Want to increase employee engagement? Invest in Training and Development

This is a draft excerpt from the upcoming book, What’s Your Green Goldfish? Beyond Dollars: 15 Ways to Create Employee Loyalty and Reinforce Culture:


1st inch – Onboarding

2nd inch – Food & Beverage Shelter / SpaceTransparency / Openness

3rd inch – WellnessTime AwayModern Family


4th inch – Recognition

5th inch – Team Building

6th inchFlexibility

The seventh INCH

The seventh inch on the 9 INCH journey to the heart of your employees involves Training and Development. Let’s look at a Baker’s Dozen of companies that go the extra mile to build employees through T+D:

evernote officer training green goldfish #83

Taken from an NY Times interview by Adam Bryant with CEO Phil Libin,

We recently implemented something called Evernote Officer Training (#83). 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.”

Chicago-based online advertising buyer Centro LLC (#155) focuses on the manager-employee relationship. Centro spends a lot of time training managers.

Let’s face it: People leave companies because of their boss. We try to remove the typical obstacles (between bosses and employees) by sharing more information, by providing great training and by making sure those bosses have the right skill sets.” – Scott Golas, VP of Human Resources (Source:

Ecumen’s (#316) Velocity Leadership program is another major way Ecumen honors and empowers achievement. Each year, up to 25 emerging leaders are selected for a very thought-provoking leadership development program that includes visits to other innovative companies to learn from them, guest speakers on innovation and leadership, and other learning and personal growth opportunities. It allows employees to step outside of their daily work and lives and focus on their personal growth as a person and leader. (Source: Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal)

Submitted by Eva Lipson. In Eva’s words,

One thing at Squeeze In (#780) we do every year is a 3-day off-site management retreat, which we call Format. We get all our Managers and Owners together to review reports and numbers, discuss management styles, refresh our techniques, review our menu and hear suggestions to make it better, and most importantly bond and team build. We encourage self development and management growth by offering up books to read (including your book: “What’s Your Purple Goldfish”) and then we have them write short book reports. When they turn in their book reports, they get a cash bonus. This year we had a number of books on their list to read, and when they finished them all (and wrote reports on each), we presented them with free iPads! Also, during the 3-day retreat, we take them out to eat at restaurants (always interesting for a group of servers to go out and be served), and imbibe in a few cocktails too. We know that our Format retreat increases camaraderie, reinforces our company culture and helps with employee retention. It’s a great way for us to show our Managers how much we love them and care about them, both professionally and personally.” (Source: Squeeze In)

Training as a Competitive Differentiator


Colliers University (#5) was founded in 2002. It was truly a novel concept within the commercial real estate industry. Built on the premise that learning is a competitive advantage, CU has grown to include more than 1,000 classes and has helped accelerate the professional and personal success of more than 7,000+ Colliers professionals. The curriculum offers a 360-degree approach to learning with courses in commercial real estate, business and personal development.

CU is not only a culture driver for the company internally; it is an outwardly competitive recruitment tool, raising the bar in terms of the expertise of our professionals. This expertise directly benefits our clients and their success through better results and memorable experiences. ” (Source: Colliers)

MyLearning, the global online learning portal for Accenture (#237), boasts 20,000 learning courses that range from core training to technical training. Accenture Learning BPO Services and Accenture work together today to annually serve more than 125,000 learners through more than 200,000 classroom learning days and more than 1,000 virtual learning sessions. The team discovered that for every dollar Accenture invests in learning, the company receives that dollar back plus an additional $3.53 in measurable value to our bottom line—in other words, a 353 percent return on learning.

Learning at Accenture is changing people’s lives; it’s giving them more reason than ever to stay with us and grow both personally and professionally.”  — Jill Smart, Senior Managing Director – Human Resources, Accenture (Source: Atlanta Business Chronicle)

The Container Store (#460) puts an emphasis on training. Employees receive on an average 160+ hours of training per year. Typical annual turnover in retail is 100%, but at Container Store it hovers around 15-20%. (Source:

Wegman’s (#507), a popular grocery store chain that started in upstate New York, trains their employees 2-3 more times than other grocery stores. In turn, turnover at the chain is only 7% compared to 19% industry-wide. (Source: Jeanne Bliss)

Tuition Reimbursements and More

hoar construction green goldfish project #56

Hoar Construction (#56) puts an emphasis on personal and professional development. Employees receive up to $10,000 in annual tuition reimbursement, plus Hoar offers employees a variety of courses through their internal university ranging from money management and stress reduction, to tips on building a nonprofit. (Source:

Boeing (#327) pays for college degrees pertinent to position and provides stock awards for degree completion. (Source: St. Louis Business Journal)

Monsanto (#481) encourages ongoing employee development with generous tuition subsidies (to $10,000), financial bonuses for some course completion and subsidies for professional accreditation. (Source:

The Canadian crude and natural gas company Nexen (#668) invests in ongoing employee development through generous tuition subsidies (to a maximum of $35,000), financial bonuses for some course completion and subsidies for professional accreditation. (Source:

Staying Current and Curious

Nina Hale (#284) strives to create a culture of curiosity and passion, even going out of its way to encourage employees to share information with each other. As part of that push, the company hosts weekly “shared education” meetings where an employee picks a topic to discuss.

