Simona Covel over at the Wall Street Journal ran a story this week about Chris Wallace at SuperGroup Creative Omnimedia Inc. (try saying that three times real fast). What’s interesting about the Web site design company that Chris has set up is that in the early days he didn’t always have enough customer work to keep his staff busy. Chris did something unusual: he allowed his staff to work on their own projects, on the clock, during downtime. His initial motivation was that he didn’t want to lose his staff just because there was nothing for them to work on right then. The unexpected side benefit was that the personal photography, video, music, etc. skills of his employees spilled over into the ideas that they pitched to their customers. Chris reports that some presentations to customers contained upwards of 40% of work created by his employees during their downtime.
Now we don’t all have the luxury of working for a cutting edge media company like Chris’. I don’t know about your company; however, many of the companies that I’ve worked for would have a hard time paying for their employees to do non customer (internal or external) work. However, perhaps there is a middle ground here. Simply being aware of your teammates outside interests is the first step in being able to tap into their unknown skills. If you know what they can do, then you are well situated to be able to turn to them when the need arises and ask them if they can contribute a solution.
IT is not known for its need for artistic creativity on the job (media companies aside). However, we do have IT parties, we do create documentation, and our apps do have splash screens and use sounds. All of these open the door to taping into home grown creativity. The biggest payoff is that the more that your team is able to put of themselves into the product that they are working on, the greater their job satisfaction will be and the higher your overall retention will remain.