A return on (staff) investment

IB Publisher Jody Glynn Patrick writes about business for her column, with a departure to “no business allowed” in her blog “After Hours.” Even the print magazine’s parameters are loose for Jody, as she writes from the heart and typically more toward HR or human interest topics.

One of the best things about working with a group of people is tapping into a collective consciousness so that you can benefit from diverse thinking. When that happens, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. Gestalt.

A great example of that is the work our internal social committee has done to come up with an agenda for issue celebrations. In the past, we didn’t have a social committee and the celebrations fell to me. Short term, that worked out okay. I had connections and so employees got to make a stained glass piece of art. We had spaghetti lunches and a picnic in the park with games (that was a hit, actually). Fun morale builders.

But then, I got too busy to plan, months went by with no celebration, and then I simply gave staff movie gift certificates. Until it dawned on me that both of mine were still unused three months later….

Time for an intervention! More minds and hearts in the game! So we put together a volunteer social committee to make sure we’re as active with internal events as we are with external giving back.

I put together a modest budget of $25/head to celebrate each issue of the magazine IB puts out. The committee’s job was to plan how to commemorate the monthly accomplishment – provided we, as a group, met our set goals.
The planned schedule (we don’t plan to fail, after all), includes activities (we’ll do one a month) listed here in random order.

• Everyone was offered a $25 share in Kiva to pay for a micro-lending position in a company located in an emerging nation. The employee picks the recipient and decides how to reinvest the dollars (into another Kiva account) after the loan is repaid to his or her account.

• Field Day: Employees are invited to bring family to revisit an IB favorite: a park picnic with ridiculous competitive outdoor games and prizes, plus (new!) boat rides.

• Random Acts of Kindness Day: Everyone is given $25 and two hours. The instructions are simple: go out into the community and do random acts of kindness for strangers. Internally, after reviewing experiences at the following staff meeting, prizes will be awarded for (1) best stretching of $$ and (2) most moving story, etc., etc.

• Be Thrifty! Employees are given $25, a list of area thrift shops (and the charities they support), and two hours to troll them. Instructions are to buy goods that the employee will actually use (thus supporting charities while making thrifty purchases). After shopping in the morning, they are to bring purchases for “show and tell” over a pizza lunch for a chance at a prize for most unusual, most practical, etc.

• Helping Hand: Here’s two hours in the community, as a group, to do yard work for an elderly client of an agency such as Home Health United. We might split into two groups (there are 15 of us now) to work with two homeowners to deal with fall leaves and/or get ready for winter.

• A Bushel of Fun: We’re off to an orchard on a Thursday afternoon to pick apples! Employees can invite family to join in on the fun and will be given a bushel basket to fill with apples, and take a hay ride.

• Adopt a Family: We’ll pick a family based on a recommendation from a Salvation Army caseworker, and we’ll provide Christmas gifts – not only this year, but for as long as the family has children in the home and needs special assistance. We don’t want to commit to an in-and-out intervention, then have disappointed kids the following year. We’ll stay in it over time as requested by the caseworker.

As a company, In Business has also committed to helping purchase all of the uniforms for the 2012 class of the Madison Preparatory Academy (the project spearheaded by Urban League) to help all the students enter on equal footing. And we’ll be asking you to help us with that community project.

Sound like fun? You bet! And we have more ideas for more issues, and I’ll be reporting results in blogs. Stay tuned!

Sign up for the free IB Update – your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. Click here.