by Piyush Patel |
Claire was one of our account representatives at the online training company I founded, Digital-Tutors. One day, I found out that she was being mistreated by Henry, the vice president of procurement for one of our largest enterprise customers. Immediately, I walked over to Claire's desk to get to the bottom of what was going on. As she explained, she'd suffered in silence because she knew making Henry angry would mean losing a lot of business for the company.

One of our core values at Digital-Tutors was respect, something that this mistreatment clearly violated. I had a choice: Do I hold to the company's core values -- my core values -- at the risk of losing one of our biggest customers? Or do I let the situation continue to keep the business?

Perks Are a Short-Term Solution

You can provide your employees all the perks of Google or Facebook and still have a toxic culture. According to the 2015 study called "Workplace Design: The Millennials Are Not 'Coming' -- They're Here" by Dr. Fay Cobb Payton at North Carolina State University, perks are a common attractor for Millennials entering the workforce. Lots of companies have followed in the steps of tech giants like Google or Facebook, offering perks to attract employees.

At Digital-Tutors, we had cool offices. Working with a lot of creatives and studios meant we got superhero action figures, signed movie posters, and all kinds of cool stuff for free. Yes, we had free food and gave out exorbitant bonuses and lavish Christmas gifts to our employees.

Perks are nice, but they're not what motivates your employees to keep doing great work. It wasn't until I learned to identify and stick to our company's core values that we found real cultural success.

While dangling free food and foosball tables might be enticing for people looking from the outside in, the foundation of a real culture is more than the perks. In the 2015 study, "Myths, Exaggerations, and Uncomfortable Truths: The Real Story Behind Millennials in the Workplace" from another tech giant, IBM, they found the top long-term goals for Millennials to be making a positive impact on the organization followed by helping to solve social and/or environmental challenges.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

After getting more information from Claire about what was going on, I told her the next time Henry called, to have it sent straight to my phone.

A few days later I got the call. Then, I proceeded to fire one of our largest enterprise clients, explaining to Henry that I wouldn't tolerate the mistreatment of my people. When the call ended, I shared what happened with Claire. She teared up, overwhelmed to feel she was more important to Digital-Tutors than money.

The next day, I got a call from Henry's boss asking why they didn't have access to our system. Making him aware of the situation, I explained that I'd fired his company as our customer. The only way I'd allow them to become our customer again was to sign a new deal that ensured Henry was never to interact with our company again.

At the time, I didn't have a plan for how to recoup the costs of losing such a large customer. Creating a culture that motivates your employees to do the right thing means you, as their leader, also need to do the right thing. To borrow the adage, actions speak louder than words. Claire's scenario was a chance for me to show her that our values were more than just words.

It's easy to focus on perks. They're a tangible way of showing how cool your company is to anyone touring the office. But all that gets thrown out the window if you're willing to sell out your values for the bottom line. The greatest long-term motivator for your employees aren't the perks you can offer. You'll find one of the best motivators can be when you put your employees ahead of monetary gains and always stick to your values.

Piyush Patel is author of the upcoming book Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work: An Entrepreneur's Guide to Cultivating a Culture that Matters, and is an entrepreneur and an innovator in corporate culture with more than 20 years of experience. As the founder of Digital-Tutors, a world-leading online training company, he has helped educate more than one million students in digital animation, with clients including Pixar, Apple and NASA.