|IS This Any Way to Motivate Employees?|
Click Commerce’s offices are similar to other dot-com businesses----casual attire, white boards everywhere for employees to write or sketch on, and an entertainment room with three pinball machines and six Daytona 500 simulators. The company is a leading provider of business-to-business software that manufacturing companies use to manage relationships with business partners and customers.? It also offers software for managing accounting, inventory, marketing, and ordering. The Chicago-based company was originally founded in 1996 as Click Interactive, Inc., but changed its name to Click Commerce in December 1999 to better reflect its focus on the business-to-business e-commerce market. CEO Michael Ferro (photo left), one of the “top 40 Entrepreneurs Under 40,” has led the company through the difficulties of an Internet start-up to a successful initial public offering of stock in June 2000. However, his approach to motivation can be described as a bit unusual because it involves taking employees out of their normal work environment and requiring them to do something completely different as a form of “punishment”.
Ferro believes that an occasional kick in the pants is good for employee motivation. He has created what he calls”the penalty box” for his programmers who are burned out or who act overly cocky. In actuality, this is a temporary assignment---from a few weeks to a few months ---in the company’s sales department. While those chosen may see such a stint as a penalty, Ferro focuses on the positive---it gives isolated programmers new experiences and broadens their responsibilities.
The ”punishment” part of the box is that all salespeople, including programmers on temporary assignment, are required to wear professional business attire at all times. For programmers who are used to wearing the more typical jeans and T-shirt, wearing suits and ties is somewhat humiliating. In addition, most programmers, who enjoy their insulated lifestyle, don’t relish giving up the cloistered existence of working full-time on their computer and instead of writing software they have to call on customers. This isn’t easy for people who are used to interacting with a computer and who have chosen this profession to a large degree because of the job’ independence and isolation.
Although there is a stigma attached to being temporarily assigned to sales, some of the programmers do acknowledge the value of the assignment. Jim Heising(photo right),for example, admits he gained some valuable insights into customers while forced to make sales calls. Now the company’s chief technology officer, Heising says that although sometimes customers’ requests are far-fetched, other times they come up with great ideas that can actually be implemented.