Think you can’t have fun, throw money at employees (literally!) and grow the company’s revenues by 25% all at the same time? It’s possible and the examples below prove it. Meet Bob Richards, a seasoned manufacturing executive who has tried what skeptics would call “outlandish” tactics to create a workplace environment in which employees are engaged and productive. This interview excerpt is bonus material from when I talked with Bob about workplace morale for an article on SmartBlog on Leadership. As we chatted, Bob shared with me some of his successful ideas for creating positive workplace morale. Bob implemented many of these progressive ideas during his tenure at Herman Miller’s “SQA” manufacturing facility. As a consultant, I used to walk the halls of Herman Miller SQA and experienced firsthand the outcomes of these efforts. The positive energy was palpable; it was an amazing place to work.
Here are five examples of things Bob and his management team did to create positive workplace morale and build employee engagement, in his own words:
Banish time clocks.
When I was the General Manager of Herman Miller’s SQA division, we didn’t have time clocks. This was for hourly and salaried employees. Everybody had access to everybody else’s time. It was an open system, and you got eight hours put in under your name. If you were on vacation or you were sick, you were supposed to go into the system and take that off or assign it correctly. And just the fact that you were trusted to do it and everybody could see everybody’s time, peer pressure took care of the abusers. Which by the way, were very few.
Be crystal-clear about what’s important.
At Herman Miller SQA, our business model focused on being 100% on-time shipment, doing what we promised. So if you promised a customer it was going to be there on Friday, it is going to be on Friday and would be a complete order. So we measured ourselves on daily on-time shipments and complete orders. And we made everybody aware of the previous day’s on-time number. So at every entrance every day, we had the previous day’s on-time [results]. And then, if we were at 100% for that day, I went out and gave $20 bills randomly to people who knew what our on-time shipment was the previous day. This put a key company objective front-and-center and helped focus people on what was most important. And you know, if you do that enough, people start to understand and they are connected [to the company’s goals].
Show them the money. Literally.
If we ran five days in a row at 100% on-time shipment, we would shut down production and randomly pull five names out of the [HR employee database] and let those five people go into the “Money Machine.” We had our Maintenance department build us a Plexiglas booth that blew around money with a fan. We started out with $1000 worth of different denominations. Each person would go in and grab as many dollars as they could (without stuffing it in their pockets) in 20 seconds. It was really pretty cool.
And if we got two weeks in a row [100% on time shipments], we doubled the amount in the machine. And we just kept going with it, and it got pretty lucrative. People were pulling down $800 bucks at a time.
And if the financial folks hassle you about the Money Machine . . .
We were growing at a rate of 25% year over year in a market that was flat; so we were stealing market share because our customers knew that when we said they would get something, they would get it. So they would buy from us, even though we had a limited offering. We didn’t offer everything to everybody; but what we did do, we did 100%. When I started [with SQA], our sales were $110 million and after five years it was $250 million.
Oh, it [the money machine] was an inexpensive investment for what you got out of it. [Chuckling] Oh, my gosh, it was cheap.
Get clear about the financials and what it means to employees’ daily actions.
We had was a bonus system that was paid out monthly. And everybody got the same percentage from hourly on the floor up through salaried employees. It was based on how we did with the previous month’s financials. The payout went from zero on up to 15% of your base pay for that month. And we paid it out immediately. The problem with most profit sharing systems is they pay out quarterly or annually, and people don’t know what it was tied to, they only know we “had a good year.”
When we started to draw employees’ attention to the financials, they started taking more ownership of financial decisions. For example, we had a situation where we had hired people to come in to paint [the facility walls], and we had hourly people questioning why were we doing that because the existing paint didn’t look that bad, and the painter’s fees were coming out of their pockets!
Long before Google did this stuff . . .
We set up a dry cleaning pick up service. We set it up with a local dry cleaner in town that would come in to pick up dry cleaning at a place in our lobby. So you basically could get your dry cleaning dropped off and picked up at work.
The whole point was that we didn’t want people worrying about simple home stuff if we could help it. So anything that we could do to ease that, we did.
Jennifer speaking now: What do you think of these ideas? Outlandish? Standard practice? Tell me. I’d like to know! And, thanks to Bob Richards for generously sharing his time and thoughts with the readers of The People Equation.
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