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Balancing Your Culture with Carrots and Sticks

Like each of you, my life has been shaped by a lot of good and bad experiences. Some of those experiences really stand out. They stand out because of the life lessons learned from them. Some of those life lessons came in the form of a carrot (rewards) and some of them came in the form of a stick (hard-knocks).

Some of the most vivid life lessons came when I played high school football. I learned a lot from both carrots and sticks.  I still make decisions each day that are influenced by the life lessons gained while I worked hard as an individual and we played as a team. 

First, the sticks. Like any teenage boy, being serious for an entire football practice was nearly impossible.  The result of our goofing off when we were supposed to be focused was laps, ladders, push-ups, sprints and many other forms of physical conditioning torture.  However, we learned that when our coaches talk, we listen and that after you put in the hard work, there are rewards.

Now the carrots.  Doc Rivers said, “The more positive you can be with your players, the better they’re going to play.” My coaches knew this. They looked for opportunities to provide positive feedback.  Whether it was an enthusiastic high-five after a great effort or a celebration for a tough win, they strove to let us know when we had done a good job. One of the most significant “carrots” they offered was that no matter who you were, you had to earn your playing time by putting in your best effort.

The results. There were four or so minutes left in the fourth quarter and we were making our comeback in a critical game. The turning point was when we were faced with a big fourth down and seven. I was given a specific task. My job was to power sweep left and “stay wide, don’t cut it back.” The ball was snapped, tossed to me, and I ran left following the full back and lineman.  All my instincts were telling me to cut up field into the hole that had opened. Without the constant reinforcement of both carrots and sticks during hundreds of hours of earlier games and practices, I might have cut up field. I chose to do as the coaches told me and stay the course.  I knew that if I relied on their knowledge and followed my leading teammates, good things would happen. That first down kept the ball in our hands.  We then scored the go-ahead touchdown and held on for the win.  

The balance of these two forms of feedback is imperative. We learn and grow as individuals as we experience both the good and the bad. Protecting your team members from experiencing the bad does nothing to prepare them for the hard times that will surely come. Withholding praise and rewards for a job well done leaves your team members longing for more which they will look for elsewhere if you don’t provide it. Your company’s culture is formed by what you do and what you allow.

 How will you use both carrots and sticks to shape your culture? ourlinQ is one of the tools my team uses to reward when we win and share in the losses when we don’t.   

Performance Management

Take a minute and think about what your business was like 10 years ago. How much has your team changed? Is your team more diverse? Have you ever thought or maybe even said aloud, “this new generation doesn’t know anything about hard work?” Would you have even considered allowing some or all your team to work remotely? I’m sure you will say your business is very different from what many of us “grew up” in.

Now ask yourself, would your company have survived COVID-19 if it hit 10 years ago? What have we learned from this latest generation of workers that helped get us through this pandemic? Technology played a huge part in how well we’ve adapted to the pandemic working conditions; however, we cannot minimize how important it is to have a generation of workers not only capable of working in these conditions, but also thriving.   

Now take a minute to think about how you are leading and managing your company. Has it changed as much as the workforce? Chances are it has not. Is your team performing as well as you think they should? Chances are it is not. As we launch into 2021, it’s time to re-evaluate performance management with the future workforce in mind. Our teams and companies are craving these changes.

The future of performance management lies in building a company culture that thinks and acts owners and then rewarding those that embrace that culture. It is frightening to think you have that much responsibility. Your performance management system should very clearly support the culture you want to build. John E. Jones summarized this concept very well, “What gets measured gets done, what gets measured and fed back gets done well, what gets rewarded gets repeated.” Now it’s just up to you to determine what gets measured and rewarded.

Follow us over the next few weeks as we discuss and provide insights into the 10 Pillars of Performance Management that will help you build your culture.

  1. Transparency and Expectations
  2. Thinking Like an Owner
  3. Making People Your Projects
  4. Outcomes Not Hours
  5. Career Paths and Development
  6. Regular Feedback – The 15 Minute Weekly Check In
  7. Consistent Performance Evaluations
  8. What Gets Measured Gets Done
  9. Goal Setting and Accountability
  10. Rewards and Recognition

The Future of Performance Management

Several years ago, as I was beginning to manage projects on my own, I was faced with a tough client decision.  It was nearing the end of the project and the client’s budget was getting very tight.  At the client’s request and because my company had done very well on the contract, I wrote-off a portion of our last billing to that client.  There was no justification for writing off several thousand dollars other than to keep the client happy.  What motivated me to make that decision?  Was it the right decision?

