After a yearlong sabbatical, Blake Mycoskie returned to Toms, his philanthropic fashion company, filled with resolve to improve lives. By that, of course, he meant the lives of people in poverty, to whom Toms donates shoes, eye care, clean water, and other goods through its buy-one-give-one model. But he also meant "the people who work here everyday. How are we investing in their well-being?" asks Mycoskie.
In the three years since, Toms has introduced several practices and programs to make employees' lives both more balanced and more fulfilling. There are flexible work schedules and no-meeting Mondays, both suggestions that arrived through a new online platform called Toms Idea Room. A very family-friendly benefits package includes eight weeks of paid paternity leave.
The most intriguing practices are those binding Toms' culture to its mission. For example, once a month, the company holds a "Happy Helping Hour," in which members of a charitable organization visit Toms to engage with employees in some activity, such as preparing care packages for women in domestic abuse shelters. Toms has greatly increased employee participation in its giving trips, where they assist non-profit partners who are conducting eye exams or distributing shoes in places like Nepal and Honduras. Full-timers are invited on a trip after their first year; after their third year; and then every three years after that.
The most recent program is the Tomorrows Project, endowed by Mycoskie with money from the sale of 50 percent of Toms to Bain Capital. Every month, employees are invited to submit ideas for a charitable project that inspires them. The company votes; and the person with the winning idea receives $10,000 and two days off work to make it happen. The Project opened for business in January by sending five children who had lost parents to a grief-support camp. In February, a member of the tech team received 40 used computers to refurbish for at-risk youth.
Programs like the Tomorrows Project and Happy Helping Hours work only in a culture where people care more about the social mission than about making a buck or being part of a cool fashion business. Intrinsic motivation, by definition, is not something you can train for. That's why "we spend a lot of time talking about how to use the interview process to evaluate for fit and values," says Toms' chief people officer, Amy Thompson.
The company's interviewing guide is a fascinating document that should appeal to any organization--social enterprise or not--that has bothered to identify values and expects employees to adhere to them. It includes four sets of a dozen or more questions each that track its four values. For example, to see how well a candidate embodies the value "We expect a lot from each other," a manager might ask how someone would react if their boss requested they do something outside their job description. For "We are committed to a long-term vision," the manager might ask for an example of an unpopular short-term decision.
Embracing a long-term vision is especially important as Toms evolves into a larger, more mature organization. "Culture is a very organic thing," says Thompson. "It is not something you preserve as companies grow. It is something you nurture."
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the Tomorrows Project and some employee benefits offered by Toms.