A lot goes into creating a company, and a lot more goes into creating a great company that endures. The difference between the two comes down to one thing: investing in the people.
It’s because people aren’t simply a replicable “perk.” They elevate work environments, attract talent and nurture innovation — they make or break a company. It’s the employees that ultimately drive a business forward.
When it comes to recruiting and maintaining engagement, often the quick answer is a reward system. Yet, according to Dan Pink, the author of five books about the changing world of work, the classic incentives such as bonuses, commissions, and promotions don’t necessarily unleash creativity and boost employee happiness. In fact, the carrot and stick approach to motivating people may encourage compliance, but it has been proven to stifle creativity and limit visions.
So, what’s the answer? Empower your employees with an open line of communication — or information flow.
Shift the dynamics
All too often, we work in silos or stay surrounded by like-minded people on our teams. When we switch that dynamic and, say, move engineering next to marketing, new conversations and ideas are generated. At Datameer, we do a casual desk swap where whole teams or individuals move their desks to a different location so employees have a chance to learn about other roles and departments in the company. It’s an easy way to transfer expertise within the network, while also fostering professional development. While simple, it reaps long-lasting benefits.
Not only does this transfer knowledge, it also builds camaraderie among employees. And friendships at work aren’t just a feel-good notion to strive for; they are key to building a thriving workplace and have even been referred to as the secret to employee engagement. Plus, a change in scenery is enough to get stagnant creative juices flowing again.
The frequency can be flexible — for example, we initially thought quarterly would be the most beneficial but after hearing from employees about how much they were enjoying their new surroundings, we have since changed it to every six months.
Make room for innovation
Pink says the approach to employee motivation needs to revolve around three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose.
One way to hit all three of those elements is to encourage employees to pursue a work-related idea that they are passionate about.
We hold a bi-annual Pitch Day, in which employees can develop a project geared toward improving the company and then present to both the leadership team and the entire company. The goal is to short-circuit the structure and hierarchies that we’ve inevitably built over time and give everyone in the company executive visibility. The winner gets a reward and the ability to see their idea through to implementation.
Along those lines, we also have monthly two-day Geek Out sessions that give our engineering team a chance to be creative and work on something from their own imagination. These projects must be product (or company) related and are designed to produce a working prototype shortly after. It’s a great outlet for creativity, a valuable team building exercise and a fertile source for the next product features.
Setting aside this time, whether it’s once a month or once a year, demonstrates that you believe in listening to employee’s ideas and gives them a platform to directly pitch to the senior leadership team. The executive team should not be the only avenue for company improvement — our goal is to democratize this process, because anyone can have a great idea.
Startups and established technology companies alike have adopted this concept, from Google and Adobe to Atlassian and Datameer, and each company has the same thing in common — great success. Giving employees an outlet for their creative ideas has massive benefits — from fostering creativity to building full-fledged product offerings.
Open the curtains
The flow of information between employees is important across all levels and titles. Too often, executive teams hold intelligence close to their chest in fear of having competitive knowledge or financial earnings exposed outside of the company. We want to lead by example — and transparency and trust are huge components.
With that goal in mind, we host a Datameer Radio session each month so everyone can get an update on the company and participate in a candid Q&A with the executive team.
We’ve found that not only do our employees respect the confidentiality of the information that is shared, but also knowing what is going on strengthens their commitment to being a part of helping us grow.
It’s clear that the workplace is in need of disruption with new models of motivation to drive inspiration and enhance well-being. This is a multifaceted issue, but information flow is a key part, especially with expectations around communication in this day and age.
Stefan Groschupf is chief executive of Datameer.