There’s a lot of new and different skill sets, so each person brings a new area of expertise to the table,” Senior Account Manager Leslie Gibson said. “Everyone’s willing to share what they’ve learned, and no one ever makes anyone else feel stupid.” (Source: Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal)

One program at Automation Direct (#704) is called Wake Up and Learn. Between 8 and 9 a.m. four times a year, the company hosts a variety of speakers to discuss personal and professional development topics including budgeting, managing stress and healthy eating. (Source:

Horizon Media (#747) has introduced the “Knowledge Café,” an educational series inviting media and tech executives to talk to employees and clients. Recent speakers include Hulu CEO Jason Kilar and Pandora CEO Tim Westergren.

We program our space in a way that’s meaningful to employees. We’re always trying to figure out how to stay current with the evolution of the business, but in a timeless way.” (Source:

Visual Training

Twice a month for two hours, employees at XPLANE (#709) meet to discuss various topics of personal and professional interest and work on collaboration, storytelling and presentation skills. “The Visual Learning School is about using pictures to help people better think about complex issues, solve problems and communicate more effectively,” says XPLANE creative director Matt Adams. “The most valued result is team building and the strengthening of relationships through learning, spontaneity and improvisation.” (Source:

Training while Bouncing Around

There is one program at Semco (#787) that allows people to act like entreprenuers at the company.  Called ‘Lost in Space’, it assumes that young recruits don’t know what they want to do with their lives. The program lets them roam the company for a year. They do what they want to do, move when they want to move, go where their interests take them; work for one, two, or six different units. At the end of the year, anyone they’ve worked for can offer them a job, or they can seek an opening in an area that interests them.

If neither happens… we thank them for the year.” (Source: Ricardo Semler, The Seven Day Weekend)

A Funny Take on Training

peppercomm green goldfish

About six years ago, Steve Cody, one of Peppercomm’s (#846) founders and a managing partner, started taking stand-up classes for fun. He worked with (Clayton) Fletcher, a touring stand-up comedian, to build his chops.

“As he started doing more and more stand-up, he started to recognize that, although he was very good at client meetings and presentations, he was getting a lot better” says Deborah Brown, Partner and Managing Director, Strategic Development.

It wasn’t long before the entire management committee at Peppercomm was taking comedy training. Soon after that, everyone in the company was involved, all the way down to interns. “For the past five years, it’s become part of our culture,” Brown says. In fact, comedy training is now mandatory at Peppercomm. (Source: Matt Wilson,

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – SCUBA is an acronym for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Chesapeake Energy (#78) provides employees with the opportunity to get certified for scuba diving for free. (Source: The Daily Finance)

chesapeake energy scuba green goldfish #78

All of the examples in this post were taken from the  Green Goldfish Project. The 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, reinforce culture, increase retention and drive positive WoM. The book, “What’s Your Green Goldfish?” will be published on March 29, 2013.

Outcomes not hours. Flexibility is becoming a mandate for employee engagement

This is a draft excerpt from the upcoming book, What’s Your Green Goldfish? Beyond Dollars: 15 Ways to Create Employee Loyalty and Reinforce Culture:


1st inch – Onboarding

2nd inch – Food & Beverage Shelter / SpaceTransparency / Openness

3rd inch – WellnessTime AwayModern Family


4th inch – Recognition

5th inchTeam Building

The sixth INCH

The sixth inch on the 9 INCH journey to the heart of your employees involves Flexibility.

Flexibility is about control and everyone wants flex. According to the Center for Talent Innovation’s research, if there’s one work perk that rises above the rest, it’s flexible work arrangements. The CTI study showed that 87% of Boomers, 79% of Gen X’ers, and 89% of Millennials cite flex as important. (Source: CTI)

Why be flexible? The bottom line benefit for companies is increased productivity and job satisfaction. According to Sylvia Ann Hewlett,

Companies that treat time as currency — through remote work options, staggered hours, and reduced-hour arrangements — are also more likely to attract and retain high-caliber employees. Work/life balance has always been prized by working women juggling the demands of family and high-powered jobs, and now these moms are being seconded by incoming Millennials, who consider it a basic entitlement to play as hard as they work.”  (Source:

A Changing Workplace

By some estimates perhaps one-quarter of all US jobs could be performed remotely, and in a 2011 survey of 2,000 US businesses, one-quarter of them said they planned to use more remote workers in the future. (Source: McKinsey) Forty percent of U.S. workers have jobs that could be done from home at least part of the time. (Source: Telework Research Network) It’s already happening. Eighty to 90 percent of Cisco and Accenture employees are regular telecommuters. Many tech experts are convinced we won’t even need offices as we know them in the future. (Source: Fortune)

Workshifting by the Numbers

Citrix has pioneered the concept of Work·shift·ing. Work·shift·ing is using the web to get work done anytime, anywhere — outside the traditional office space. It produces savings for employees, employers and the environment:

• Workplace flexibility can save employers up to $20,000 per employee per year.

• Workshifters save between $4,000 and $21,000 per year in travel and work-related costs.

• 80% of employers say workshifting options help recruit talent.

• Companies with telework policies realize an 18% savings in real estate, electricity and office expenses.

• Half-time telecommuting nationwide would spare the environment the equivalent of taking 10 million cars permanently off the road.

Increasing business performance and employee satisfaction

• Workshifters are 55% more engaged than non-workshifters.

