Perks for retention, perks for productivity

We’ve all heard about the legendary Google perks – free gourmet food, free Wi-Fi-enabled coaches shuttling workers to the office, engineers spending 20 % of their work time on Google-related projects of their choice (which led to Gmail, among other innovations), not to mention on-site haircuts and dry cleaning and taking your pet to work. That sets the standard, at least for Silicon Valley.

But lest you think these perks are solely for the benefit of employees, think again. The company benefits, too. Keeping good employees gets harder every day because of the shrinking, greying workforce. The best way to keep good employees is to engage them with good jobs and be a company they’re proud to work for, and to chain them with gold handcuffs in the form of great perks and working conditions, and high salaries.

When companies get it right, great perks can increase productivity, too. The free meals at Google, for instance, don’t just provide food for connoisseurs. They also provide carefully contrived opportunities, or ‘manufactured moments of serendipity’, as Google calls them, where a chance conversation in the food queue might spark a great idea. Laszlo Bock, Google’s head of people operations, says that less than three minutes queuing provides too few serendipitous moments and more than 10 minutes provides too many. That’s the real reason Google measures its lunch queues.

Source: ‘Business Practices: The Perks of the Trade’, Bethany McLean, Vanity Fair, October 2012.

What does your organisation do to keep good employees? What do you personally do to keep your best team members? How do you provide ‘serendipitous moments’ to help your team members bond and spark good ideas?


Why our brains can’t help resisting change

In Chapter 18, we talk about ‘brain games’ or heuristics, the brain’s automatic programs that are designed to help us wade through complexity quickly. The brain is also hard-wired to resist change, which has huge implications for today’s managers who introduce and manage change regularly. Three programs in particular are designed to provide a sense of psychological security and they kick in particularly strongly whenever people are confronted with change – as most of us are in today’s workplaces.

First, the brain is programmed to seek evidence that the world is consistent: familiar, orderly, predictable and safe. That’s why people prefer bosses who are predictable, why familiar work routines are comforting and why change is uncomfortable and stressful.

The second brain program looks for the justice; we all feel much better when we believe our organisation’s mission is worthwhile and that it will treat us fairly. That’s why organisations have policies designed to protect employees and ensure they are treated fairly (dispute handling procedures, dignity and harassment policies, health, safety and welfare policies, etc.). And that’s why when you introduce change, even for a good reason, the ‘That’s not fair!’ cry can be heard loud and clear.

The third brain program looks for a sense of ‘culture’, or an accepted understanding of the way things are done around here. So when an organisation changes its key strategies or mission or when a work team reorganises itself, people need to remodel the way they view the world around them, and people don’t like doing that. Even when the reasons for changing ‘the way we do things’ are good, the implication that the way we’ve been doing them isn’t good hangs in the air.

So when peoples’ comfort zones or sense of consistency and justice are threatened, they tend to cross their arms, dig their heels in and fight (or ignore) the changes, or they try to escape to greener pastures. To prevent that and help people feel more comfortable with whatever change you’re introducing, keep up the information flow – what’s happening, why it’s happening, how people will be affected, how you’ll help them get used to the change. When you can, put the change in terms of ‘These are adjustments, or adaptations’ as opposed to making the change sound huge or like an about-face.

Take a look at this interesting article by James R. Bailey and Jonathan Raelin on the Harvard Business Review site.

Questions for discussion

What was the last workplace change you experienced? Did it pull you out of your comfort zone or did you feel that it was in some way unjust?

Managing is good for your brain

The next time you think your brain hurts from studying, don’t worry about it. It turns out that the longer you are a manager, the larger your hippocampus becomes and the better it works. (The hippocampus is the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory, so that’s a good thing.)

Researchers led by Michael Valenzuela of the University of New South Wales School of Psychiatry’s Regenerative Neuroscience Group found that managing other people protects your memory and ability to learn well into old age. They found that the hippocampus shrunk much less in the brains of people who had challenging management careers. They speculated that the unique mental demands of managing people require continuous problem solving, short-term memory and a lot of emotional intelligence.

The brain-enhancing effect of managing others was particularly strong in people who supervised more than 10 people.

So if you want a healthy brain and to ward off neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers, keep studying to become a great manager.

See the UNSW article here

Green wine

De Bortoli Wines has received a $4.8 million grant from the Federal Government’s Clean Technology Food and Foundries Investment Program. The De Bortoli family are investing $11 million in its ‘Re-engineering our future for a carbon economy’ project that is part of it’s sustainability strategy, which has the long-term goal of being a zero waste wine company.

