The final step towards increased employee engagement is EMPOWERMENT


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This is a draft excerpt from the upcoming book, What’s Your Green Goldfish? Beyond Dollars: 15 Ways to Create Employee Loyalty and Reinforce Culture:


whats your green goldfish book cover1st inchOnboarding

2nd inchFood & Beverage, Shelter / Space, Transparency / Openness

3rd inchWellness, Time Away, Modern Family


4th inchRecognition

5th inchTeam Building

6th inchFlexibility


7th inchTraining & Development, Retirement

8th inchPay it Forward

The ninth and final INCH

The last inch on the 9 INCH journey to the heart of your employees is via Empowerment.

Image credit: ceotrackblog

Image credit: ceotrackblog

Leadership is about inspiring others. Enabling team members to do their absolute best to work towards a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. In one word… EMPOWERMENT. Give people the direction, support them with resources and then getting the hell out of the way.

Maybe one of the strongest examples of empowerment is Nordstrom (#34). Their entire mission and employee handbook fits on the back of a business card.

Nordstrom has only one goal . . . ‘To provide outstanding customer service.” They only have one rule . . . “Use good judgment in all situations.”

It’s time for a change

Command and Control or Carrot and Stick thinking is outdated. People do not enjoy or appreciate being controlled or coerced.

The best managers figure out how to get great outcomes by setting the appropriate context, rather than by trying to control their people.” (Source: Netflix, Reference Guide on our Freedom & Responsibility Culture)

According to Ken and Scott Blanchard,

We are finding that giving people a chance to succeed in their job and setting them free to a certain degree is the key to motivation, as opposed to trying to direct and control people’s energy. It’s really about letting go and connecting people to their work–and each other–rather than channeling, organizing, orchestrating, and focusing behavior.” (Source: Fast Company)

Let’s look at a Baker’s Dozen of companies that go the extra mile to empower team members:

Empowerment is the Opposite of Organization

wl gore green goldfish

W.L Gore (#46) was founded by Wilbert Lee Gore in 1958. A 16 year veteran at DuPont, Bill envisioned a different type of organization. His would be non-hierarchal, setting an environment where leader would emerge based on the merit of their ideas.

[He] wanted a company where employees’ spirit grew based on what they accomplished, not which corporate scrimmage they had won—where more time was spent generating ideas than generating ways to cover one’s backside. So he decided to create a “non-organization” approach for his new company that would inspire creativity in its employees.” (Source: Jeanne Bliss)

Life Coaches and Dream Managers

zappos life coach green goldfish #72

Zappos (#72) provides a life coach for employees. (Source: YouTube)

Infusionsoft (#455) provides employees with the services of a “Dream Manager.” The move was inspired by Matthew Kelly’s book, The Dream Manager and a core value at Infusionsoft. The sales and marketing automation provider believes in people and their dreams. The manager works to help team members set, pursue and become accountable for achieving their goals and dreams. (Source: Infusionsoft)

The commercial developer Brasfield & Gorrie (#239) created a new position, Director of Career Development. The move is paying dividends. The company maps out each employee’s career path, and indicates what he or she will have to do to get there. “Every employee’s career path is consistent with what we’re looking for from our strategic plan five to 10 years out. We’re not just making something up.” Spelling out every employee’s career path takes time and part of that time is spent making sure upper management communicates the results with individual employees. (Source: Atlanta Business Chronicle)

Supporting Personal Goals

Associates at Pepsico (#537) include a personal goal in their performance development review process and are asked to deliver against this goal, just like any other goal, to ensure a work-life balance. (Source:

Following the opportunity to take time to evaluate where the associate is now, and where he or she wants to be, each team member at Falgren Mortine (#725) then meets with his or her supervisor for a conversation; at least one hour devoted to focusing on the individual’s needs and goals, and a chance to formally discuss ways he or she can grow and learn in the development of his or her career. (Source: PR News Online)

