More on Business Perks

This article expands on my business checklist in two ways. Section I discusses the importance of employee benefits. Section II discusses some concrete current benefits your firm may want to consider. Section III discusses the role of a business consultant in uncovering and evaluating these sorts of things.

I. The Importance of Employee Benefits

In the checklist under section 2.1.3 I ask, “Does your company offer competitive employee benefits?” Such benefits can be evaluated in dollar equivalents, but this doesn’t always work because nonconforming benefits can provide bargaining power to an applicant. Sometimes it works though, if your unusual benefits are preferred by the balance of current employees and potential applicants.

As a concrete example, I know of one firm which is an apartment community. An industry perk is discounted rent for employees of such a firm. This particular firm does not offer that perk. Instead, they offer outstanding health insurance. This health insurance in dollar terms is worth much more than the industry standard rent discount. Yet, to applicants and some current employees, the situation appears something like “Well everyone has health insurance so you just offer one less kind of benefit.” This can be compounded with thinking like “I rarely go to the doctor but I pay rent every month.” The firm I have in mind has at least one employee making these kind of complaints.

These complaints can be dealt with in a couple ways:

  1. Conform to industry standards
  2. Justification by survey

Under 1, your benefits should meet or exceed industry standards. Under 2, you can survey current employees and potential applicants about your existing benefits package and determine whether a change is justified.

Firms should implement an employee satisfaction survey which asks any number of firm-specific, industry-specific, or general business questions. One question might be something like, “Our firm is considering a change in our benefits package from X to Y. Do you prefer X or Y, strongly prefer X or Y, or do you not care too much either way?”

II. 11 Concrete Benefits You May Be Missing

Admittedly, not all of these are a good fit for all companies. At least one point, the lifetime employment policy, is outright experimental or probably a bad fit, although it’s an interesting trend. Others seem to be employee benefits but in reality they are greatly beneficial to the employer. Learning management systems are a key example.

  1. 401k, paid leave, and health benefits are obvious, but there are some non-obvious variants like fertility treatment assistance and staggered rate of accrual on leave.
  2. Maternity leave is obvious but paternity leave is one you may not have
  3. Remote work
  4. Compressed work week
  5. Extended work week. Believe it or not this does count as a benefit.
  6. Casual attire or, if you really demand business clothes, a clothing allowance
  7. Education and skill development benefits including tuition assistance, paid certifications and training, in house cross-training facilitation, or an in-house learning management system.
  8. Google’s 20% rule or similar (eg maybe a 5% rule).
  9. Paid day care or gym membership, in particular on-site.
  10. Snacks. At my current firm we have unlimited Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches to go with our free coffee (including french vanilla lattes). This is one of my favorite perks ever.
  11. Lifetime employment policy. I hope the idea turns out better than the TED talk.

III. The Role of a Business Consultant

Creating section II took research. This highlights the role of a business consultant. The business consultant is a business research specialist. All skills pertinent to pure research are pertinent to the effective business consultant.

Indeed, this is how a firm can test a would-be consultant. Is the consultant able to conduct market research including survey design and analysis, or even experiment? The bright line test for a consultant vs a bullshit engineer is whether or not they can produce evidence-based results.

Business consultants may specialize in one or more areas of business. You may have a business consultant who specializes in management processes, organizational structure, or hiring and firing, for example. If the consultant becomes to specialized they need to adopt another title. For example, an IT consultant who consults on a project’s architecture and has expertise in programming is not fully a business consultant. He or she is an IT consultant who may have some useful business knowledge including the going salaries for various labor categories or the usual management structure of an IT project. That’s not to devalue such a person, I think IT consultants are often useful. I’m just clarifying what a business consultant is and isn’t.

The business should be able to estimate potential costs and benefits from bringing in a consultant before doing so, in order to establish a justified consulting budget. Firms often waste money either by hiring sweet talking bullshit engineers when they need a proper consultant, or else by hiring a proper consultant when they really don’t have the budget to do so. If you don’t have the capability to estimate the costs and benefits of consulting on your business or a project then you can of course hire a consultant to make that estimate for you. Do be sure to have an independent consultancy draw up that estimate. Don’t fall for the obvious trap of having a consultant estimate his own value.

Lastly, be sure to specify the scope of work for any consulting contract. A consulting contract should be treated as any usual project with a statement of work, period of performance, concrete goals, and so on. Another source of waste from the firm standpoint is scope creep during consulting, which often arises because they “bring in a consultant” without properly specifying a scope of work or treating the consulting as an independent project. Instead, they assign a consultant to an existing project and the existing project basically dies due to leaking scope and money to the consultant. Have the projects separated from the beginning to minimize this issue.

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