WORKING FOR YOUNG EMPLOYEES
NEW YORK (Fortune) — When I first walked into Fahrenheit 212, the innovation consultancy I wrote about today in “The innovator’s paradise,” I was a tad skeptical. Here were a couple dozen hipsters “working” in a downtown Manhattan loft, determined to convince me that they did brilliant business, had unspeakable amounts of fun all the time, and despite all appearances to the contrary, spoke English. (There are so many perky buzzwords flying around that even head of design Jared Richardson laughingly acknowledges, “Berlitz should offer a course in Fahrenheit.”)
Then co-founder and CEO Geoff Vuleta began telling me about the way his executive team manages, and it stopped me short. Here he was, regaling me with all the big brands Fahrenheit called clients — Coca-Cola (KO, Fortune 500), Samsung, P&G (PG, Fortune 500), and so on — and all the cool, mind-bending (and of course, top-secret) innovations the company was creating, and I get excited about management strategy. But as anyone who’s ever had a boss knows, if there’s one place in corporate America that could use some innovating, it’s management.
Fahrenheit’s answer to that is “100-day plans.” Every 100 days, everyone gets together, locks the doors, ditches the cell phones, and sits down to a company-wide strategy session.
Together, they set the company’s goals for the next 100 days. And they go around the table to hear how each staffer — execs included — did on his personal deliverables over the last 100 days. They ask each other questions, weigh in with their own perspectives on their colleagues’ work, and do lots of ribbing, reflecting, and cheering.
And if the fear of being embarrassed in front of rowdy colleagues weren’t enough, staffers work directly with their managers to lay out their individual plans for the next 100 days and actually grade themselves on their last 100-day plan — and at the end of the year, the scores are added up to help determine incentive bonuses and future compensation.
It may sound simple, but it has the grand effect of making each person his or her own manager. Everyone’s goals are completely clear, evaluations are a collaborative process, and perhaps most importantly, managers are just as accountable as their employees — and they’re accountable to their employees.
That doesn’t happen very often, at least not in any sincere fashion. (Case in point: A colleague of mine just told me about a friend whose company is excited to be offering employees the opportunity to evaluate their bosses — except that they’re required to sign their assessments. What a privilege.)
As a result of all this, there’s an openness that’s inherent to Fahrenheit’s culture, and there’s no one that vibe helps more than young employees — i.e., those of us who have no relationships with senior managers, no sense what our goals ought to be, and generally speaking, no clue.
Nithya George, a 26-year-old innovation consultant in commercial strategy at Fahrenheit, was so excited to join Fahrenheit that she left an investment-banking position at UBS right before bonus time. “A lot of people thought it was a silly move,” she says.
But she hasn’t regretted her decision. Fahrenheit makes a point of putting “The Money” and “The Magic” — as staffers call the two sides of the company’s collective brain — on equal footing, which means George gets to be creative in ways she hadn’t thought possible for an analyst. (Never mind that with a staff of just 25, Fahrenheit’s able to give even entry-level employees all kinds of hands-on experience; it’s work, but as George puts it, “These are all-nighters you’re excited for.”)
But what may be most compelling about life as a youngster at Fahrenheit is that the company’s junior employees don’t have to act like normal entry-level hires at all: “There’s never a time that I think twice about sending an e-mail,” George says. “You can’t say a wrong thing here.”
And that’s empowered her to make her mark at Fahrenheit, where she created a series called “Notes from the Bean Counter” to keep her magical counterparts up-to-date on what’s happening with the moneyed set. And she’s been so swept up in the camaraderie at the company that she’s taken over its social life, organizing paintballing trips and games of “Super Bowl Squares” for the staff.
As for those people who might think that all this exposure and self-assessment might just contribute to that storied twentysomething sense of entitlement, it’s telling that, asked to riff on what it’s like not only to be properly evaluated — an experience, sadly, that many of us haven’t had — but to help score your performance,
George flashes a demure smile. “I’ve never seen a structure like this,” she says. “You sit around the table and say what you did, meet with your manager and discuss what you think you deserve. And you know, sometimes you get bumped up.”
A management strategy that works for young employees
By Nadira A. Hira, writer
Fortune.com, December 16, 2009