Maybe we should start paying people to think?

Determine the 20% of your employees who contribute 80% of the value/progress/innovation/ideas to your company and focus on developing and empowering them!

Maybe we should start paying people to think?
Photo by Toa Heftiba / Unsplash

Hands up if you have ever been told: "You are not paid to think, you're paid to do!"

It's never wise for the owner of a business or any leader in a business to ever dismiss an employee's idea - based on their position in the company.

Why are we so scared to allow employees to think?

There are numerous reasons we might be wary of allowing our employees to think:

  • We have to relinquish control - which is difficult to do for most.
  • We see thinking as "doing nothing" or "unproductive" because it's difficult to measure.

Encourage your employees to be bored every once in a while and let them think!

Let's consider this for a moment. When have you had your best ideas? Not while you were hard at work, slaving away...

Probably while you were:

  • In the shower
  • At the beach
  • Relaxing with a book in the sun
  • Doing some physical exercise

So why avoid these situations and keep ourselves and our employees artificially busy with "productive tasks"?

Which employee is more valuable?

A - The employee who works 12 hours a day and does what they're told

Sure - we need these employees. People who get the work done. But these employees rarely make any contribution to the direction in which the company is moving. They work FOR YOU.

B - The employee who works 4-6 hours a day from home in a hammock with an idea that boosts profitability by 30%

Would you say no to an idea that boosts your profitability by 30% if it came from the cleaning lady in your company? I would rather have employees like this who work WITH ME.

I don't want employees who work for me - to see how much value they can extract from the company. I want employees who can work with me and see how much value they can add. Someone who wants to make money with me!


Here's a challenge for you. Go and determine the 20% of your employees who contribute 80% of the value/progress/innovation/ideas to your company and focus on developing and empowering them!

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) is a phenomenon that states that roughly 80% of outcomes come from 20% of causes. We can use this principle to help prioritize tasks and business efforts.

Create a "Think Friendly" environment

How do we create an environment where our employees feel free to think and come up with innovative ideas?

  • Be flexible with your working hours - allow employees to go and see a movie on a Monday afternoon when it's quiet at the office. You don't track how much they work on weekends, so stop worrying so much about how many hours they clock in the week.
  • Encourage employees to come up with outrageous ideas and explore them
  • Avoid ever thinking "this is how we've always done this". Next time you catch yourself doing this, try asking WHY 3 times and you'll see most ideas fall apart.
  • Get rid of the hierarchy in meetings and in the office. If an employee ever feels they cannot voice their opinion due to their rank - you might be missing out on valuable input.

Find your A-team and TAKE CARE OF THEM!

Most of us know that in our company we have a core team of employees who you can always rely on. They come up with the ideas, they execute them and then someone else usually takes credit for it.

Identify these people and take care of them:

  • Pay them as much as you can - they bring in much more than you can pay them
  • Tell them regularly how much you value them - people actually value this much more than you think
  • Make them MORE involved in working WITH YOU.

Be transparent - open the books

Let's be honest. Companies exist to make money. But how can we expect employees to understand what is expected of them and how their contribution is making a difference if we never speak to them about the money?

  • Open your books - show them how the company is doing
  • Teach them about the unit economics of your company
  • Teach them how to understand the financial statements of the company

Let's say an employee knows that the company is going through a rough patch and that something needs to be done to correct the course. Do you think they are more likely to:

  1. Ask for a raise
  2. Jump ship
  3. Come up with a new idea to save the company

What a great litmus test. Open up your books and you will probably have some employees who opt for 1 or 2. Great. This way you get rid of the individuals who want to extract value from the company and end up with the individuals who can ADD VALUE.

If you made it this far in the post, thanks for reading. Sometimes I can start rambling, but at least some of my ideas can be used and adapted in your life!

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