, awesome. In addition to making work a bit more fun, the program yielded three very tangible benefits:
- It gelled the team. As employees built relationships and trust with each other, they worked together more effectively.
- It ensured people knew each other well enough to have difficult conversations and hold each other accountable.
- It reduced turnover. When the cost to recruit a new employee can run as high as $3500, there is great incentive to keep the awesome employees you already have.
Now, some of you might be reading this and thinking, “Isn’t that just an employee incentive program? That’s not new.”
No, Awesomeness is not about incentives.
I worked several places that implemented incentive programs, all of which eventually fell flat and failed to meet the proclaimed objectives (which were usually to improve morale and reduce turnover.) The problem with most incentive programs is that they try to improve the environment by rewarding individual behaviors. As soon as the reward is gone (or is reduced, because “this program is costing too much money to run”), there is no incentive to continue the desired behaviors, and everyone goes back to their old habits.
Awesomeness is about creating an environment where the desired behaviors are fundamental, and the employees do the right things because they want to do them. It’s cultural, not compensatory. And before you ask: the amount of money spent on our program was relatively low. There was no point where we had to “cut back” — in good times and bad, the awesomeness continued.
Sound too good to be true? I can assure you it works, and it does not require unicorn horn, fairy dust or black magic; but starting an effective awesomeness program DOES require that you follow 3 basic principles:
- Don’t make it about money, make it about connections. It is surprising how little you need to get people engaged with each other. We started with offering fun things to do over lunch on Fridays, like board games and a paper airplane contest. The idea was to get people doing something together.
- Take time to learn how the employees like to connect. Our group liked to go outdoors (cornhole anyone?) and compete (Jeopardy!) Look for clues in what the employees like to do in their spare time. Get this information from face-to-face meetings — after all, this program is all about making connections (and a survey just doesn’t do that).
- Make it a program of the people (but make sure it has management support).The employees need to own awesomeness. Management’s job is to give them a budget, give them authority, and then let them do what they need to do. The more diverse your employee representation, the more effective the program will be.
People want to work in awesome environments, and if you give them awesomeness, you’ll get awesome results.
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