• When telework policies are introduced, companies report a 25% reduction in employee attrition.

• Workshifting increases productivity by 27%.

• 72% of employees say flexible work arrangements would cause them to choose one job over another.

• The expected turnover rate for employees who do not have the flexibility is almost twice the rate of those who do. (Source: Citrix)

Let’s look at a Baker’s Dozen of companies who push the limits of Flexibility:

patagonia green goldfish yvon choinard surfing

Patagonia Inc., (#35) based in Ventura, Calif., 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, says Rob BonDurant, Patagonia’s vice president of marketing and de facto culture guide. Its 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. Of course, they 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 — which originated from Yvon Chouinard, an outdoor enthusiast who founded the company in 1974 — are good for employee morale and invaluable to the company.

In the words of Rob BonDurant,

The time we spend outside the office helps us manage the storytelling process around our products. We’re designing ski and surfing apparel, we need to be traveling and trying things out.” (Source:

Patagonia (#188) also gives employees two weeks of full-paid leave to work for the green nonprofit of their choice. (Source:

Control of Hours / Schedule

Managers struggle to judge employees on outcomes, not hours, since defining clear goals and determining reasonable time lines are difficult.

According to JetBlue’s VP of Talent Bonny Simi,

Bosses need to just relax. They don’t have to see the employee for the work to get done. That’s the hardest shift in mind-set for some managers. They [employees] don’t want to work 9 to 5 … and it doesn’t matter to me if they work better from six at night until three in the morning or if they can do the work in six hours instead of eight.”

Work schedule flexibility is a major reason employees prefer working at Busch Gardens (#364). It has helped make the Tampa Bay theme park a go-to employer. According to David Bode, VP of Human Resources,

We learned how to be very flexible because we employ a lot of students with strange hours and people who rely on us for second jobs. Plus our work demand varies so much.”

Busch needs a minimum of 1,500 people to keep the place open seven days a week. They bulk the staff up to 4,500 for the peak summer and winter seasons between Christmas and Easter. But needs vary dramatically with weather, the day of the week, the time of day and attendance projections, so the park has made schedule juggling an art form.

It’s great,” said Chris Noyce, a 21-year-old USF environmental sciences major in his third year as a ride operator. “When you work is almost up to you.”

Employees post their availability on a company website. Shifts are pared down to work units of four to six hours. The computer matches available employees to attendance projections and work demands two weeks ahead of time. The supervisors then fine-tune and juggle the actual work assignments — even down to the same day. (Source: Tampa Bay Tribune)

At Brand Learning (#333) directors are trusted to manage their time and way of working, within reason, and there are reduced work options of 2½, three and four-day weeks. (Source: The Sunday Times)

Believe it or not, Point B (#279), a Portland management consulting company offers its employees no paid vacation time or holidays — and the employees seem to love it. That’s because this company believes so firmly in flexibility that associates get paid only for the time they work, so there is no arbitrary limit to how much time off they can take. “I’ve never worked anywhere that was as committed to helping employees realize what the work-life balance means to them individually,” says one employee. (Source: Oregon Business)

The furniture retailer IKEA (#603) offers a range of alternative work options to help employees balance work-life commitments, including flexible hours, shortened and compressed work week options and job-sharing arrangements.

Lori Ames at (#773) has a small business with 2 employees. In her words,

One of my employees is dating a New York City police officer, who works 5 days on, 2 days off, 5 days on, 3 days off.  I’ve structured her schedule so that she works the same days as he does, and is off for 2 days each time he’s off.  Sometimes her weekend is M & T, sometimes S & SU; but it’s made for a very happy employee.” (Source: Lori Ames)

Up and Down Pay at Semco (#785). If an employees is going through a phase in which they would rather work less and accept lowering their pay accordingly, the company is committed to do its best to adapt.

Remote Access

All employees at Fulcrum Inquiry (#222) receive a laptop computer and related remote access to all of the firm’s technology & files. Every employee can work remotely if their particular assignment at that time makes this practical. All employees occasionally work remotely.  A few employees extensively work from home and during non-standard hours.  Workers also boast a Flexible Schedule. Consultants own their schedule based on the client needs. (Source: Los Angeles Business Journal)

Flexibility is the norm at this accounting firm. PwC (#233), with more than 160,000 employees operating in 154 countries, has one of the highest  percentages of telecommuters — with 70 percent of employees working from home at least 20 percent of the time. (Source: Atlanta Business Chronicle)

ROWE, ROWE, ROWE Your Office

best buy green goldfish rowe

At most companies, going AWOL during daylight hours would be grounds for a pink slip. Not at Best Buy (#13). The nation’s leading electronics retailer has embarked on a radical–if risky–experiment to transform a culture once known for killer hours and herd-riding bosses. The endeavor, called ROWE, for “results-only work environment,” seeks to demolish decades-old business dogma that equates physical presence with productivity. The goal at Best Buy is to judge performance on output instead of hours. Hence workers pulling into the company’s amenity-packed headquarters at 2 p.m. aren’t considered late. Nor are those pulling out at 2 p.m. seen as leaving early. There are no schedules. No mandatory meetings. No impression-management hustles. Work is no longer a place where you go, but something you do. (Source: Business Week)

Netflix believes that “Hard Work is Not Relevant.” According to CEO Reed Hastings,

We don’t measure people by how many hours they work or how much they are in the office. We do care about accomplishing great work. Sustained B-level performance, despite “A” for effort, generates a generous severance package, with respect. Sustained A-level performance, despite minimal effort, is rewarded with more responsibility and great pay.”