A few years later, another difficult decision came up.  I had the option of using two different team members on a project.  One was very busy and the other one had very little to work on.  Because of past experiences with each of them, I chose to wait until the busy team member had room in his schedule.  Both were capable of doing the work; however, the busy team member was much more efficient and would get the work done with less oversight.  What motivated me to make that decision?  Was it the right decision?

And finally, just a couple years ago I was faced with another tough decision.  I was supporting one of our teams in completing a project that was nearly overbudget.  The support I was offering may have been billable to the client and could have been argued to be within our scope of work. But it was equally critical to completing the project as it was in retaining the client for an upcoming project.  Because the project was nearly overbudget and because I was working hard to win the next project with the client, I did not bill the work to the client.  What motivated me to make that decision?  Was it the right decision?

As I think back on these decisions and other decisions I have made over my career, I wonder “would I make that same decision now?”  What influenced me to make the decisions I did at the time?  How did our company culture at the time influence those decisions?  These are deeply philosophical questions and there is much more to individual decisions than simply what your company culture drives.  However, as business leaders, it is important that we work on the part of that “decision equation” we can control. Monitoring and policing your team’s daily performance was once considered performance management.  This is no longer an option. Building the right culture is the only option! 

As you look at the decisions your teams are making, is your culture motivating the behaviors and decisions you want from them?  Are they making the decisions you would make?   Stay tuned as we discuss how to align your performance management system with the culture you want to create and discuss how to appropriately reward for performance when it is in line with your culture.

Appropriate Rewards Systems

What encourages team members across organizations to be as efficient and responsible as possible? 

Clients that have implemented reward systems that are aligned with their company goals and culture in their organization, have seen great improvements in their team member morale and engagement. Team members become motivated to be time efficient and keep up on their personal tasks; while also being encouraged to use teamwork and help others to get the job done. Team members also become fully responsible for their decisions when using a reward system that encourages them to think like an owner. By rewarding these behaviors, team members feel valued which dramatically increases employee retention as they want to work where they feel important.

Where do we begin?

Choosing to reward team members on specific qualities and actions will make a significant difference in your organization’s bottom line. Some of the questions an organization should ask are: 

  1. What benefits come from an appropriate reward system? 
  2. ​What are the best practices for developing an appropriate reward system that aligns with our organizations goals and culture?

What are the benefits of an appropriate reward system?

Without seeing the differences of a reward system that is customized to be aligned with their organization’s goals and culture, employers may be hesitant to understand why they need to modify what they already have in place. However, having an appropriate reward system encourages employees to perform at the best of their ability, strengthens team morale and helps them to feel needed. When they are rewarded for doing well and there is a clear tie to their daily actions, they know that they are appreciated. In turn, they will do what they can to help further their organization. A company that invests in their team members, will reap the benefits of their team members investing back into the company.

As mentioned previously, appropriate reward systems will increase employee retention. By decreasing turnover, companies can create a culture that employees want to be a part of by building on the values of both the company and the employees.

What are best practices in creating an appropriate reward system?

One of the most important factors in a reward system is to reward team members based on the quality of the work they perform, and not the quantity of hours worked. If a company were to reward solely on the number of hours worked on a project, an employee would be more inclined to make the project last as long as possible. This would create back-log with the other projects they should be working on. This affects not only deadlines, but it can also negatively impact relationships with their clients. 

When an employee is rewarded based on the quality of their work, they are encouraged to do their best job in an efficient amount of time so they add value to their work. 

Another best practice in creating reward systems that deliver higher ROI is recognition of both individual performance, as well as an individual’s ability to work as a part of a team. Considering how well a team member can coordinate and participate in a group setting is extremely important in the workplace, especially when many team members are partially or fully remote for now and the foreseeable future. By rewarding team members for having the ability to work well with others, they will be encouraged to participate and brainstorm in groups which results in better communication, improved creativity, and increased productivity.

