It's bonus time, "the most wonderful time of the year" for lots of employees. At Big Ass Fans, we've never stinted on bonuses, but I've got to say they're sometimes more fun to receive than they are to give. People expect them, like Aunt Agatha's fruit basket. What's more fun is to plan some kind of gift-giving that contains the element of surprise.
In the early days, when the whole company could practically fit in the Griswold family station wagon, we exchanged white elephant gifts--things in the worst taste imaginable. Sure, taste is subjective. But I don't know too many people who want to live with an elephant clock or a "major award" leg lamp 365 days a year. Bottles of Mad Dog 20/20 were perennial favorites. We'd trade the "gift items" back and forth, and it was a lot of fun.
But as the company grew, the novelty wore off and the exchange took hours. We decided we'd give regular gifts that people might actually want. We bought TVs and iPads and trips and gift cards--so many gift cards. It was done as a lottery--the longer you'd worked for the company the more chances you had. But after a few years, we came to the realization that a lot of people didn't want another TV or Nintendo Wii.
This year, we briefly entertained the idea of going the Oprah route: "You get a car! You get a car!" for a handful of employees. But then questions arose: Which cars? And suppose someone wins a Mini Cooper but has a pack of kids to cart around?
Then it hit us like a Brink's truck: Everybody likes cash. We settled on what I like to think was a generous sum to break down into raffle gifts of different sizes: $1,000, $5,000, up to $15,000. We decided there'd be 26 gifts in all. The IT and Analytics staff designed a system to randomly pull numbers that appeared on a big screen in our giant hangar-like test lab, where all our employees had gathered for a potluck lunch.
It was a huge hit. Everybody was excited, and not just at the idea of winning, but for the people who won. One of our production guys won $10,000. The first thing he did was call his mother to ask if she needed anything. A woman in Human Resources took home enough for a down payment on a car to replace one that's never fully recovered from a run-in with a moose. And when an engineer who's building a house for his family took home $15,000, someone called out, "Now you can put a roof on that house!"
Everybody got into it, people won something they could really use, and a week later they're still talking about it. That qualifies as a success in my book.
The one thing I don't understand is why it took us so damn long to come up with the idea.