skip to content

Why We Reward Employees with Brass Knuckles and a Blockbuster DVD

by Clair Lee

What comes to mind when you think of “company values?” You might just feel cynical about the whole concept; after all, publicly adopting “integrity” as a company value did not save Enron from becoming the poster child for corporate wrongdoing. Still, when done well, a strong system of values anchors a healthy office culture and provides a compass to guide decision making. For this to happen, everyone needs to be on the same page regarding both what the values are, and what the values look like in action. 

Our CEO and founder AJ has written about our company values before, because they are so important to us. Recently, he enlisted my help to make them more prominent in employees’ minds and actions. He didn’t want them to just be part of the company handbook; he wanted them to be part of our everyday experience. So, AJ and I put our heads together to devise a values recognition program. The goal was an approach that would feel natural while maintaining the sense of humor so integral to our culture.

How it Works 

Each of our five company values is represented by an ironic token. When you notice a coworker really exemplifying a particular value, you award that person the corresponding token: you write team-wide email explaining how that coworker earned the token, and you hand it to them. Office-wide recognition of the recipient transcends departmental boundaries and showcases different ways to stand out at work. To keep the tokens moving, anyone can suggest the next worthy recipient.

The Tokens

1) Value: Attention to Detail 

We believe that a great product gets the small things right. No matter what we’re working on, whether it’s a new feature or an email to a user, we pay attention to every detail.

Token: Misspelled Plaque

Story: There were some double-takes when I ordered this plaque at the custom engraving store. A few days after placing the order, I received a call from the confused engraver. “You’re SURE that you want E-V-E-R-semicolon-A-W?” he asked. The glaring typo makes people uncomfortable if they look at it for too long, but it sure is an effective reminder to give every project, big or small, the attention it deserves.

2) Value: Belief in Process and Commitment to Growth

We believe that every challenge is a learning experience, and we aggressively codify and update our procedures and best practices to improve ourselves. We are eager to learn from each other and from external sources.

Token: Blockbuster DVD

Story: I wanted a token that would illustrate the perils of complacency. Blockbuster’s notorious failure to adjust to disruptive competitors like Netflix and RedBox is unfortunate, but makes for a compelling cautionary tale. This token rewards those who help us avoid that fate by making internal and external processes more efficient and effective.

3) Value: Deep, Not Broad 

We focus on the features that matter and make them great. We do not attempt to match competitors feature-for-feature.

Token: “No Diving, Shallow Water”

Story: I wanted to showcase the danger of the shallow end with this token, with its graphic visual. The last thing we want to build is yet another platform with a hundred features that clutter the screen and don’t actually make life easier. Our goal with every update is to better equip our users to go on treasure-hunting deep dives without getting a headache.

4) Value: Egoless Communication and Mutual Respect 

We work together to build a great company. We welcome feedback, respect differing opinions, give compliments freely, and take pride in our collective achievements.

Token: Kobe Bryant Bobblehead

Story: This value encourages giving compliments, and in that vein, the credit for the “ironic tokens” theme goes to Victor, one of our programmers. He jokingly referenced the NBA star as the paragon of humility: both Kobe’s fans and haters generally agree that he is as egotistical as he is talented. As much as we want to emulate Kobe’s dominance in his chosen field, we certainly don’t want his reputation for being difficult to work with. This token is a reminder of that.

5) Value: Respect for Users 

The success of the company depends on our users – even the ones that don’t pay the bills. We don’t sacrifice user experience for technical or business expediency.

Token: Brass Knuckles Mug

Story: When trying to think of an ironic token for this value, I thought about brass knuckles as a symbol of aggression, one opposite of respect. I worried that the mug’s connection to this value was too tenuous, but the token has taken on a life of its own: in addition to being dubbed “the Mug of Customer Justice” somewhere along the line, it has also been passed around more often than any other token. I can’t say that I’m surprised, seeing as how at Everlaw, every feature and update is prepared with the user in mind.

Those are the top five values we aim to embody at the office, and our fun ways of celebrating them. Does your company have core values, and do you feel confident enough to share them with the world? How do you encourage team members to remember and live out those values? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter!