What Your Employees Really Want for the Holidays

Right about now, your office is gearing up for its annual holiday party and secret Santa shenanigans — a predictable end to an unimaginative year. Congratulations, you’ve almost gotten through another 365 days without shaking up the status quo or disrupting the flow. Your company is treading water, and your employees are in the exact same place they were a year ago. In fact, you could probably take their last performance reviews, change the date to 2017, and it would all be just fine.


A new year is right around the corner, and it’s a chance to do better. Instead of letting another year roll right by you — or right over you — take time this holiday season to reflect on how you can punch 2018 in the face. Let me help. I’ve put together a wish list of what your employees really want this holiday season. I’m not talking about a shiny, new Swingline stapler for Milton, the dullard character from “Office Space.” I’m talking about precious gifts for your most ambitious, resourceful, talented, inspired, butt-kicking employees. The people who are the future of your organization. Your INTRApreneurs.

Gift No. 1: The Freedom to Explore

Have you ever tried to put a puppy or a kitten inside a cardboard box for transport? It’s almost impossible to contain them because they are so curious. The world around them is a new and exciting place to explore, and they don’t want to be hemmed in. Intrapreneurs are the same way. Clip their wings by stuffing them in a cubicle and giving them the same task on repeat, and they will never learn to fly. Human capital is the greatest untapped resource of any organization. Great ideas are there, rolling around inside the brains of your brightest employees. But those ideas will never become action items if these humans don’t get to play outside the cardboard box. It takes courage to allow employees to go rogue for a bit. It means lost time, lost labor, possibly lost profits and certainly a burden on others who have to pick up the slack. But those are all short-term sacrifices with the potential for long-term gain. If you have a super-busy office with daily deadlines and an unrelenting workload, here’s a way to get started: Pick a small group of employees and give them one week in January when they are excused from the daily grind so they can incubate new ideas. They can work collectively on one project or come up with individual ideas. In February, pick another small group. You get it.

Gift No. 2: Support and Resources

This second gift is a complement to the first. New ideas are cool, but they are useless if they can’t get off the ground. Intrapreneurs need support and resources from management in the form of time, money, physical space and technology. I cannot stress this enough. Intrapreneurs also need encouragement, advice and counsel. If you’re a manager, you see the bigger picture. That makes you the perfect sounding board for innovation because you know what is possible within the organization and whether the idea aligns with company goals. It’s your job to wind them up, let them go nuts, and then rein them in when they get too crazy.

Gift No. 3: No Fear of Failure

I firmly believe that failure and innovation are twinsies; one does not exist without the other. Every ingenious inventor who altered the course of human history with an amazing gizmo had a gazillion worthless prototypes before hitting pay dirt. Leonardo DaVinci, the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, Stephanie Kwolek, the list goes on. Yet most of us live in white-knuckle fear failure at work because we may not be given a second or third chance to get something right. The pace and pressures of the modern workplace mean failure can have immediate negative consequences. An employee who fails risks being marginalized, passed over for the next project or even terminated. But there must be exit ramps for failure along the highway to success. Eradicating the fear of failure is one of the best gifts you can give as a manager. When employees no longer tremble at the notion of swift retribution for every stumble, setback or flop, they are more willing to take risks. And with risks come substantial rewards. That’s not to say you should permit uncontrolled chaos. You still have to know when to pull the plug on something that just isn’t working, has no terminal point, is sucking away too much money/manpower or has already been done better by someone else.

Gift No. 4: A Sense of Contribution

You’ve heard the terms “customer experience” and “user experience.” The buzzy phrase for 2018 is “employee experience,” which goes beyond casual Fridays, free lattes and the tired holiday party. The employee experience is defined as the perception employees hold about their workplaces and their roles within them, based on their interactions with managers, co-workers and customers. That’s a highbrow way of saying that employees want to feel valued. They want to feel like they are making a difference in their little corners of the world. In a 2012 survey by Rutgers University for Net Impact, the desire for a “job where I can make an impact” ranked third on a happiness list for both newly minted graduates and working professionals. Only financial security and marriage scored higher. People want to do good because it feels good. Let them.

Gift No. 5: Fair Compensation     

Yeah, yeah, money isn’t everything. But money is very important. I knew a super-smart, super-capable guy who used to grouse about the low salary at his 50-hour-a-week professional job. He was constantly scanning the classified ads and job boards (it was the ’90s) in search of a better position. He loved to say, “Hey, if I’m going to be miserable at my job, I might as well get paid more!” As the old saying goes, money talks. And if you don’t pay your intrapreneurs what they are worth, they will take their considerable skills and walk right out the door. They may go to work for the competition, or they may go into business for themselves and become your industry’s next disruptor. Or they may be like my friend, who left his industry for a more lucrative one. And don’t skimp on the benefits either. In an era of shrinking pensions and rising health care costs, this one is important. A 2016 survey by DeVry University found that American workers held traditional benefits (health insurance, paid time off and retirement contributions) as “the most critical perks after base compensation,” according to an article in Business Collective. “This is significant news for hiring managers, and the most critical lesson is not to forget about the basics,” the article stated. “Don’t go so crazy trying to be trendy that you forget, for instance, to closely adhere to new overtime rules. And although medical premiums are rising all the time, hold fast to those benefits. In an uncertain economic and political climate, people need to be able to count on their employers. If you come through for them, you will retain them.”

Happy holidays, everyone! And here’s to a happy, healthy, innovative New Year!

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K. Melissa Kennedy

Chief Innovation Officer, Founder, Intrapreneur. Entrepreneur. Enthusiastic leader and speaker. Teller of truths at 48 Innovate
I spent many years working for and building successful companies. I parlayed that experience into a unique process for harnessing hidden assets inside organizations and turning them into big-idea-generating, $1-billion-revenue-producing resources. (Spoiler alert: it’s the people.) I'm an internationally acclaimed expert, happy to share the not-so-secrets that have led to impressive outcomes for Fortune 100 corporations, major educational institutions, start-up companies and entrepreneurs. Working with companies like Cisco, Lancope, Arby's, Capitol Broadcasting Company New Media - WRAL, PRSONAS, Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog, REVO Communications, Erno Group, Focus Carolina, Madan Global, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, INZONE Brands, Albright Digital, Spring Metrics and NC State Kenan Fellows.

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