When an employee is treated well and rewarded for doing well, they will continue to find ways to excel and invest in their company. By implementing ourlinQ, companies have been able to do just that. Our clients have been able to see customized reward systems aligned with their organization’s goals and culture come to life to benefit their team members and the progression of their entire organization. Not only do they see work ethic increase, but their culture is fostered and continuously improves developing into a work family that  everyone wants to be an active part of. 

Bonus System Transparency

Growth is essential in a successful company. Teaching your employees to think like owners and allowing them to expand their skillset, will help them and the company thrive! That growth cannot happen without good communication and good incentives, both of which help your employees feel valued.

In the past, I’ve have been blessed with good jobs where I felt valued and noticed, but with my current job, I feel valued, noticed, and like I have a long-term place. This is because they have allowed me to expand my skillset, given me guidance, and have brought to light the areas where I need improvement. These things have allowed me to feel and be successful in what I do.

These awesome conversations have happened in reviews with my supervisors where they have chosen to be completely transparent with me. I know where I’m doing well, and I know where I need to do better! After we have discussed the importance of my strengths and weakness and acknowledged what they are, we review my bonus, if one was given.

That’s right, they review my bonuses with me! I don’t just get a few extra dollars on my paycheck labeled “bonus”; I KNOW why I got it! I’ve been able to feel such a sense of accomplishment in those reviews as I learn what specifically contributed to my bonus; I feel proud of my work. My bonus finally means something to me!

Having that kind of information about my bonus and knowing that I have the potential to improve my skills and habits at work is enough for me to try harder. However, the proactive and transparent communication with my supervisor topped with a bonus in my paycheck (which they were also transparent about) motivates me to reach new heights, achieve my goals, and develop better relationships with my co-workers. It pushes me to do more in order progress and grow within the company and hit my bonus potential!

Human beings thrive on the ability to just be human and to feel like they can be themselves, as taught in this Humans Being At Work article. At work, if superiors are transparent with them, encouraging of their strengths, and opening doors for growth opportunities, these simply human employees will thrive. They will feel valued and their motivation to do great work will increase.

Transparency within a company creates an environment of success for everyone.

Give Feedback Consistently, Constructively, and Timely

Timely and constructive feedback allows the person delivering the feedback to provide it in a less formal setting focusing on one issue at a time, that is specific and easily recallable vs. annual reviews, that are frequently much less specific and often only recent activities are recalled.  Regular constructive feedback allows the recipient to respond, adjust, and improve in a timely fashion.

Example of timely constructive feedback:

“Joe, last week when we were in the breakroom, I heard you telling inappropriate jokes. I noticed the color drain from Tracy’s face and many looks of concern as the group quickly disbanded.  As a rule of thumb, if you are about to tell a joke that you wouldn’t tell in front of your young niece, don’t say it in the office.  Let’s focus on eliminating these from office conversation, find other topics for breakroom discussion, and revisit as needed…”

Example of non-timely feedback

“Joe, I always look forward to annual reviews.  I see them as a great opportunity for us to talk through issues that have been going on for the past year.  For example, there have been several times throughout the year that I have overheard you telling inappropriate jokes in the office.  Those need to stop…”

The Advantages of Timely, Consistent & Constructive Feedback:

  • Timely feedback provides feedback while the event/issue is fresh in both the recipient’s and provider’s mind. 
  • Feedback should be constructive, specific, factual and end with an action item. 
    • Constructive feedback should not be simply a negative criticism; but an identification of a valid issue with a recommendation/suggestion to modify behavior. 
  • Critical and constructive feedback should not be heard for the first time in an annual review – these should not hold any surprises. 
  • Timely feedback should be provided behind closed doors, not in public or amongst peers.
  • If feedback is given regularly anxiety of “big, annual reviews” goes away and both parties can move on to an open and consistent dialogue.
  • Timely feedback allows the recipient time to course-correct/make strides in the right direction throughout the year, thus demonstrating a faster shift to desired outcomes for the organization.

Depending on the severity of the feedback, be sure to listen to what the recipient has to say.  If necessary, allow a break and re-visit in a day or two or even a week later to provide time for the recipient to digest and respond thoughtfully.

Culture in a Crisis

When you’re in a crisis, “your people” are the ones who make all the difference.

