You have some great ideas for your company, but you really don’t have time or an avenue for making them happen because you’re too busy working your normal day to day grind.
You may have heard about Google’s 20% time where people get one day a week to work on whatever projects they want. Some of their best products have come from that effort (gmail, Google News). There’s also 3M who has a similar policy – ever heard of this thing called a ‘sticky note’?
Another company, Atlassian, decided to try just one day a quarter, where everyone in the company can work on whatever, but they have to complete their project the next day. It’s a 24 hour period and many people work overnight cranking on something they’re passionate about. They call it “FedEx” day because you have to ‘ship’ overnight.
“Well, they’re lucky,” you might say. “They have a company that is radical and forward thinking, but my company would never let us do something like that.”
You may be right. But your company doesn’t control your entire life does it? (If so, you have bigger issues.) They may not choose to implement 20% time or a ‘FedEx Day’, but you can choose to organize it yourself. Here’s how.
First, start small. Instead of trying to organize a whole day or 24 hour period, start by holding just a half day event, 4 hours. Pick a day and time in the future and start advertising your event. Tell your co-workers, send emails, put up flyers, whatever works best to get the word out.
“But how do you get the company to support it?” you ask. You don’t. You get the people to support it. You explain the concept, the thrill of autonomy, and the possibility of making a difference for your company, by being able to spend dedicated time working on that great idea you’ve always had but never had any time or support to see it through. And you tell them that for now, we don’t have company support, so we’re going to have to put in our own time to make this happen. You ask people to flex their time and work a few extra hours during the week, so that they can take Friday afternoon off and be part of the ‘FedEx Day’.
Management can’t complain because you’ve put in your time and you’re just taking a few hours off for ‘personal reasons.’ And for passionate people who understand the concept, and want to be a part of something different, it will be no problem to donate a few hours to this effort.
It’s just like Homer Simpson, when asked at his class reunion how he had gained the most weight, he explained that he had discovered a new meal between breakfast and lunch.
You have to find a new meal. (Scott Ginsberg taught me this in his How To Stay Rare blog post.)
During your event, you need to let autonomy reign. Don’t get too formalized, controlling, or prescriptive on what people should work on, or how they should work. It just needs to be something that might be valuable to the company. Have some sort of short kick-off at the beginning where people come together, then let them loose.
And remember that people are donating their own time for this, so thank them profusely for joining your cause and show genuine appreciation.
After the event, have some way people can report on what they accomplished. It could be a presentation, some kind of write-up, or just a discussion. Don’t create too many parameters or people will just choose not to do it. Explain that you’d really like to know what their experience of the event was like, so you can learn from it.
- Organize the event on your own time.
- Advertise through word of mouth and internal online buzz.
- Let autonomy reign.
- Fully appreciate those who join you.
- Report on what you accomplished afterward.
You never know. Some upper level management may find out about it and want an outbrief. Don’t let them interfere or run the effort, no matter how high up the ladder they are. But do be willing to share with them your results.
If you do get some significant results, they just may think this is a good idea, and might want to sponsor the next one (with at least pizza or donuts.)
And make sure that this is advertised as an ‘experiment’. The purpose of an experiment is to learn something. If there are no specific expectations for your event, then there can be no failures. Whatever happens, happens. The only failure that will occur is if you fail to learn something.
And what you learn can be applied to the next one.
So go ship! You are FedEx.
What’s stopping you?