Jeff Gunther, CEO of the Charlottesville Meddius (#182), VA-based software company Meddius, decided he would change the way his staff works by instituting a results-only working environment. Meddius employees can work any time from any place in any way, as long as they get their work done. Gunther has found that by giving employees the trust and autonomy they need, they’ve actually been more productive and loyal to the company. (Source: (#203) boasts an innovative corporate culture, highlighted by a rollout of a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) in 2012. Under ROWE, employees are offered the freedom to work at any time from any location where they can most effectively deliver their expected results.

In the words of Matthew DiGeronimo, Principal at Smith Floyd (#772)

I enforce NO work hours. Performance driven – not hours logged driven. Employees can even attend staff meetings from home (via Skype) if they desire.” (Source: Smith Floyd)

Perks / Concierge

At S.C. Johnson (#200), 12,000 employees have access to a concierge service that will take care of just about any chore: from returning overdue library books to making sure your dry cleaning gets picked up on time. The Racine, Wisc., company is in the business of cleaning products, after all. (Source: The Fiscal Times)

During the firm’s busy season, a “perk” plan is offered at RBZ, LLP (#212). Weekly manicures, massage therapy, daily catered dinners, nightly office-wide Trivial Pursuit games, espresso cart and free hotel stays nearby.  A full-time concierge runs errands, and a free house cleaning each three month season rounds out this incredible benefit. (Source: Los Angeles Business Journal)

Benefits are first class at Counterpart International Inc. (#722). In addition to health insurance and a 403(b) fund, the organization offers three lifestyle benefits (employees are allowed to choose one): gym membership, a $125 public transportation benefit, or paid parking in the building’s garage. (Source: PR News Online)

Job Rotation

Employees at MERS/Missouri Goodwill Industries (#329) can try on various positions for the best fit. (Source: St. Louis Business Journal)

“Orionites,” as they call themselves at Orion Trading (#742), don’t like to stay in one place. The company encourages employees to try different jobs from time to time, moving in and out of marketing, sales, client services or media investment. The goal is to grow employees skills, which Orion has found increases everyone’s output. (Source: Advertising Age)

Working Off-Script

From a post by Jay Baer at Convince & Convert:

Mid-way on a Southwest Airlines (#521) flight home from a speaking engagement in Ft. Lauderdale, I looked up from my laptop to find Becky the flight attendant standing at the front of plane with a boy of about 9.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to disturb you, but I just thought you should know that we have a celebrity on the plane today. Well, perhaps not a celebrity today, but someday this young man will be a famous artist. Abraham has drawn us a marvelous picture. It’s quite wonderful, and I’ll be displaying it up here so we all can enjoy his great picture.”

The kid was absolutely BEAMING with pride and accomplishment and happiness and honor. Abraham returned to his seat. Becky broke out the medical kit, ripped open a band-aid and used it as ersatz tape to post the picture on the wall.

A few minutes later, Abraham was back with a second picture. A landscape this time, Becky again made an announcement and grabbed another band-aid.

When I talk about focusing on BEING social, rather than focusing on DOING social media, this is what I mean.

Social business isn’t about tools and technology. It’s about giving Becky the freedom to work off-script. It’s about cultural DNA that values moments of delight. It’s about treating customers as humans, not transactions. It’s about winning hearts and minds one planeload at a time with a personal, shared experience.

And it’s about building loyalty and triggering word-of-mouth by doing it well. Will Abraham’s parents ever fly any other airline? Will he? Will I? Or you?

For companies that are social at their core, social media just lets the rich get richer. For companies that don’t truly believe in the primacy of the customer, all the Twitter and Facebook and blogs and YouTube in the world won’t change their fortunes.

Social is foremost a philosophy, not a set of behaviors. And actions speak louder than words.” (Source:

Flexibility with Kids

schools financial green goldfish #103

Schools Financial Credit Union (#103) allows any of its employees to bring their newborns to work until the children are six months old. According to the vice president of marketing at the company, the babies cause little distraction, and since the parents can continue performing most of their work duties, the company doesn’t have to hire temps or train new people. (Source: Quality Logo ProductsSFCU (#766) also supports a program called School Activities Leave. Employees may take up to 40 hours per year off for participation in a child’s school activity.

Flexibility with Pay and Benefits

All employees at Darden (#86) Restaurants (Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, Eddie V’s) are eligible for health insurance and disability coverage from the first day of employment, which is highly unusual in the restaurant business. In addition, Darden pays employees on a weekly basis, rather than bi-weekly – even though it costs them more to do so – because they recognize the economic needs of their workers.

Flexible with Travel

Unlike many technology and management consulting companies, Jabian Consulting (#245) focuses on local client engagements, meaning its consultants do not endure the typically grueling travel demands that often come with consulting work.

Flexible Dress Code

Several winning workplaces stress the importance of the right atmosphere. At BBS Technologies (#802), that means striving to replicate a college campus’s freedom and intellectual excitement.

The dress code? “You must wear clothes,” CEO Rick Pleczko said.

