Getting caught up on my never-ending stack of periodicals on a cloudy Sunday morning, I read with delight and admiration about Salesforce.com’s creative approach to allowing pets at work — hardly surprising, it’s called Puppyforce.
But the cute name is not what differentiates it, and permitting pets at the office is not necessarily a new perk. What stands out to me is the strategically innovative way in which Salesforce went about designing their version of this employee benefit and the bona fide emphasis placed, in general, on building a highly engaged workforce.
Puppies for Success
Fortune magazine’s Christopher Thaczyk describes how Puppyforce took shape via discussions on Chatter, the company’s enterprise social networking platform (think Yammer but tied to the Salesforce CRM). Incorporating feedback from employees concerned about allergies, hygiene and noise, Puppyforce ultimately took shape as a separate soundproof workspace with rubber floors and a reservation system. Monika Fahlbusch, senior vice president of global employee success, said, “Everybody who had concerns now raves about our solution because it really met everyone’s needs.”
As a talent management consultant and executive coach dedicated to making the workplace work better for both employers and employees, I see nuggets of gold here, affirmed by the company’s track record of success. Salesforce has been on Fortune’s list of “Best Companies to Work For” for six years running. While that’s a nice accolade, the proof is in proverbial pudding when you look at stock price performance over that same period. On Jan. 2, 2009, the split-adjusted share price was $8.51, and, in 2014. it has traded mainly between $50-60.
Succeed by focusing on success
A major reason for Salesforce’s tangible success is the larger brilliance of fashioning a role focused on “global employee success.” As noted above, the name alone reinforces a culture of actively valuing employees as assets. Many companies pay lip service to that concept, but Salesforce has institutionalized it into an important senior level function. According to Fahlbusch’s bio, she “drives efforts to amplify the team sport culture and deliver the #dreamjob employee experience that helps fuel the company’s incredible growth.”
This is a perfect illustration of a concept I developed for clients called Life-Work Infusion, which is based on four premises:
- People are equally important assets to manage properly in any organization.
- It is virtually impossible in this technologically-obsessed era to totally separate one’s personal from professional life.
- A happy and fulfilled person is a more engaged, more motivated, more successful employee.
- When you keep valued people “Infused,” there is far greater likelihood of success in keeping customers, colleagues, vendors, shareholders, partners, and other consistencies delighted.
There is a voluminous amount of research on employee engagement that substantiates its positive impact on performance and business results. On the flip side, Gallup’s oft-quoted 2013 State of the American Workplace report shows that 70% of U.S. workers are disengaged, and they estimate the cost to U.S. business ranges from $450 billion to $550 billion.
It’s not my intent here to rehash statistics; instead, this case study highlights the pet example in order to encourage more expansive thinking among leaders who are already engagement advocates. Rather than simply dismissing an idea that has opposition or may seem irreconcilable on the surface, find ways to bridge the gaps instead. Let’s get more resourceful, collaborative, and solutions-oriented in carving out effective ways to buttress engagement as Salesforce did.
Brainstorm to uncover new ways to succeed
There’s no better way to do that than a good old-fashioned brainstorming session, in which we invite creative people to think broadly without judging, evaluating or making decisions until every conceivable idea has been captured, including ones that may seem far-fetched at first glance. When working with leaders or teams to brainstorm potential solutions to puzzling or complex issues, it is helpful to prompt their thinking with questions like:
- If time, money and resources weren’t an issue, what would you do?
- What might the best leader you’ve ever worked for do in this situation?
- Think back to a time when you succeeded in an analogous situation. What ideas or best practices can you apply to the current challenge?
- How might an artist (or someone with a less than linear thought process) approach this?
- If you posed this question to someone totally unfamiliar with your business, what might he or she say?
The idea is to create an environment that gets people out of their typical patterns and filters, helping them consider the situation from a variety of perspectives. From this array of ideas, innovative solutions can take shape.
A challenge for success
Here is my challenge to leaders: Identify an initiative that could boost employee engagement and vet it in a way you never have before. If pets in the office doesn’t resonate, there are countless potential areas to consider, such as wellness, stress management, flexible work arrangements, workload management, office design, meal perks, instilling a coaching culture, after-hours e-mail limits, and technology enhancements.
If I were working with you, in addition to the litany of questions above, your brainstorming sessions may also include the following: “What might Salesforce.com’s SVP of global employee success recommend?”
Shani Magosky is a talent management consultant and executive coach, having worked in numerous industries, for venerable institutions and unknown start-ups, in a range of economic environments from bubble to recession, and in revenue-producing, advisory, and senior managerial roles. Previously, she worked at Goldman Sachs, managed a local TV station in Vail, Colo., and was chief operating officer/chief financial officer of an all-virtual international marketing company. Her firm, Vitesse Consulting, helps companies accelerate development of leaders, engage employees, and improve performance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 376-1860.
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