They are the ones who lift you, inspire you, keep you laughing, help you succeed, and never stop believing in you. How much easier would it be to go to work and keep routine in the middle of your crisis – personal or widespread – if some of “your people”, were your co-workers?

I have been with Jones & DeMille Engineering and their sister company, ourlinQ, for almost two years now and I often get asked, “do you like your job?” And I always respond, “I LOVE my job! I don’t ever want to work anywhere else again! The people and the culture make me want to be at work; I have a family there!

If it were not for the culture at Jones & DeMille, there is no way I could have made it through the last few years.

When I interviewed for this job, it was for a company I knew nothing about and with people I knew nothing of. When I arrived for the interview, it was comfortable, and I felt welcome and accepted. It was not a “formal” interview, but rather, they just took some time to get to know me. I had recently returned from an 18-month church service mission and was adjusting back to a normal routine and had just moved to a new city where I didn’t know many people.

I was hired in the first interview. I started the very next day and was pleased with the humor, joy, and friendliness in the office. As time went on, I noticed how real everyone was – no one tried to be something they were not and that alone made it easy to make friends in the office. These friends grew to become my people. I looked and still look forward to going to work every morning!

It makes a HUGE difference when you work for people you know genuinely care about you as a person, whether they are the CEO, the accounting manager, or an in-office co-worker.

In our office, we have frequent office outings and activities – lunches to celebrate birthdays and movie nights at a co-worker’s home just for fun!

During the work week, co-worker’s family members feel welcome enough to drop by to say hello and it’s always fun to see how they are doing or hear the kids excited to see their dad! It brightens the office in a way that is hard to explain.

But these daily things barely scratch the surface of reasons I love the culture where I work.

Last year, I faced a rather difficult trial. I was hurt by a stranger and it was a battle I never thought I would have to face. I stayed up all night and when early morning rolled around, I sent a message to my office manager letting him know I would not be coming in that day. I didn’t provide much detail. Although he was understanding, because that’s just his character, I felt guilty and didn’t want him to think I was playing hooky.

I emailed an explanation to a supervisor I had at the time, who called my office manager to explain. 30 minutes later he was at my door with his wife to comfort me in a time I needed it most.

The love, comfort, and support did not stop there. Over the next several weeks and then months, I received weekly texts, calls and visits from our CEO, my supervisor, my office manager, and my regional manager. They gave me some time off work to heal from what I had been through and never stopped checking in to make sure I was okay.

Eventually, I shared with my other co-workers in the local office what I had been dealing with. And I also had to thank them for making work the easiest place for me to be! They made the office a joyful, humorous, accepting and friendly place to be every day. Despite what I was struggling with, I could go to work each day, keep my routine, and accomplish what I needed to without falling apart. They became my people, not because I was around them daily, but because of their character and their choice to make work a place we all enjoy being.

Though my personal crisis was shortly followed by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and we are all working from home, we still make time to interact via video calls, group chats, phone calls, texts, and by sending the most ridiculous GIF’s. All these things keep our “office” culture alive, even though we are all in our own homes. Each of us eagerly anticipate being back at the office together and to see our work family in person again!

Good culture at your firm can change not only an employee’s time at work for the better, but it can send them home in a good mood, which can improve family/home life. Good culture can allow employees to stay motivated, thrive in their position, and potentially expand their skills to grow within the company. Good culture turns jobs into careers and small businesses into large companies!

Not only is this culture exemplified by the people here, it is also encouraged by the executive team. Though extremely appreciated and important, caring and empathy haven’t been the only factors in shaping this environment; the executive team has also set up tangible systems, processes, and tools to encourage and build this culture. I have seen it in action, and it works. They are now are making some of these tools (like ourlinQ) available outside of Jones & DeMille so that other companies can reap the benefits of a culture like this.

The Money Motivated Millennial

It has been said time and time again that millennials are not motivated by money in the workforce. What if I told you that they are motivated by so much more than just money? In this generation, work life and careers are not what they used to be. Many millennials want to change up their surroundings frequently, having new opportunities and experiences are a large part of that change. There is an inherent need in this particular generation to see and do new things. Many of this age group put more value on having a flexible career with decent benefits, rather than a career dominated by an impressive salary. With that being said, everything in life is so expensive, there’s no way to make it without working to earn money.

