Entrepreneur

Want to hang onto your best talent? Try the unexpected

(Editor’s note: Tony Hartl is the founder Planet Tan and author of “Selling Sunshine: 75 Tips, Tools and Tactics for Becoming a Wildly Successful Entrepreneur”. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)

There are a lot of ways to celebrate a company anniversary: You can go the traditional route with cake and punch. You can rent out a restaurant and have an open bar. Or you can simply give people the day off. But those things have inherent shortfalls—employees come to expect them, and that means they won’t value the occasion, leading to more disappointment than excitement when you don’t “meet expectations.”

So when it came time to celebrate our 12th anniversary at Planet Tan, I showed my appreciation to employees and our members in a unique way. I called a meeting with my store managers and office staff. In my hands, I held a stainless steel briefcase. I told my staff how much it meant to me that they had stayed on for so many years and shared with them what a valuable part of the company they were.

I placed the briefcase onto the podium and opened it. The room was silent as the staff caught a glimpse of $100 dollar bills stacked inside. I called up one of my store managers, Jason, who had been with me for 10 years. One by one, I handed him ten crisp $100 bills.

It became a legend at Planet Tan: that day, I handed out $18,000 of my own money to 18 of my employees.

I hadn’t taken it out of the company, because I didn’t want it to impact our financial statements. I hadn’t added it to their paychecks because I didn’t want them to be taxed on it. I took the 18K out of my own personal savings and gave it to my employees to show my appreciation for their loyalty. I was reinforcing the significance of 12 years in business. I handed out cash across the pyramid, including one member of our maintenance staff who had been with us for many years.

The energy created by these types of gift and other unique celebrations is palpable. It cements the idea in staff members’ minds that the company is succeeding, that you care about them, and that they have your heartfelt thanks for the time they’ve given to the company.

What you reward in your business will be reinforced, and you can create stories and legends within your organization that reinforce the company’s values. At the same time, you can give employees opportunities to be proud of the jobs that they do.

When we celebrated occasions in my company, we took care to make it truly memorable. We chartered a jet to eat at Emeril’s Restaurant in New Orleans, then to the House of Blues for front-row seats at a BB King concert. We gave away trips to Cancun and Jamaica as prizes for increased sales. In whatever you decide to do, the important point is to be sure to surprise and delight your staff.

Make sure that you show what you value through your celebrations—and not through Christmas bonuses that your staff could come to expect (and which could cause resentment if you did not give them out). It should be something new and different and surprising, and if done right, it will always result in an adrenaline surge in energy channeled for your company.

In the long term, keeping your celebrations fresh and unexpected will help you to retain your best talent. It might even convert them to evangelists among their friends, helping you lure high quality employees.

Whatever you value most, align all conversations and communications and incentives around what you’re trying to achieve. Channel all your energies toward that. There were other incentives toward tenure which we used, such as subsidized tuition, health insurance, increased vacation time, even a 30-day paid sabbatical at their seventh year. The longer team members stayed with us, the more they were appreciated, and it kept the best performers from looking elsewhere.


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