Jan 23 2013

A Better Year-end Bonus – How to Build Your Culture and Inspire Growth

feature-betterment

A year is a long time. We spend about 240 days a year together which roughly turns out to about 2,000 hours or 120,000 minutes. And it’s a single year that represents a countless number of pixels designed, problems solved, high fives delivered and of course plenty of facepalms.

All of it deserves a brief pause and a symbol of recognition. So at the end of each year, we always give out bonuses regardless of whether it ends up being a good or a bad one (yes, those happen sometimes). After all, working at DT is fast-paced and intense, so I strongly believe in rewarding our team for spending a year of their lives with us.

Of course, we strive to do things unconventionally, so we created the Betterment Bonus: a special year-end bonus program to reward our team, build our culture and inspire growth in the upcoming year. We’ve had great success with the program and I feel it’s time we share it and encourage other companies to try it out.

A culture of Betterment generates growth

To understand the purpose of this bonus, you first have to understand what Betterment is:

Betterment is our philosophy of making things better everyday to yield exponential results. It’s an ongoing process of incremental improvement that stacks over time. It can be used to tackle problems and create lasting solutions for any industry.

Betterment is key to our culture of growth. We intend to make something better everyday, whether it’s our design process, client projects, work environment, or education, etc. A culture of constant improvement results in consistent growth. So instead of saying “Just do it,” we say “Make it better.”

Why bonus?

Bonuses serve many purposes. Here are of our favorites:

  • Show gratitude. I believe that regardless of our economy, working at DT is a choice, not a privilege. So I feel it’s important to thank each employee for their contributions.
  • Reflect on accomplishments. It’s easy to focus only on what’s in front of you. It’s crucial, however, to also celebrate past accomplishments in order to gain energy and momentum for future growth. Take a moment and realize, “Holy shit, we actually did what we said we would!
  • Inspire camaraderie. We believe that we’re all in this together, so everyone gets an equal bonus. As a result, we get to share the joy and excitement of each person’s betterment experience together.

Experience is a better reward than money

We do our best to pay our team well so that they’re not depending on their year-end bonus to clear up debt from the holidays. This allows us to provide an experiential bonus as opposed to a boring monetary one. Think of it this way:

Distributing cash shows generosity, but making something unique possible (that was otherwise not possible), demonstrates value and is a true gift. They both cost the same, but an experience yields much greater results. An experience stays with you for the rest of your life as opposed to cash just passing hands.

In order for it to be a real bonus, we support each employee’s individuality and allow them to make their own choice, hence owning the bonus. We simply encourage each team member to do something for themselves that they would otherwise have never done.

Lastly, we want to be sure to put the spotlight on each individual in order to show just how they shine in their own unique way. This encourages each member’s greatness as well as the mutual respect from the team.

How it works

The Betterment Bonus displays our gratitude by enabling an individual experience that encourages both personal growth and a stronger cultural bond. Here’s the process of the Betterment Bonus:

  1. Time and Money. You need to provide both time and money to develop an experience. We provide a floating day off and ample funding to support the Betterment project. Team members can always up the ante with their own funds and vacation days.
  2. The Pitch. Each team member shares their idea for Betterment with their manager and with me personally. I do my best to be the devil on their shoulder and push for a more lavish and extreme experience. For instance, if you are staying in a hotel, we encourage you to get a suite. If you are learning to play an instrument, you must first buy the instrument!
  3. Make it Better. This is the fun part. Usually the whole office knows when someone is about to endeavor on their experience. We stay in touch on Twitter/Facebook with words of encouragement.
  4. Share your Story. Each team member presents the story of their experience to the staff with photos and videos, emphasizing how the experience has impacted their life.