As someone who is a part of the millennial generation, I can relate to all the scenarios mentioned above. I find that I thrive on new experiences, both career wise and in life. I am motivated by having nice things, which in turn means I am motivated to make money to afford the life I want to live.

Growing up I always had to pay for my own things, but even so, the real world still hit hard when I moved to college. I now had rent, utilities, a car payment and other basic bills to pay all while attending classes, keeping up on homework, working and trying to maintain a social life. I quickly learned that in order to live the life I had always imagined, I was going to have to work hard.

With this, came a lot of sacrifices. There were a few semesters where I was working full time while being a full-time student. Most days I would leave for work before the sun rose and did not make it back home until the sun had set, and then it was time to finally do homework. The days were long and exhausting, but I look at myself now and I realize that I am well on my way to reaching my goals.

There are many things that are appealing about making money, but the way in which money is made is one of the biggest factors for the millennial generation. For instance, some may say that benefits and experiences gained from a career are most important. For others, having a work-life balance with flexibility and opportunity seems to be the most pressing concern when choosing a career. Sometimes the perceived list of what millennials want in a workplace can seem daunting. How do we accomplish that? 

Giving millennials the freedom to choose within their career can make a large difference. By offering flexibility, they can choose how hard they want to work. The more money they want to make, the harder they will have to work for it. Giving your employees this choice allows them to feel empowerment and control within their job. They will embrace the “think like owners” mindset knowing that they have full responsibility and no excuses when it comes to earning what they feel they deserve whether that be by salary, commission or bonuses.

Seven ways to discover OPPORTUNITY during crisis


As we move through June 2020 and the fine tuning of our office re-opening plans, smart leaders are now focused on how to discover opportunity during this turbulent time. How can you ensure your firm’s continued success through COVID-19 and beyond? Read our seven steps below.


1. Solve your clients’ new challenges

#WEAREALLINTHISTOGETHER – I first saw this hashtag in an email for a clothing store but the message resonated with me and, yes, I clicked through and made a purchase. This is the first thing to do with your clients – adapt your messaging and communication to be one of support, empathy, and of helping them achieve their goals, not selling to them. Once you approach your clients with empathy, you can build upon your relationship and mutual trust to have conversations about their new challenges. How can you make their lives easier? How can you adapt your services to help them overcome their challenges? Or even start a new service to do so? Even if you cannot help them directly, do you know someone that could? Have your team members report back all of the challenges they’ve uncovered. This brings us to number two…


2. Leverage your team members’ collective genius

Open up the opportunity to help solve your clients’ new challenges to all of your team members and collect their input. You’ll be surprised at the insights and ideas that come from all levels across your organization. Get a group of your team members (from different levels and parts of your organization) together to discuss and build upon the ideas. Innovation is crucial for the long-term success and sustainability of any company in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. More than half of the companies on the Fortune 500 list have vanished since the year 2000. What did many of those companies have in common? They were comfortable with the status quo, didn’t think they could be disrupted, and didn’t prioritize innovation. Does this sound like any firms in our industry that you know? Does this sound like your firm?


3. Optimize everything

You know that process that drives all of your team members crazy and needs to be improved but the time needed to do so has always seemed daunting? Now is the time to tackle it! Implementing ways to make your team members more productive and your projects more profitable will have a direct impact on your bottom line and improve team member engagement and satisfaction. Even if you’re not planning on paying out bonuses soon, what does your incentive process look like? Does it involve a complicated spreadsheet nobody understands? Do your team members understand why they receive the incentives they do? Does your process connect their daily actions to the amounts they receive? Learn how to make that connection for your team members HERE.


4. Strategically hire

Back in February, you were likely fighting to recruit talent. Over the last two months many firms have had layoffs. Smart firms laid off “C” players they should’ve already laid off regardless of COVID-19. Fortunately for you, other firms laid off some of their best talent as they were more expensive. Now is the time to snatch up those “A” players. Find the ones that will bring a fresh perspective, creativity, and open-mindedness that can help your firm be adaptive and meet your clients’ new challenges by implementing that new service your team identified. As the famous author Jim Collins noted, it takes the right people to take your company from good to great.


