From time to time, when I have developed a good rapport with an executive, I will ask questions that go beyond the workplace. A while back this happened when I, along with my research partner Alan Robinson, visited Martin Edelston, founder and CEO of Boardroom Inc. Marty, who was well into his seventies at the time, was a legend in the direct marketing world, as well as a thoughtful leader. We tell a bit of Marty’s story in Ideas Are Free.
We had just finished spending the day at Boardroom interviewing Marty’s employees and evaluating his high-performance idea system. At the time, it was generating 104 ideas per employee per year, over 90% of which were being implemented. As a result, the company was very innovative and productive. But Marty’s system had a unique policy that brought us up sort.
Every employee was required to contribute an average of at least two ideas per week over each three month period or lose his or her quarterly bonus. At the time these bonuses were averaging $3000 to $4000 per employee. If the employee failed for a second quarter, he or she would be fired. We initially thought this policy to be quite draconian, but found that Boardroom employees embraced the challenge and ideas were totally integrated into everyone’s weekly team meeting and the way the company was run. No one had ever lost out on a quarterly bonus.
This high level of performance, along with Marty’s open nature, gave me the courage to inquire into the impact of the idea system on the personal lives of his people. For some time, I had speculated that the benefits of a high-performance idea system spilled over into the personal lives of employees. After all, if people spent their work days in an environment where their ideas are respected and they work collaboratively to solve problems, wouldn’t they carry this problem-solving habit home when confronting family challenges?
So I asked Marty what he thought. He scratched his chin thoughtfully and said, “Well, I don’t know if I have any direct evidence about that, but I do have one interesting fact. Before we initiated our idea system, we had the usual number of divorces you would expect in a workforce of a hundred people. But in the last eight years, since we have been running our idea system, we have not had a single divorce.”
This was very interesting. Was there something to this relationship, or was it just an anomaly? Two years later when we revisited Boardroom, our first question to Marty was, “Have you had any divorces over the last two years?” He thought for a second and replied “Nope.” So there you have it. If you want marital harmony in your workforce, implement a high-performance idea system.
Marty passed away on October 2, 2013, but his legacy and the impact he had on the people he worked with will live on through them.