Offer Employee Perks While Still Getting Results

Want to offer flex time, casual dress or other nonpaid incentives? Keep a casual culture productive using results-based communication.

By Stever Robbins • Apr 21, 2003

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q:I'd like to offer my employees some nonpaid incentives, such asflex time and casual dress. How do I make sure employees know Istill mean business?

A:Offering a relaxed work environment has become more common. Yetthere's a fear the message sent is, "We no longer need totreat our business seriously." Keeping people relaxed andworking requires separating out managing culture and performance.By being clear with cultural and performance expectations,you'll be able to balance the competing needs of relaxation andwork ethic.

  • Communicate about culture and what it means. When youannounce your new policies, don't just say, "Startingtoday, come in at 10 a.m. wearing flip-flops." Discuss thechanges you're making and why you're making them:"I know you have families to take care of in the morning, ormaybe you just do better working from 10 to 6 instead of 9 to 5.Starting Monday, we'll be implementing flex time. You can setyour own starting and leaving time, as long as you're here forthe 'core hours' of 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., so we can schedulemeetings during those hours."
  • Ask your employees if the changes will meet the goals youlaid out. Then enlist their help in fine-tuning the policies toproduce cultural norms that they will find truly meaningful. Ifthey help make the decisions, they'll likely be more engaged inthe company once the changes are put into place.
  • Communicate about performance expectations. If thecorporate culture says "relax," you need to send amessage about results. Being specific with performance expectationsmakes it clear that "casual" is an environment, not anapproach to business results.

When you tell people what you want them to do, make your requestso specific that everyone involved will know if the request hasbeen completed. If you say, "Find the relevant information onthe ABC contract," it could be confusing. You may findyourself holding a discussion of ABC's inventory strategy whenyou really wanted sales figures. Instead, if you say, "FindABC company's sales figures for the past three years, plus alldirect costs we've incurred on the ABC project," everyonewill know if the request gets satisfied.

Let people know when you need it--both the date and time. Say,"Please deliver the report by Friday," and you might getan e-mailed report at 11:59 p.m. Friday evening. If that isn'twhat you want, make it crystal clear by asking for the report"by Friday morning at 10 a.m." Remember, the person youask may have competing commitments, so be sure to ask him if he candeliver when you ask, and if not, help him evaluate conflictingpriorities.

If you specify quality level when you make a request, you canhelp everyone involved. If you're the boss, people will oftenassume you want it perfect, bound and typeset. Rather than lettingpeople waste time unnecessarily, tell them what quality you want."Give me your five-minute estimate of 1999's salesfigures" is different from "Give me the sales figuresfrom 1999." Both are fine requests, though they set differentexpectations about the quality level you're expecting.

The key is to make sure you measure productivity by output, andnot by how "serious" the employees seem. Fun andproductivity aren't mutually exclusive (in fact, there'sevidence they go together). And if you ever think the casualatmosphere drags down productivity, talk it over with youremployees. With clear performance goals, they'll know ifthey're doing less, and the door will be open for taking theirsuggestions about whether formality is the key in your particularcompany.

You can get great results and have a relaxed atmosphere. Themore specific you are about performance expectations, the morepeople will be able to reach them, whether they wear suits orsneakers.

As an entrepreneur, technologist, advisor and coach, SteverRobbins seeks out and identifies high-potential start-ups to helpthem develop the skills, attitudes and capabilities they need tosucceed. He has been involved with start-up companies since 1978and is currently an investor or advisor to several technology andInternet companies including ZEFER Corp., University Access Inc.,RenalTech, Crimson Soutions and PrimeSource. He has been using theInternet since 1977, was a co-founder of FTP Software in 1986, andworked on the design team of Harvard Business School's"Foundations" program. Stever holds an MBA from HarvardBusiness School and a computer science degree from MIT. His Website is a

The opinions expressed in this column are thoseof the author, not of All answers are intended tobe general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areasor circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consultingan appropriate expert, such as an attorney oraccountant.

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins is a venture coach, helping entrepreneurs and early-stage companies develop the attitudes, skills and capabilities needed to succeed. He brings to bear skills as an entrepreneur, teacher and technologist in helping others create successful ventures.

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