Venture Capitalist Ben Horowitz’s book, titled: “The Hard Thing about Hard Things”, resonated with the business community. While I would recommend his book and agree wholeheartedly with much of his advice (on honesty being more important than positivity and tips on the “right way” to let someone go), the book included a section on how “company perks are good, but they are not culture.” This sentiment has been widely picked up in the press, but its surface-level interpretation leads to a takeaway that I think misses his point. Ben argues that companies that offer yoga classes, free meals or other perks are “nice to have”, but culture is defined by traits that help a company achieve its goals, preserve its values and makes employees want to work there.
Yet, perks can absolutely reinforce those values, traits and culture.
At Next Jump, we have gotten this wrong in the past. As we experimented with and created various perks, we often weren’t purposeful and intentional in WHY we were offering these perks to our employees. When we haven’t been purposeful, our perks often led to not being appreciated or, even worse, a sense of entitlement. One example was when we first built a gym in our office. We invested in a gym because, as leaders of the company, we knew personally that being able to workout (especially when stressed and busy) was a huge factor in increasing energy. When we exercise we felt we performed better. But when we built the gym, we were frustrated that the only people actually using it were the employees with the least amount of work on their plates.
We learned some valuable lessons in building our culture along the way, and in the last five years our business has grown faster than ever. Our culture has been the defining, constant element to that success. When we deliberate on creating (or removing) perk, we discuss how will that perk help someone grow, feel safer (taken care of), more connected or increase their purpose?
Below are three approaches we took to creating perks and articulating how they reinforce our values, traits and culture – not stand alone as “nice to haves”:
- Identify problems that your top performers/leaders have. What will help them succeed more? If a “perk” solves their problem, it might solve others’.
- Share origin stories and “intention” of why the perk was offered and the benefits. It helps me to think of a new hire who has no context – would they understand why we offer certain perks?
- Shed perks if not being used/appreciated. There is a myth that can never take a perk away. We have dropped perks when we found that those resources could have a greater impact being spent elsewhere.
I’ve also included three examples of actual perks Next Jump currently offers to our employees:
- CEOTalks. One of our most appreciated perks actually costs us no money. Our CEO, Charlie Kim, recognized that many young and upcoming top performers didn’t appreciate or recognize all of the challenges, insecurities and hurdles that “successful” leaders faced (and continue to face) along their journey. Charlie started a speaker series initially calling on his contacts to speak to Next Jumper about their journey and their challenges, as well as giving opportunities for Next Jumpers to ask them questions. Not only has the series provided amazing lessons from over 50 amazing individuals (including Simon Sinek, Arianna Huffington, and Tony Hsieh) but it’s been a lesson of role models showing their vulnerabilities and authenticity in ways that model important values in our culture.
- Fitness training. We found that under stress, top performers would stop going to the gym. The very people we wanted to invest in the most were the ones not taking advantage of the perk of an on-site gym. We found that if those top performers were given a personal trainer, they were much less likely to avoid working out. We then included personal trainings sessions as an added benefit if you were voted as one of the top employees of the month. We shared those stories widely and employees began to connect our culture of wellness to performance.
- Next Jump laundry. We provide free laundry service for all employees (a buzz-worthy perk to be sure). Yet, the origins of the perk stemmed from one of our young leaders and top performers. We asked what would make your life a little easier? The employee said that he lived alone and he would spend his Saturday mornings doing laundry because he didn’t have time to during the week. Our first reaction was “laundry?”, but as we looked into it, we realized it was not very expensive and would solve a little need for many of our employees who are young and live in apartments without laundry. It turned out to be one of our most appreciated perks.