We know that getting feedback from your organization, from the bottom to the top, is the best way to discover what motivates your team. That feedback helps drive your cultural evolution. One insight I gathered a few years ago helped shed some light on what motivates Millennials, in particular. The need for contribution. In fact, a recent study by Monitoring the Future revealed that nearly 70% of Millennials listed a “contribution to society” as being very or extremely important to them. 

During one conversation with a group of team members, someone asked about opportunities to do volunteer work during office hours, as they heard that other companies embrace this philosophy. A reaction from some managers was, “why can’t you ‘give back’ on your own time?” But the idea of creating experiences during business hours that lead to job satisfaction isn’t unique. Sales teams have been taking boondoggles together for generations. Cupcakes and pizza parties celebrating weddings, babies and birthdays are gatherings that occur in thousands of conference rooms every day. Finance versus Operations baseball tournaments happen every summer, with Ops winning at a 10-1 ratio (sorry Finance). Everybody shows up with a smile because that’s what’s expected, has a little fun and then the “company bonding” box is checked for another quarter. But what if you could reclaim all those 15-minute birthday celebrations and the collective hours spent on something that isn’t really contributing significantly to your culture, harness that time, and redeploy it in a more constructive way that actually meets the emotional needs of your team and strengthens your culture, while driving real value to society?

In order to support this effort at a company I was running, my first step was to institute “summer Fridays”. The concept isn’t new, but I launched it simultaneously with the suggestion to those interested in volunteering to consider donating some of their newfound free time to support the causes that were important to them.  Instead of one Friday in the summer where the company decides on a group activity that few are truly passionate about, they could pick their own activity every Friday for 3 months.  One person volunteered at a pet shelter and another started giving painting lessons at an assisted living complex. I took it a step further and launched a Blue Sky Ticket program. Blue Sky Tickets allowed the recipient to take a day away from the office to pay it forward in some way. Two tickets are available each month to those who request them. Tickets have been redeemed to do things like working at soup kitchens, collecting donations from colleagues to do holiday shopping for Toys for Tots, organizing charitable cancer runs, and even teaching photography to the blind.

My ever-clever team who, like me, looked for every opportunity to bend the rules, occasionally took the liberty to extend their Blue Sky Tickets to cover multiple colleagues who wanted to join them on these outings. Sure, this took people off of projects for a few hours, but the work always gets done and the payoff was significant. Was this a reason someone would leave a job they love to come work for us? Probably not. Was it a reason someone who was ready to fly the coop might stay longer? Doubtful. But while they were  there, my team knew they were heard, they werre supported, and they were empowered.