Otherwise, Pleczko said he wants everyone to feel comfortable at the software company as he tries to combine a casual atmosphere with a professional environment,

“We care what you produce and deliver, but not so much how you look,” (Source: Houston Chronicle)

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here’s a great YouTube video on ROWE by the U. of Minnesota:

All of the examples in this post were taken from the  Green Goldfish Project. The 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, reinforce culture, increase retention and drive positive WoM. The book, “What’s Your Green Goldfish?” will be published on March 29, 2013.

Transparency and Openness are key drivers of Employee Engagement

This is a draft excerpt from the upcoming book, What’s Your Green Goldfish? Beyond Dollars: 15 Ways to Create Employee Loyalty and Reinforce Culture

1st inch – Onboarding

2nd inch – Food & Beverage, Shelter / Space

The second INCH (cont’d)

The second inch on the 9 INCH journey to the heart of your employees involves Transparency and Openness.

I recently watched a video from Dave Hitz of NetApp on what it takes to become a great workplace. He broke down 3 ways to achieve greatness: 1. Like the people you work with, 2. Do work that is meaningful and 3. Trust the management. Keying on #3, it begs the question, “How do you build trust?” Let’s look for guidance from India’s HCL Technologies and Brazil’s Semco.

Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies touched on Trust in his bestselling book, Employees First, Customers Second. He outlines four ways that “Transparency builds Trust”:

  1. Employees First, Customer Second BookTransparency ensures that every stakeholder knows the company’s vision and understand how their contribution assist the organization in achieving its goals. Working in a environment without transparency is like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle without knowing what the finished picture is supposed to look like.
  2. It ensures that every stakeholder has a deep personal commitment to the aims of the organization.
  3. Gen Y members expect transparency is a given. They post their life stories in public domains; they expect nothing less in their workplaces.
  4. In a knowledge economy, we want customers to be transparent with us, to share their ideas, their vision and their strategies for solving core problems. Why would customers be transparent with us if we don’t trust employees enough to be transparent with them.

The Theory of the Amsterdam Window

amsterdam window theory

Vineet uses an analogy in his book of the Amsterdam Window. Having previously lived on the Herengracht (“Gentleman’s Canal”) in Amsterdam, I can attest that the windows are immense. They are a throwback to the modest Calvinist period when subtle expressions of wealth, such as being able to afford to pay the highest window tax, were favored by the rich. In the words of writer Joanna Tweedy, “Today, the centuries-old glass, beautifully imperfect, frames the olive-green waters outside and lets natural light, and the eyes of curious tourists, pour in.”

While visiting Amsterdam, Vineet asked his friend, “Why so large?” The friend mentioned all the obvious reasons like letting in light and enjoying the view of the canal, but then offered a much more interesting answer… “It keeps the house clean.” It turns out that the bigger your windows, the more glass you have, the more visible your dirt will be – to you and to everyone who visits or passes by. In Vineet’s words,

If you can see the dirt, you will be much more likely to get rid of it.  A transparent house has a dramatic effect on the culture inside.

Opening the Window of Information at HCL

HCL TechHCL (#809) put together an online forum for employees called U&I. Employees could ask any question to the senior team at HCL Technologies. It was an open site where everyone could see the question, the questioner, and the answer. Employees responded favorably as noted by this comment,

This is the biggest change we have seen at HCL in years. Now we have a management team that is willing to acknowledge the dirt.”

Transparency at Grupo Semco

Brazil’s Semco is a great example of a democratic open environment with minimal hierarchy. The group of companies is headed by Ricardo Semler. According to British management guru Charles Handy, “The way he works — letting his employees choose what they do, where and when they do it, and even how they get paid — is too upside-down for most managers.

The company operates as an open book. In Semler’s words,

ricardo semler semcoSemco has no official structure. It has no organizational chart. There’s no business plan or company strategy, no two-year or five-year plan, no goal or mission statement, no long-term budget. The company often does not have a fixed CEO. There are no vice presidents or chief officers for information technology or operations. There are no standards or practices. There’s no human resources department. There are no career plans, no job descriptions or employee contracts. No one approves reports or expense accounts. Supervision or monitoring of workers is rare indeed… Most important, success is not measured only in profit and growth.”

Semco has a whole school of green goldfish. Here are some examples:

  • All employees, including union members, have full access to all financials (#341). Access is one thing, understanding is another. To educate its employees, Semco has even created cartoons to help explain the financial data.
  • Up and Down Pay (#785). Semco’s employees going through a phase in which they would rather work less and lower their pay accordingly, the company does its best to adapt.
  • Employees at Semco dictate their own salary (#340). Twice a year they are given the chance to set their compensation structure.
  • Semco’s employees have the flexibility to set their own hours (#834).
  • Semco believes that it is important to meet people interested in working with it, even if this interest is not immediate or there are no current opportunities. This led them to create the program – Date Semco (#195). Good for prospective employees and current ones. Each get to determine whether the fit is right.
  • Employees are not allowed to sit in the same place two days in a row (#462). This encourages collaboration and eliminates the need for managers to track time spent by employees at their desk.

Let’s look at another Baker’s Dozen of companies that go the extra mile to be open and transparent.

