Management: Build Morale With Unorthodox Thinking and the Right Perks

How did an Australian businessman increase summer productivity by 300+% and end up with a long waiting list of high quality, would-be employees? Learn his secrets!

I've always understood and valued the importance of keeping a careful balance between quantity and quality in life, and especially in business.

Some years ago, I'd owned a successful business in the coastal town where my family was living. It offered creative, strategic and technical services to the graphic arts industry in Melbourme (the state capital), and various provincial centres within the eastern half of our state (Australian states are all big, even the smaller ones... Victoria, the smallest mainland state, where I live, is roughly the size of England).

I found it hard to get quality staff to move to the country, so I offered profit sharing, which seemed to work, and I was always the first to install any kind of new technology that would boost productivity and quality. But I noticed, during the sweltering summer months, that productivity always fell dramatically... more than 50%.

Mistaking effect for cause, I spent a small fortune on air conditioning, humidity control, etc, but with only marginal impact on productivity. I was mystified.

Then, one day, I had to stay at the office for lunch (I normally went home, less than 2 minutes away). That's when I learned the real cause of the problem.

Several wives arrived at the office to request use of the family car so they could take the kids to the beach for the afternoon. They all lived within easy walking distance of the office, but the husbands typically drove. We lived, as I said, close by some of Australia's best beaches -- safety beaches, surf beaches and others where you'd never attempt to swim, but the scenery was spectacular.

The distracted husbands never could get their heads back on the job after that. Errors, re-dos, day dreaming, etc were the afternoon norm.

So I did some thinking and crunched some numbers, then sat them down over lunch at the great restaurant next door and put this offer to them, which they happily accepted:

1. We would notify all our clients -- none of whom were based within 50 miles of us, so never set foot in our premises (most deliveries were made by light aircraft), that, effective immediately, our premises would be unstaffed after 12:30 pm, although emergency contact would be provided via pager (no cell phones in those days).

2. We would start work at 6 am each day, break for breakfast at the restaurant next door (paid for by me) at 7:30 to 8 am.

3. We'd break for morning tea at 10:30 am for 15 minutes.

4. We'd finish work for the day at 12:30 pm. They could then take their families to the beach, go fishing, etc.

The result?

A 300+% increase in productivity for the rest of the summer. And it stayed close to that in ensuing years. From the end of November to the end of February [summer in the Southern Hemisphere] we went on our own "summer time," with the proviso, always, that it was sustainable.

Secondary benefit: a long waiting list of high quality, would-be employees from the city! My people couldn't stop talking about how great their jobs were, with profit sharing, afternoons off, direct input into business development, productivity bonuses and more.

Approaching changes in technology (mostly the Mac) clued me in on the need for change, so I sold the business about three years later and took a couple of years off to sit on the beaches and think about new directions. But I've used the lessons I learned about employee motivation throughout the rest of my career.


John Counsel
CEO, The Profit Clinic Small Business Help Centre
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