Have you ever played that office party game where you have to find three things in common with everyone you talk to? The person who talks to the largest number of people wins. Have you noticed how hard it is to stop talking to someone after you’ve realized you two are passionate about the same thing?
Have you ever been hired on the spot after discovering that you and your interviewer share a hobby?
Have you changed your mind about someone you disliked after learning that this person is into something you love?
If you’re like me, you’ve answered “yes” to all three questions. Those are just a few examples of why a shared passion could be the most bonding experience of all. And why so many engaged companies go out of their way to support employees’ favorite pastimes, while the disengaged ones do just the opposite. Speaking of favorite pastimes, Americans love their baseball.
A few years back, a large firm acquired a mid-size competitor. The smaller company had been holding a large block of baseball season tickets. Year after year, executives gave them away to employees to entertain customers and have fun. When the new management got a whiff of this perk, they confiscated all the tickets and sold them on StubHub.
The larger company saw the tickets as a frivolous expense. They didn’t understand the relationship between the fans and the local team and what the tickets meant to the employees. Nor did they bother to ask. They were too busy rolling out their agenda. As they took away their tickets, the new management put the employees through “culture training” to “integrate” them into their new “corporate family.”
As a result, the company saved about $50K in ticket costs. This is the same company that had just shelled out $10 billion for the acquisition! Meanwhile, it utterly failed to impress any “corporate values” upon the newly acquired employees. After weeks of preparation and thousands of man-hours spent in training, the employees couldn’t have been more cynical. They had observed first-hand what their new company stood for: dirt-cheap.
Successful leaders understand that, when acquiring companies, along with profits and revenues, they acquire cultures. That’s why Amazon preserved the unique culture of Zappos and Whole Foods. That’s why Steve Jobs, and later Disney, didn’t mess with Pixar’s. It wasn’t simply a nice gesture, but a strategic step to protect their investment.
Not only did the unfortunate raid on baseball tickets turn out to be a costly mistake, but it was also a missed opportunity to connect with employees and build trust. Instead of taking life’s little pleasures away from people, best-in-class employers join in on the action. It doesn’t mean that everyone there always gets along. Problems and disagreements at work arise every day: it’s the nature of doing business as a company. But disagreements are easier to resolve when you and your employees have a common ground to stand on.
This is what common ground looks like at some workplaces. A word of caution: your employees’ ideas of fun could be vastly different from the list below. Better check with them before you give it a try.
Pet-friendly offices and pet insurance are trendy perks that allow management and employees bond over a common passion: pets. (To learn more, read this post, Should You Let Employees Bring Pets to Work?) Although relatively inexpensive, these benefits could spell a major change to the regular order of business. Why are more and more companies willing to put themselves through the hassle? In a word, it’s culture. These employers realize they need a better bonding experience than phony culture training.
Another wild example is Camden Property Trust, a company that loves practical jokes. Employees and management agree that they value seeing humor in everyday events. And they do crazy things in the middle of a workday to prove it. (If you’re curious, check out Who the Hell Wants to Work for You?, Chapter 16, Got Culture?)
Office Sports and Tournaments
The most anticipated annual event at one actuarial firm is the office-wide NCAA basketball pool. Emails go off weeks ahead of the tournament to give every employee a chance to fill out the grid and join the pool. Being experts in probability and statistics—and college sports fans to boot—these actuaries can’t wait to put their models to the test. Your employees have a competitive streak too. Find out what they care about and are good at, and you may have a winner!
Corporate giving is so big in the US that I wrote an entire chapter about it in Who the Hell Wants to Work for You?—Chapter 22, Engage Outside of Work. Go beyond matching donations, and actually do something together with your people. Many companies like to volunteer and even pay their employees to do so. A worthy cause doesn’t need to be miles away. You could start with your neighborhood and even your office space. Can you make it more green, environmentally friendly, or pleasing to the eye?
Are your employees into jogging, meditation, yoga, or organic food? With “healthcare” becoming the scariest word in the English language, many people are as passionate about their health as they once were about their addictions. Find out what you can do to support healthy trends in your office.
Be Great at What You Do
As you join your employees in the pursuit of their lives’ passions, don’t forget what brought you together in the first place—your job. So many companies settle for mediocrity, while their people long to be part of something great. Don’t just declare your company to be an “industry leader” on your website. Hold your business practices to a higher standard. As you invest in breakthrough products and services, you’re also investing in your people and their passion.
If you like working with passion, you might like my book, because it will inspire you.
Tim is president and co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.
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