Open by Design

wl gore green goldfish

A visionary corporation, W.L. Gore (#46) is built from a blueprint that its founder refers to as a “lattice” (as opposed to a “ladder”). There is no visible hierarchy at Gore — and no job titles. In fact, there are no bosses. Instead, there are leaders who achieve their positions by gaining followers. Business goals are established by consensus. Gore’s internal “structure” was put into place in 1958 by cofounder Bill Gore, an ex-DuPont exec who believed that leaders should be chosen by the people who follow them. (Source: Fast Company)

If you join Marina Maher Communications (#749), don’t expect a title on your business card. “In our 28-and-a-half years, we’ve never put titles on business cards,” said Maree Prendergast, managing director-human resources and talent. “We always thought that limits people.” In fact, its philosophy is “good ideas come from everywhere,” said Marina Maher, founder of the PR agency. (Source:

atlassian green goldfish

Rule #1 of 5 Core Values: Open Company, No BullshitAtlassian (#47) embraces transparency wherever at all practical, and sometimes where impractical. All information, both internal and external, is public by default. “We are not afraid of being honest with ourselves, our staff and our customers.” (Source:

Feedback Plus (#59) has an open ledger policy for employees. They can read the company’s financial statements any time they wish. Their compensation is based upon their work team’s and company’s performance vs. the annual goals and action plans they’ve collectively developed. Of course it may not be feasible for every company to have an open ledger policy, but it is important that, whatever the size of the organization, each employee knows where they are going and how they’re supposed to get there. (Source:

Employees at Catalyst Studios (#288) say Founder Jason Rysavy’s focus on finding like-minded colleagues and challenging work is what makes the firm a fun place to work. “My job and the job of the leadership here is to make sure the projects we’re bringing in are satisfying for people to work on.” The firm looks for challenging, unique projects in need of solutions, Rysavy said. “We tend to get these bastard-child projects that no one knows how to deal with, and we help figure it out.” Over time, the firm has learned to turn down work that won’t excite the agency’s passionate problem-solvers. “The more you say no to the stuff that is clearly not a good fit for the people we have, the more the good stuff comes along,” Rysavy said. “We made a lot of money early on, but we did a lot of stuff that didn’t get us anywhere.” Delivering a product that clients and users can enjoy and that was satisfying to build is a reward beyond the “smoke and mirrors” that other agencies use to keep their employees happy, Creative Director Bryce Howitson said. (Source: Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal)

Talent Plus + (#799) holds monthly business update meetings. Management shares financials with all employees in the spirit of transparency.

“Customer First News,” an audio webcast that provides Symantec (#806) employees with updates on their NPS performance, actions being taken to address performance gaps and business results achieved. Symantec engages employees across the business in delivering this message, showing that customer experience is owned by every employee. (Source:

An Open Door

At Flour Bakery + Cafe (#136), none of the bakery manager offices have doors, and all have anonymous suggestion boxes. “We try to create all sorts of ways to get feedback from the staff,’’ says General Manager Aaron Constable. (Source:

Rand Corporation (#208) offers an open door policy at all levels of the organization. Anyone can make an appointment to meet with the CEO, Executive VP or any of the other VP staff.  The company leadership host small group lunch meetings with open Q&A as well as coffee get togethers for office quadrants for open Q&A. (Source: Los Angeles Business Journal)

Openness One Step at a Time

AnswerLab’s (#510) CEO schedules Walk & Talks with every employee. These one-on-one check-ins provide employees with an individual opportunity to share any concerns or brilliant ideas they have with the CEO directly. Why it’s great: Combining wellness with one-on-ones helps achieve two important objectives simultaneously. Meeting outside the office and getting physical helps eliminate the nerves and intimidation employees might normally experience when connecting with higher-ups. (Source:

Team One (#748) has a “management by walking” practice and team camaraderie help maintain the culture at the communications company. (Source:

Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup Company (#248) took purposeful steps to being visible and promotion good health at Campbell’s. Ten thousand steps per day to be exact in order to stay connected to employees. (Source: HBR)

Everyone at the Max Borges Agency (#714) has the ability to discuss anything with anyone at the agency, where its “do not knock” policy is taken seriously. Taking that one step further, the company recently sponsored a four week in-office communications course that was taught during regular business hours. It was based on a book titled “People Styles At Work,” and its purpose was to enhance everyone’s ability to effectively communicate with co-workers, clients and family. (Source: PR News Online)

Overtime Extra

The DRP Group (#433) recognizes long hours working on videos, events, print and digital productions. “If the client pays for overtime, the team member will get 50% of what is charged,” it has ruled, allowing some staff to make 30% extra. (Source: The Sunday Times)

Open and Secure

National Instruments (#763) puts their employees first. When other employers lay off in droves, NI hangs on, relying on cash they have consistently put away for the inevitable economic recession.” – National Instruments Digital Hardware Engineer. (Source: Glassdoor)

David Martin Agency (#298) “We are different from other companies in our industry as we are salaried. By removing the commission-based compensation usually found in this industry, it allows all of us to enjoy the success of the individual performances. We celebrate our successes by announcing company-wide. We share financial bonuses across all employees. Our philosophy is that sharing successes make our jobs even better!” (Source: Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal)

Standing Up for Employees

ing direct fires bad customers

Bad customers beware. ING Direct (#38) stands up to protect their employees. The bank has an operating strategy based on a strong, effective culture is selective of prospective customers. It also requires the periodic “firing” of customers, as pointed out in our examples of companies like ING Direct, where thousands are fired every month. This strategy is especially important when customers “abuse” employees or make unreasonable demands on them. (Source: Earl Sasser and James Heskett)