A Democracy of Good Ideas where Titles Need not Apply

This leading developer empowers everyone to make their mark on the company and culture. According to Mike Derheim, CEO at The Nerdery (#304), “We want them to aspire to be a co-president. The late great Luke Bucklin was the only president we’ll ever have, and co-president was what he called us — all of us — before we lost him.” In one of Luke’s last all-staff e-mails he wrote: “Put your business card on the desk in front of you. Look at it. … This card does not define you. You are a Co-President. You are bigger than your defined role. … Play your part — transcend your job title, be a hero.” (Source: Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal) [Note: see video at bottom of post]

Submitted by Matthew DeGeronimo of Smith Floyd (#771). In Matt’s words,

I run a Mergers & Acquisitions company in Honolulu, and had some thoughts for your book. There is one thing we do that might not be commonplace. We allow employees to pick their own title. Creative titles encouraged – of course, I retain veto power.” (Source: SmithFloyd)

The independent marketing agency WONGDOODY (#215) is united by the “Democracy of Good Ideas” principle. Any staffer could come up with the next big idea. It encourages participation and rewards keen judgment. (Source: Los Angeles Business Journal)

Purposefully Losing Control

molnlycke healthcare green goldfish #61

One of Europe’s leading manufacturers and suppliers of single-use medical products, Molnlycke Health Care (#61) allowed production teams to decide how to meet their goals. With the responsibility for quality products moved to individuals on those teams, nearly 70 percent of the company’s new products launch on time, compared with just 15 percent previously. As a result, the company will have quadrupled its shareholder value in only five years. (Source: InnoSupport)

Passions and the Creative Muse

Fast Horse (#297) is an innovative, integrated agency offering a full range of traditional and non-traditional marketing services. Fast Horse employees enjoy little extras like a $500 “Muse It or Lose It“, a stipend to help underwrite creative endeavors away from the office.

Much of the credit for our amazing workplace at Weber Shandwick Minneapolis (#310) goes to our Employee Action Group (EAG). Each month, employees enjoy an EAG-sponsored event to celebrate our successes, encourage teamwork or to just have fun. The highlight events include our annual “Shankwick” golf outing and our own version of “The Amazing Race,” appropriately renamed “The Shanmazing Race.” Our newest EAG initiative is our “No Boundaries” program. This program was designed to give our employees a chance to explore a personal passion, which may include attending “The Burning Man” event in San Francisco to spark creativity, or traveling to Honduras to work for Soles4Souls, a nonprofit organization devoted to distributing shoes and clothing to victims of abject suffering. The company provides the employees with five extra vacation days and $1,000 to pursue the passion. (Source: Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal)

Making Time for Empowerment

15% time

3M (#53) launched the 15 percent program in 1948. Employees were given 15% of their time to work on personal project of their choosing. If it seems radical now, imagine how it played as post-war America was suiting up and going to the office, with rigid hierarchies and increasingly defined work and home roles. But it was also a logical next step. Forty plus years in the red taught 3M a key lesson: Innovate or Die, an ethos the company has carried dutifully into the 21st century.

15 percent time is extended to everyone. Who knows who’ll create the next Post-It Note (a 15% time innovation)?

It’s one of the things that sets 3M apart as an innovative company, by sticking to that culture of giving every one of our employees the ability to follow their instincts to take advantage of opportunities for the company,” says Technical Director Kurt Beinlich, who tries to get most of his 70-person lab team to participate. (Source: FastDesignCo.)

Azavea (#187), a maker of mapping software, lets employees spend up to 10 percent of their time on research projects of their own devising. (Source:


Google (#2) allows its employees to use up to 20 percent of their work week to pursue special projects. That means for every standard work week, employees can take a full day to work on a project unrelated to their normal workload. Google claims that many of their products in Google Labs (such as Gmail) started out as pet projects in the 20 percent time program. (Source: Jonathan Strickland in ‘HowStuffWorks: How the Googleplex Works’)

Hack Days and the Quest for Improvement

Conductor, Inc. (#513) holds an annual, companywide Hack Day, where all Conductors are invited to self-organize into teams and spend a day developing an idea that makes the product, office, or company better. (Source:

Siemens (#606) operates an employee suggestion program that encourages employees to share their feedback — the ideas that lead to savings or new revenues are evaluated for their impact and can lead to financial bonus payments ranging up to $100,000.