The company has been aiming its efforts on sustainability on the farm and in the vineyard and is now turning its attention to its production and warehousing operations in NSW, Queensland and Victoria. The project includes upgrading refrigeration, winemaking systems, packing lines and electrical and lighting systems. Plans include using non-renewable power more effectively, lowering power use across company sites and using solar power whenever possible.

 Source: ‘De Bortoli sustainability strategy gets $4.8 m grant boost’, by Rosemary Ryan

Questions for discussion

How important do you think sustainably-produced wine is to wine drinkers currently?

How important might it be in the near future?

In what ways might this project and the company’s goal of zero waste add to the De Bortoli brand and employer value proposition?

Shaquille O’Neal – jock with brains

Although I enjoy them, Vanity Fair magazines pile up until I have time to read them. I managed to catch up on a couple the other day and read an article on Shaquille O’Neal, the iconic American basketball player who is now, at the age of 40, studying for his PhD.

He already has two degrees – a bachelor’s in general studies and a master’s in business and is five years into his PhD in leadership and education. Why should such as wealthy, retired sports legend want all that education? He owns a lot of business and when he holds a conversation, he says he wants people to understand that he’s not just another athlete – he knows what he’s talking about.

 Question for discussion

How important do you think qualifications are as part of the receipt to earning respect and establishing a solid career?

The Changing World of Work

Right now, Australia ranks 55th in the world in terms of population, yet we have the 18th-largest economy and the eighth-highest standard of living. And the way we work is changing, as is our entire economy – it’s rapidly transforming into a knowledge and service economy and surprising as this sounds to some people, that transformation is going to keep us wealthy, not make us poorer.

Nevertheless, all these changes are unsettling, at least until we come to terms with how they affect us personally and how we can make the most of them. Really, though, change is nothing new. Had we been living in the beginning of the 20th century rather than the 21st century, we’d have lived through dramatic change, too: electricity transformed peoples’ lives; railways brought the cities and the bush closer together, the agrarian economy gave way to the industrial economy and the telephone revolutionised communication.

And for the most part, those changes were for the good. Australian life expectancy increased by 50%; household density halved and our house size quadrupled; medicine advanced in leaps and bounds; we got clean water and sewage, air travel and motor cars, and the internet. Our population rose five times, our standard of living rose six times and our GDP in real terms rose 32.5 times.

I think the trick is to understand the changes that are taking place now and figure out how to make the most of them. Kofi Anan the other day on TV said something like ‘You can’t change the direction of the wind, but you can change the direction of your sail’ and that about sums it up.

Questions for discussion 

How has the changing economy and the changes in the ways people work affected you? What changes do you anticipate in your industry over the next few years? What steps can you take to make the most of these changes?

Me Inc.

The way we work is changing in all sorts of ways, so much so that there is no longer a typical employee or a typical job. The white, male full-time employee is no longer the norm and only 7% of employees still work the traditional ‘9 to 5’. We have people working full time, people working part time; we have casual workers, contractors and temporary employees. We have people working from home, from vehicles, from an employer’s premises and from a customer’s premises; and we have people working in various combinations of all of those. We also have people who work for several employers, people who work for one employer, and people who work for themselves.

Phil Ruthven, a really smart man who owns a market research company called IBISWorld, actually predicts that the term ‘employee’ will go out of use in the second half of this century. Certainly, a large proportion of the workforce is already ‘Me Incorporated’ and work for themselves, contracting out their brains, their brawn, or both. (See his article ‘The productivity challenge’ in Company Director, the magazine of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, March 2012.)

Me Inc can bring quite a good lifestyle. You choose the hours you work and when you work, you decorate your workspace the way you want, and you get to wear whatever you want. You choose what work you take on and what work you say ‘No thanks’ to. And you can earn pretty good money, too, because of the labour shortage and because our economy is changing to a knowledge economy.

Of course, with all that independence and choice comes responsibility and decisions. You do your own bookkeeping and pay your own superannuation; you insure yourself and train yourself; you find and pay for your own workspace; and you purchase your ‘tools of the trade’ whatever they may be, anything from carpet-laying equipment to a fancy computer and a smart phone.

And you need to be good at what you do, because you get paid for results, whether it takes you five minutes of five weeks to produce them.

Questions for discussion

Do you know any Me Inc employees?

What special challenges do you think supervising Me Inc employees presents?

How can you gain their cooperation and engagement, and encourage Me Inc employees to adopt your organisation’s vision and values when essentially, they work for themselves? And what are the penalties should you fail in this regard?