The rapidly growing Belvedere Trading (#165) gives both traders and its information technology staff opportunities to share ideas and take on new roles. “We want for every employee to feel an ownership in the firm, that they’re going to have an impact on what we do,” says Thomas Hutchinson, Belvedere Trading’s president. It’s a flat structure,” he adds. “No matter where they come from, ideas are taken with a serious attitude.” Reflecting that flat structure, everyone in the firm, including interns, receives a bonus twice a year, which ranges from 5% to 200% of the employee’s salary. (Source: Chicago Real Estate Daily)

Keeping It on the Level

Hilcorp’s (#368) annual bonus is universal. There is a single set of targets and every employee is rewarded with the same percentage of his or her salary. The company shells out a maximum 60 percent bonus each year and has averaged 35 percent during the past five years. (Source: The Houston Chronicle)

If Integrated Project Management Company (#547) exceeds its monthly profit targets, all employees receive the same bonus amount, regardless of position.

Making Employees Owners

publix green goldfish

Publix (#91) is an extraordinary company to work for. I’ve been here 36 years, my husband has been with Publix for 38 years, and my children have worked here as well.  We love it because the people are warm and friendly, like our extended family; and because we own a part of the company.  Mr. George, our founder, cared enough about associates to make all of us part owners.” (Source:

Wenck Associates (#312) is a 100 percent ESOP-owned company, backed by robust contributions to the plan and has enjoyed healthy growth to the value of the company stock. The ESOP program and contributions provided are differentiators that helps attract and retain members. From a financial performance standpoint, we have an open book policy and share financial information with employees monthly and at events throughout the year. Wenck provides a “self-directed training account” program, which allows employees to obtain additional development and training throughout the year to further their education and chase their dreams. There are many opportunities to grow, to be flexible, to have a balanced life and the result is, employees turning around and doing great things. (Source: Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal)

Shares went to all 82 staff at Mount Anvil (#408), allocated according to length of service, starting at £5,000. For Killian Hurley, the chief executive and co-founder, it was “the right thing to do”. “There are lots of good companies, but we want to be excellent and to do that, you need engaged, positive people delivering excellent customer service. The share incentive is one of the little steps we can control; we are delighted to do it.” (Source: The Sunday Times)

THE EGALITARIAN ETHOS of this wholly employee-owned architecture practice Make (#424) is reflected in an annual profit share for all 111 staff. Everyone is a partner, and all feel fairly treated. It stands to reason that as owners, the staff insist on equitable pay. (Source: The Sunday Times)

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Semco has an interesting program. You don’t need to wait until you’re old to enjoy your retirement. The idea is that you can take advantage of it once a week, from any age. The “Retire a little bit” project (#190) was created based on a life-cycle analysis. In any analysis that we undertake, we will see that we have money when we don’t have time to enjoy it, time when we no longer have financial certainty and the ability to enjoy nature and sports when we no longer have the health to do so. The program allows the person to do what they plan to do when they retire, once a week, like an art course, play sports in the afternoon or simply spend the day with their kids. The employee will have the option to not work one day a week, replacing this day in the future, after they retire, with a proportional salary. (Source:

All of the examples in this post were taken from the  Green Goldfish Project. The 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, reinforce culture, increase retention and drive positive WoM. The book, “What’s Your Green Goldfish?” will be published on March 29, 2013.

The first step to employee engagement is getting off on the right foot with Onboarding

This is a draft excerpt from the upcoming book, What’s Your Green Goldfish? Beyond Dollars: 15 Ways to Create Employee Loyalty and Reinforce Culture.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression

first step

Attitudes begin to form at the initial point of contact with an organization. There is no better place to start applying G.L.U.E. than when you are welcoming new employees to your company. Smart companies take advantage of these early days in order to ensure a strong, productive, and dedicated workforce.

The way you manage the transition of somebody into your culture speaks volumes about the culture to the person coming in, because you’re making those first early impressions and they know what’s expected of them” says George Bradt, managing director at PrimeGenesis in an interview with

First Step

onboardingThis first step or transition process is called onboarding. According to Wikipedia, here’s the definition:

Onboarding, also known as organizational socialization, refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders. Tactics used in this process include formal meetings, lectures, videos, printed materials, or computer-based orientations to introduce newcomers to their new jobs and organizations.

Unfortunately less than 25% of organizations have a formal onboarding process. According to onboarding expert Bradt,

Most organizations haven’t thought things through in advance. On their first day, they are welcomed by such confidence‐building remarks as: Oh, you’re here… we’d better find you an office.

Why Onboarding? 

Research shows that employees make the critical decision to stay or leave within the first six months and that having the newest talent participate in an onboarding program can “maximize retention, engagement, and productivity.” (Source: HCI White Paper, 2008) Socialization efforts lead to positive outcomes for new employees, including higher job satisfaction, better job performance, greater organizational commitment and reduction in stress.

Yet, culturally onboarding new hires can be a real challenge. While sleek videos, laminated pocket cards and lobby placards may help employees memorize the company values, the actual understanding how to “live” the company values can be a whole other story.  Your culture is only as cohesive as the people willing to live out the shared values. Takeaway: Actions speak louder than words.