Employees at McMurry (#706) can submit their innovative “WOW Project” ideas through the company’s internal computer network. Toward the end of the year, president and CEO Chris McMurry and several senior managers consider each of the hundreds of pitches that come in and award up to $10,000 for the best ideas. “Our business, and every business, needs to innovate constantly if it seeks an enduring future,” McMurry says, explaining why the program got started. One winning pitch came from a group of three employees who pored over U.S. Post Office regulations and came up with a way for McMurry to re-sequence how it distributes mail on behalf of its clients, saving those clients millions of dollars.

Encouraging its staff of more than 170 people to dream up creative business ideas and solutions has cemented innovation into our culture,” McMurry says. “It’s now part of what everyone does. It has put all my colleagues in a continuous improvement mode. There literally isn’t a week that goes by where someone doesn’t implement a better way of doing something.”

McMurry says “WOW Projects” improve a swath of company functions, from billing accuracy to workflow to shipping procedures. All have improved the company’s bottom line. (Source:

R&D Thursday’s

Nearly every employee at Spider Strategies (#268) works from home every day. Staffers set their hours–which suits those who prefer to work at night. There are rarely meetings–three or four a year. Every Thursday is set aside for R&D, so staffers can explore the latest in technology. And vacation is unlimited. (Source: Washingtonian Magazine)

The Ability to Correct Mistakes

Starbucks (#520) will fix your drink if it’s wrong, every time – no charge. Starbucks employees are empowered to provide drinks on the house for repeat customers when they are having a bad day, out of money or “just because”. Crewmembers spend a day during their first week of training simply going out into the lobby and greeting customers. The goal is not just to ask them what they need or if they can provide a refill, but to actually engage in conversation and help the person become more comfortable while waiting or relaxing. Crewmembers are empowered to provide “service recovery certificates” for a free “anything” (even a quad-venti 5 pump caramel macchiato, light whip, hold the foam) when service fails to meet the customer’s expectations. (Source: Jordan Belcher)

Tellers at Fairwinds Credit Union (#522) are empowered to provide immediate service recovery of up to $100 per incident w/o seeking management approval. This can be used to buy a customer lunch, purchase flowers, send a special treat or for anything else the rep decides to help recover from a bad service experience. (Source: Fairwinds)

Exhibitions and Science Fairs

Practice Plan (#377), which provides business support services to the dental sector, gets the creative juices flowing among its workforce of 74 people by giving in-house exhibition space for original artwork every two months. Darren Marks used his turn to show a series of nine images called Words To Live Your Life By, based on song lyrics. Colleagues shared drinks and nibbles at the opening of his Wall 9 exhibition.

Bazaarvoice (#409) makes sure it solicits the views of its own people, too, and holds a science fair to showcase bright ideas. (Source: The Sunday Times)

Once a year, about 200 employees from dozens of divisions at 3M (#857) make cardboard posters describing their 15 percent time project as if they were presenting volcano models at a middle school science fair. They stand up their poster, then hang out next to it, awaiting feedback, suggestions, and potential co-collaborators. Wayne Maurer is an R&D manager in 3M’s abrasives division and calls it a chance for people to unhinge their “inner geek.” He elaborates: “For technical people, it’s the most passionate and engaged event we have at 3M.” (Source: FastDesignCo.)

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here’s a music great video by the staff at The Nerdery. It’s their version of the Jimmy Fallon, Roots, Carly Rae Jepsen collaboration on “Call Me Maybe.” Their version is called, “Co-Pres Maybe”:

All of the examples in this post were taken from the Green Goldfish Project. The Project is a quest to find 1,001 examples of marketing lagniappe for employees. Green goldfish are the little signature extras given to employees. They help differentiate a company, reinforce culture, increase retention and drive positive WoM. The book, “What’s Your Green Goldfish?” will be published on March 29, 2013.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is the Chief Measurement Officer at 9 INCH marketing. 9 INCH helps organizations develop custom solutions around both customer and employee experience. Stan believes the 'longest and hardest nine inches' in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is the author of Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and Golden Goldfish.


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