Twenty years ago, a company’s culture was something to scoff at. To many, it meant that you were soft and weak in the dog-eat-dog business world — a world where everyone worships the almighty bottom line, and only the strong survive.
Today, culture is seen by many as the most important aspect of a business enterprise. It is the glue that keeps employees working as a cohesive unit, and in some cases will distinguish you from competitors. Company culture is so important, that to preserve it Jeff Bezos just offered any Amazon employee $5,000 to quit their jobs.
How much is your company culture worth to you?
I began my career before I really understood anything about values and culture, and I left the first company I started solely because of cultural differences. Without knowing anything about culture, I intuitively asked interview questions related to matching cultural values. If I felt a good fit and a positive interaction, I hired the person.
I eventually created this beautiful bubble of a team within the organization that I really jived with. They were trustworthy, high-energy cooperative people, but there were issues and conflicts with other employees and tension with my co-founder who hired them.
Then I read an article in Inc Magazine that explained it all — you can’t have more than one culture within the same company. I shared the article with the CEO and co-founder, and the same lightbulb went off for him. The outcome of that conversation was my decision to leave the company.
As much as I wanted to grow my team, it would never mesh with the one my partner was building. Their values were not wrong or bad, just different. Had I understood the importance of cultural values, that would have been the first thing I would have looked for in a business partner. We had connection and synergy, but values were misaligned.
According to Time, Amazon’s CEO just announced “what has to be the most counterintuitive personnel policy in corporate America today: If an employee isn’t happy working at the online retail giant, they can earn up to $5,000 just for quitting.” Amazon’s offer is a radical one, but one designed to preserve their most cherished assets — employees who are aligned with culture.
Making voluntary departure a reasonable and even profitable option makes sense since letting go of employees can be a tricky proposition. Firing a well-liked employee can be damaging to morale. They may not leave gracefully, poisoning the minds of others on the way out the door.
Disgruntled former employees may even seek some obscure legal justification for suing you, like constructive termination. A prospect that could cost you financially or devolve into a public relations fiasco, forever damaging your brand in the eyes of today’s ever-more conscious consumer.
But Amazon’s main motivation here is to preserve their fast-paced culture by weeding out those who are not committed. They borrowed this idea from Zappos, who they acquired in 2009 for close to $1 Billion. Amazon bought more than a profitable company, they bought a set of contagious ideals that they implemented throughout their enterprise.
Zappos is not a shoe company. They are a customer service company that happens to sell shoes. Customer service depends on people whose attitudes and very nature include humility, honesty, and positivity — values at the core of their corporate culture.
Paying average wages and offering mediocre benefits, they regularly score high on the ‘best places to work’ lists. According to Time, when Zappos began offering their employees $1,000 to quit, that was a money saver. Disruptions to corporate culture would have been much more expensive than paying workers to pursue a career elsewhere.
Amazon followed their lead, offering employees money to leave and limiting employment opportunities to people who really want to be a part of who they are and what they do. Those people are not motivated by money, but by the values and purpose of the company.
The culture at Zappos is quite unique, as is expressed by their #2 value – Create fun and a little weirdness, or #3 – Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded. When narrow-minded, low energy people are allowed to infiltrate, they can spread like a cancer within that organization. A few thousand dollars to preserve the foundations of an extremely profitable company sounds like a bargain to me.
At 15Five, we have developed a less expensive way to preserve company culture and values. Rather than paying $5,000 to have someone quit, we offer a tool where managers pay $5 per month to get valuable positive feedback from an employee. We use our tool internally and ask questions like “What’s a way you’ve lived one of 15Five’s core values this week?” This keeps values top-of-mind and also exposes areas where people need more growth and support.
We’ve repeatedly heard from our customers that after several weeks of using 15Five, it becomes quite clear which employees are disengaged. This can lead to a one-on-one conversation with them and then corrective action. At that point they can write a check for $5K if they want to, but at least they know the truth about how an employee feels about the company and its culture.
Photo Credit: mtellin
What unique tactics have you used to retain your best talent? Please leave a comment below.
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