Fostering employee engagement can be a formidable problem for large organizations with far-flung teams operating in different time zones. On the surface, large organizations should be able to handle the ups and downs of intelligent risk-taking. In practice, however, their talent management processes often enforce conformity, legitimize mediocrity and penalize failed attempts at innovative thinking. For employees, a tried-and-true way to survive in such environments is to be average and to avoid rocking the boat.
In 2009, we set out to explore how leaders in our own organization could boost employee engagement and creativity while promoting a culture that rewards innovation and entrepreneurship. We initiated a contest across four Deloitte LLP offices located in India. Employees were invited to join teams, which were asked to develop solutions to a wide range of challenging, real-life business problems. We judged the teams on several criteria, including: their ability to identify the critical issues; the quality of their analyses; the extent to which they found solutions that challenged the status quo; their ability to offer practical suggestions; and their effectiveness at presenting and communicating their views.
The program, called Maverick, was designed to challenge the conventional view of employer-employee relationships as transactional and to find new ways to win the hearts and minds of our organization’s employees. We wanted to harness their best critical thinking and collaboration skills for the benefit of the organization, and we also hoped to provide an alternative to the traditional manager-employee hierarchical relationship.
For many employees, freedom from conformity was a welcome change that enabled their creativity to flourish.
The contest itself was organized along the lines of a reality TV show. The winning teams advanced each week, while the losers were eliminated. In addition to receiving small financial rewards, successful teams received prizes designed to advance the goals of the program. The winning teams were awarded opportunities to work closely with senior leaders on challenging projects such as creating a program to encourage carpooling and developing branding exercises for new facilities.
In designing the Maverick program, we brought several elements together in hopes of finding a “sweet spot” that was both motivating for employees and beneficial for the company. These elements included:
Our decision to go with small teams of four people was based on the desire to promote collaboration, minimize free-riding, allow for constructive conflict resolution and build cohesion.