5. Proactively collaborate

Look at some of the new challenges that your clients have. Are some of challenges ones that you as a provider do not have a solution for? Look at your strategic partners. Can you work collaboratively with them to develop a new service that will help this and other clients? Don’t be afraid to look beyond partners within our industry too. Perhaps you need expensive technology to help you solve a challenge for a client? Consider the providers of that technology and find one that will partner with you to offer the new service. “If necessity is the mother of [innovation], cooperation is the father. And we’re cooperating like never before.”–John Ashcroft


6. Experiment and fail fast

If I had a dollar for every time I ask a firm “why do you do it this way” and they respond “because that’s the way we always have”, I’d be writing this from a beach in the Caribbean now…You must adapt, evolve, and pivot almost continuously as we receive more information. Five-year strategic plans are dead as we live in a world of disruption (even before COVID-19)! And, for now, planning in detail beyond the next six months is ill-advised as we don’t know if there will be a second wave of COVID-19 and if so, will stay-at-home orders be put back in place? Its more vital than ever, that you’re willing to experiment. Not sure if your firm should allow 40% of your workforce to keep working from home? Try it, learn from it, and modify as needed. Leaders are inherently afraid of failure and often elect not to even make a decision, so they don’t fail (which is actually making a decision…). However, it is okay to try something and if it doesn’t work, try something else. Break a few eggs along the way. Communicate the why with those involved and impacted and it will be okay. Just don’t make a decision and keep trying to make it work even when it clearly won’t, frustrating everyone involved.


7. Greater good

Remember that even if you’re having tough times, others are having even tougher times. What can you do to help your clients, your community, and your strategic partners? As Michael mentioned in last week’s ourVOICE post, I’m also proud to work with a company that is doing something for the greater good. At ourlinQ, helping other small and medium businesses in this time has become our mission. We’re currently offering our revolutionary project-based performance incentive platform at NO COST through your first incentive payout (even if that’s next year). To find out more, just go HERE for more information.

COVID-19 has disrupted all firms in every industry. Business will return to some sort of “new normal” eventually, but why wait for then? Take control of the things you can now. The actions you take now mean the difference between whether your firm just survives or thrives!

How Business Development is Going to Save Your Firm

Two reasons why business development is first among equals!

Last month we asked one of our clients about any projects they were considering in the next quarter.  His response was, “how can I think about new projects when I’m worried about which employees I have to lay off?”  While not all our clients are in this situation, enough of them are being cautious with their spending that the project pool is shrinking.  When the project pool shrinks, every firm begins fighting for enough water to at least keep their feet wet.

Has your firm changed their approach to Business Development as we transition into the Recovery/Rebuild phase?  If not, what is holding you back from making changes to improve your BD efforts? 

Earlier this year the leadership team at my engineering firm created our focus areas for 2020.  One of those focus areas is that Business Development is First Among Equals.  I cannot count how many times we’ve referred to that focus area in the past few weeks.  Amid the uncertainty of recent weeks, we have used this focus area to drive home two key concepts. 

  1. Those who are good at business development always come in first
  2. Business Development is the first thing to be done among all the important things on your list

Consider this situation; An email came through from a great client requesting proposals for the perfect project for your firm.  Nobody has more experience in that arena than you do, you need the work, you spent several days putting together the perfect proposal and you turned in the proposal knowing that you were in the driver’s seat to get this project.  When the results came out, you were not selected.  They went with the firm that didn’t have very good experience in the field, but they knew the client well and seemed to have the upper hand from the beginning.  What made the difference?  The winning firm put more effort into their Business Development than just writing a great proposal.  Business Development is about relationships.  Relationships cannot be built with a proposal.  Those who are good at building relationships always seem to come in first.  Focus on relationships now to come in first when a project is advertised.

This crisis was the perfect storm of bad timing.  2019 was a great year for your firm and you carried a lot of backlog into 2020.  You may still be very busy working through that backlog.  Do you really have time right now to do Business Development when project deadlines are looming?  We have challenged our teams to put Business Development first among the important things on their list.  We are focusing on two firsts: 

  • Plan your business development efforts the first part of every week 
  • Take the first hour of every day and complete those business development tasks

Conserving cash was critical early in the crisis, but business development is crucial going forward.  We are using ourlinQ to highly reward those who are putting business development first.  Business development is going to save your firm.  Find your way of putting it first.