This entry isn’t about an individual boss, but rather an entire organization that has made extraordinary efforts to recognize its employees and build a winning work culture. The folks at Cards Against Humanity create the wildly successful card game of the same name. It is also one of the more curious success stories in business: created by some high school friends through a Kickstarter campaign as a mature-content riff on the popular Apples to Apples card game, it quickly became and remains the number one selling game on Amazon.com. The company is flush with profit since it only makes this one very inexpensive product, but manages to accomplish this while also giving the product away for free – it bears a Creative Commons license, meaning anyone can download the content and create their own cards if they don’t wish to spend the (quite modest) $25 for an official set.
They have cultivated a loyal fan base not only by being open and flexible, but also by developing a reputation for being direct and brutally honest in all of their customer-facing emails and promotions, resulting in a company that’s just as fun to talk to as it is to play their product. The company’s founders have always remained out of the limelight, insisting that its creation was more crowdsourced from all the friends and family who used to play the game at New Year’s Eve parties before it was a Kickstarter.
Perhaps most importantly, they are fiercely loyal to their staff. Every holiday season since its inception, CAH runs a fundraiser of sorts to do something really nice for its employees. The fundraising is never dressed up as anything but an attempt to get free money from its customers, often to hilarious results. There was the “Everything is $5 More” Black Friday sale, where customers could elect to simply pay $30 for their product instead of $25 on Black Friday, which was followed up by the “Give us $5” Black Friday sale the next year, where customers were simply given the option to pay the company $5 for literally nothing.
However blunt they may seem, the money always goes to a good cause, and you can be sure of it, because they are 100 percent transparent about how they spend it, posting all their accounting publicly. The “Give us $5” sale, for instance, resulted in a $71,154 windfall, which was redistributed among all the employees, most of whom donated their bonus to charities. The employees were encouraged to tweet what they were spending their bonuses on and share it with customers.
In December 2015, they ran an “Eight Sensible Gifts for Hanukkah” promotion, where customers could donate money and receive eight extremely sensible gifts over Hanukkah. In an open letter to their customers, they explained where some of the proceeds would go.
“Our printer in China has grown with us from a small business to a huge operation, and it’s important to us to go above and beyond our obligation to the workers who make our game. While our factory provides excellent wages and working conditions, Chinese working conditions are generally more strict. This year, we used the money from one day of our holiday promotion to give our workers something very uncommon in China: a paid vacation.”
The factory in question didn’t even have a procedure in place for such a thing, so CAH simply bought out a week’s worth of wages and expenses to make it happen. The only stipulation was the employees had to send pictures showing how they spent their week off, which they did in droves.
Above and Beyond
It’s publicity like this you can’t put a price on, and it’s why CAH deserves some recognition for doing the right thing for their employees. They have a firm grasp on the central idea of employee engagement – you must go above and beyond yourself to inspire your employees to do the same. You must keep surprising them, you must keep raising their bar of happiness and delighting them – in short, be thoughtful.