Having a diverse range of ways to welcome a new hire is critical to establishing a healthy employer-employee relationship. Here are a baker’s dozen of companies that purposefully go the extra mile to engage new team members:

Welcome Wagon

At JM Smucker (#575) new hires get a gift basket sent to their homes. (Source: Business Insider)

Intel’s (#534) new hires have dedicated greeters and gifts waiting for them when they arrive on their first days as a part of their hands-on new employee orientation. (Source: Business Insider)

Online glasses manufacturer Warby Parker (#171) gives a welcome package to new employees which includes a founder’s favorite pretzels and a gift certificate to a Thai restaurant, since the founders lived off Thai food during their startup phase.

Buddies and Sponsors

Capital One (#361) runs a Buddy Assimilation Program. The program matches veterans with newcomers. “Buddies” like show the newbies around, have lunch with them and act as a resource.  After a month of training, new employees work “in the nest” for two weeks, fielding incoming calls with plenty of support. Hands go up whenever a trainee has a question, and a roving supervisor runs over to help. Once on their own, employees work within teams. But they’re never far from a helping hand as team leaders and “floor walkers” decked in bright red and yellow vests are always available to answer questions. (Source: Tampa Bay Tribune)

Every associate at ladder(less) W. L. Gore & Associates (#539) has a sponsor who coaches, mentors, and commits to helping that person succeed at the company. (Source: Business Insider)

Understanding the Business

USAA (#456) figuratively runs a Boot Camp. The insurance provider for military members and their families has an interesting onboarding process for new employees. Training includes trying on military fatigues, eating MRE’s  (ready to eat meals) and reading letters from family members. (Source: Jeanne Bliss)

Exposure makes a difference in performance. According to Fast Company, that’s the finding of Adam Grant, a Wharton professor who studied the training given to 71 new call center employees of a Midwestern software firm:

One group of trainees was chosen to meet an “internal customer”– an employee of another department whose salary depends on the sales that the new hires make–during their initial training. In combination with some inspirational words from the CEO, this contact with a real live beneficiary significantly improved both sales and revenue during the employees’ first seven weeks. The difference? A not-insignificant 20% improvement in revenue per shift. Leadership messages from the CEO about purpose, vision, mission, and meaning, however, had no such effect on their own.

Writing the ship

According to Harvard Professor and noted author Teresa Amabile, the ability to track small wins can help to motivate big accomplishments. Rituals like writing in a diary can be a strong influencer. The number one driver for inner worklife is making progress on meaningful work. Reflection can become an important part of the process.

New hires at custom t-shirt company CustomInk (#514) receive a blank journal. They are encouraged to record any interesting things they learn about the company in their notebook during their orientation or any questions they would like to ask.  New hires are also asked to record instances where they’ve seen CustomInk’s values in action.  At the 30 day mark, new hires convene to share what they’ve noted in their journals.  Making new hires accountable for noticing how their colleagues and managers live those values every day helps brings those behaviors to life.  (Source: Great Places to Work)


New employees at Snagajob (#703), are asked to share their unique talents and experiences in a brief questionnaire and the answers are shared among employees over the company’s employee-only online network. When new hires are introduced at weekly company-wide meetings, employees are quizzed about the responses and get token rewards such as candy for each correct answer. “It’s a fun way to hold our employees accountable for learning about our new snaggers,” says Betsy Kersey, whose title at Snagajob is Director of People. (Source:


TD Bank (#489) worked with the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management to develop the Rotman Back to Work program for women who have been out of the workforce for over eight years — and operates the in-house “Back to Business” rotational work program for women returning to work.


When employees join Davies PR (#723), they are given a 3-month, 6-month, 9-month and annual review to ensure they get a “Best Start” at Davies. After one year at the company, employees receive annual 360 degree reviews in which they are assessed by their co-workers. (Source: PR News Online)

Technology Spurring Dialogue

Companies are using new tools and procedures to assimilate its latest hires. Veson Nautical (#827), a Boston-based software developer for risk management for the maritime industry, just instituted a new program in January called “FastStart,” an online tool from consulting firm BlessingWhite that aligns work styles and priorities between new employees and managers.

“The manager ranks the skills important and less important to the job, and the employee does the same,” says Sarah Taffee, director of human resources and organization effectiveness at Veson Nautical. “The employee has the opportunity to compare their own answers with their manager’s answers, and then the system guides them through how to have an open discussion about those things.” (Source:

Finding Your Way & Lost in Space (#825) gives entry level employees three months to explore all the different departments of the company and you train them so that they know your products and services backward and forward—and then you allow the employee to choose what department they feel is the best fit for them. (Source:

There is one program at Brazilian manufacturer Semco (#787) that allows people to act like entrepreneurs at the company.  Called “Lost in Space”, it assumes that young recruits don’t know what they want to do with their lives. The program lets them roam the company for a year. They do what they want to do, move when they want to move, go where their interests take them; work for one, two, or six different units. At the end of the year, anyone they’ve worked for can offer them a job, or they can seek an opening in an area that interests them. If neither happens… we thank them for the year. (Source: Ricardo Semler The Seven Day Weekend)

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here’s a four minute video from Wells Fargo on onboarding:

All of the examples in this post were taken from the  Green Goldfish Project. The 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, reinforce culture, increase retention and drive positive WoM. The book, “What’s Your Green Goldfish?” will be published on March 29, 2013.