Betterment Experiences from our team last year

We previewed a few Betterment experiences in a post early last year. Here’s a brief glance into some of the amazing experiences the DT team had:

Dan – Surfing the North Shore. For my betterment trip I went to the North Shore in Oahu, Hawaii. I’ve been a long time surfer, but never tackled the North Shore. It’s an intimidating place to surf due to the crowded waves, locals and reef. I think pushing yourself and getting out of your comfort zone is an important part of growing. 

Orville – Cycling. What happens if you combine sports and travel? You get two ways to definitely get out of your comfort zone, yet at the same time enriching your senses within a beautiful country. For my betterment I did an epic week-long cycling trip on the island of Majorca. On one day I did over 9,000 feet of climbing and rode about 80 miles. I’d like to thank my fellow cyclists who suffered along with me on that day; some from the team I signed up with and many others who were on the same team of PAIN. It’s amazing what like minded people can do together.

Orville (center background) having a good time.
Orville (center background) having a good time.
Orville (center, red jacket with black sleeves) cycling through some epic wet weather in Spain.
Orville (center, red jacket with black sleeves) cycling through some epic wet weather in Spain.
Orville (foreground) chugging along through the plains of Spain.
Orville (foreground) chugging along through the plains of Spain.
On the outside left is Orville heading into a picturesque town.
On the outside left is Orville heading into a picturesque town.
Climbing up the Puij Major.
Climbing up the Puij Major.
Great views from my bike begin no more than a mile from where I stayed.
Great views from my bike begin no more than a mile from where I stayed.

Jason – Racing. I got the idea of going track racing from Arnold, our resident car fanatic. Having grown up in the UK and moved around a lot before settling in San Diego, I’m still relatively new to driving (I got my license at the tender age of 26, an age that tends to make people recoil in shock) and car stuff has always been a bit of a second language to me. I recently bought a new car, and wanted to get more comfortable with it. What better way to do that than take it to its limits by throwing it around a racetrack at high speed? And how did I come out of the experience as a better person? I definitely look at my car and driving in general differently – I feel more in control behind the wheel, but also more respectful of how difficult it is to drive fast. Focus has always been something that I sometimes lose when things get hectic in my everyday life, so having this tangible experience to fall back on, that proves the benefit of intense focus on the task at hand has been truly invaluable.

John – Piano. My choice for my betterment bonus was to learn piano. I have never played before… unless you count chopsticks. I used my bonus to buy a digital piano, get some lessons and mainly teach myself through some adult education books to learn how to play piano. The impetus was to lower stress and just all around enjoy music again. This has been amazingly successful, and I have greatly enjoyed playing. It was also pretty awesome to see family and friends around me pick up and dust off their old instruments and start playing again too.

Create Your Own Betterment Bonus

Want to create your own Betterment Bonus program?  Here are a few suggestions:

If you are a team member

  • Start sharing great life experiences from your weekend with the team
  • Share this post with your fellow team members and get their ideas for a program within your company
  • Share this post and your affinity towards experiences as a bonus with your manager

If you are a team manager or owner

  • Think about your company values and philosophy and develop a program that will grow your culture
  • Try a smaller version after a big win or strong quarter to test it out with your team
  • Feel free to copy exactly what we do

I encourage you to comment below with ideas about your own Betterment Bonus or questions if you want more details about ours.

About the Author:

As Founder of digital-telepathy, Chuck has the ambitious goal of improving the design of the web by introducing new standards for people who give a damn about design.Find me on Google+ and Twitter.

Leave a Response

5 Responses

  1. Jan 23 2013
    Mark Pecota

    As someone who is just founding a consulting company here in San Diego, I find this article very inspiring and relevant. Chuck, I love how you and your team approach business and challenge the way a business is supposed to act. The focus on the company culture and making each person in that company better is moving. Great stuff man!

  2. Jan 23 2013
    Brian Williams

    Good stuff, Chuck. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jan 23 2013
      Brian Williams

      Vigesauce was sent to your SF address! Did it not make it there? We did hear a couple of reports of packaging malfunctions. Oh man it was tasty …