"Empowerment is a great word," muses Lou Hoffman, "but it doesn't have much meaning if people don't know one another well enough to resolve things on their own." That was the problem at Hoffman's San Jose public-relations firm. The number of employees at the Hoffman Agency had doubled in only two years, and Hoffman found himself constantly dealing with issues "that were a direct by-product of people's not communicating. If someone from the account staff was dissatisfied with something coming out of the editing group, it would end up on my desk." Hoffman was overtaxed, and the performance of the company suffered.
So last fall he decided to give his 18 employees a friendly nudge in the direction of camaraderie. Hoffman announced that he'd pick up the lunch tab for any two employees who dined at the Mexican restaurant down the road. Moreover, he split his staff into two groups and offered a special prize to anyone who lunched with every person in the other group. Over a two-month period Hoffman spent $2,100. That's the cost of lunches, plus 18 gift certificates worth $50 each at a local health spa -- the prize every employee earned by meeting Hoffman's challenge.
Do Hoffman employees now blanch at the mere mention of burritos or enchiladas? Probably. But their boss has noticed that his desk is a lot less cluttered, and now that all the employees "understand the workings of the agency a little better, they've grown more effective in their own positions." Hoffman plans to repeat the program again this year.