Should you bottle your workers' brains?
Silicon Valley CEO keeps his workers' "brains" in glass jars. The idea is to spur innovation: Each employee has a jar on a shelf in the office foyer, and every time one successfully files a patent, a small foam brain is added to the jar. "We have this huge wall that's full of brains..." The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (9/17)
OK, quick poll: If you had just patented something that was potentially going to make your company lots of money, would you prefer a bonus in recognition of your efforts or a foam brain in a jar?
There’s a fine line between innovative and lame (the words lame brain spring to mind here). But you know me, I don’t like to judge. The CEO of a successful company probably knows a thing or two about human motivation so I clicked into the article to read more. I recommend reading the full article but here’s a summary of how innovation is fostered at this company:
- Achievements are recognized in visible ways.
- Risk-taking is encouraged and failure is not penalized.
- High potentials are people who know how to both move the ball forward and cut losses.
- Successes are celebrated with vivid and personal stories about the success.
- Employees can formally recognize each other, building strong horizontal trust.
- Company culture is everyone’s job.
- A common communication platform is used by everyone in the company to communicate and promote collaboration.
- Employees can apply for a ‘FedEx’ day to work on anything they want as long as there’s a concrete deliverable the next day.
- People are hired for talent and passion rather than experience.
- The more senior you are, the less you ‘butt in’ and the more you serve.
So, now I’m torn because part of me wants to keep making fun of the brains and part of me thinks it sounds like a great place to work. Foam brains in a jar with your name on it may not be everyone's cup of tea but in the context of a great company culture it’s kind of fun.
For a while, at least – I’m guessing after you’ve clocked, say, your 20th foam brain for some amazing invention you start thinking cash would be more useful. But maybe not.
Either way, it's worth noting here that spouses are rarely impressed by non-monetary gestures of appreciation, a subtle point that motivation engineers rarely take into account:
Employee: I filed my 11th patent today for a new cancer cure.
Spouse: Honey, that’s great! Did you get a raise?
Employee: Er… no.
Spouse: What about a bonus?
Employee: Well, no.
Employee: Not exactly…
Spouse: An extra week of vacation?
A tense silence.
Spouse: A gift certificate?
Employee: Um… Wow, you look really fabulous today, have you lost weight? And what smells so good?
Bottom line: There's a fine line between lame and innovative when it comes to rewards. Where you draw that line depends on your company culture.
Picture courtesy of allproducts.com.
Laura Schroeder is a global talent specialist at Workday, headquartered in Pleasanton, CA. She has nearly fifteen years of experience envisioning, designing, developing, implementing and evangelizing global Human Capital Management (HCM) solutions and holds a certificate in Strategic Human Resources Practices from Cornell University. Her articles and interviews on HCM topics have been published in the US, Europe and Asia. She lives in Munich, Germany and enjoys cooking, reading, writing, kick boxing (well, kicking things) and spending time with friends and family. If you want to read more from Laura, check out her talent management blog Working Girl or follow her on Twitter @WorkGal.