Whether the term ‘hacker’ brings to mind images of someone stealing your credit card information or of Angelina Jolie unleashing computer viruses on the federal government, chances are the last thing you want to associate with the term is your own staff.
And yet, several companies today are doing just that, launching what have become known as ‘hack days’ at their organizations. While the specifics differ for every company, generally, a hack day is one day set aside to let employees (primarily engineers and information technology workers) work on anything they want outside of the scope of their regular responsibilities and everyday tasks.
For companies like Yahoo!, Twitter, Facebook and the Federal Communications Commission, hack days not only successfully generate new business ideas, but also (and perhaps more importantly) boost employee morale, promote collaboration across teams and departments, and enhance the customer experience.
CareerBuilder can certainly attest to the benefits of hack days. CareerBuilder launched its first Hack Day in August of last year, followed by another one in November, and kicks off its third Hack Day today, taking place in offices across the world.
“You’re starting to see companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon, where they utilize technology to drive innovation, and that sparked conversation about, ‘What can we be doing?’” says Roger Fugett, Senior Vice President of Information Technology at CareerBuilder, about what inspired the idea.
With the company’s long history of using technology and innovation to help companies source and retain employees – as well as a desire to “give people an entire day where they can explore their passion”- hosting a hack day at CareerBuilder just seemed to make sense.
Encouraging employees to pursue their passions is part of the culture at CareerBuilder. Every year, every employee has the opportunity to pitch a new business venture for the Ideas from Everywhere contest, and compete to receive the financial backing and resources to run the new business line. The addition of Hack Day, Fugett says, offers employees “just another–slightly less formal – path to innovation.” And just like with Ideas from Everywhere, participants can enter the projects generated from Hack Day into a contest for the chance to see their idea fully realized.
CareerBuilder’s Hack Day isn’t exclusive to its technology workers, either. Every employee in the company is invited to participate as a business partner in the process if he or she has an idea or simply wants to get involved. The business partner is then paired up with a member of the technology team prior to Hack Day to create a plan of action. Not only does this exercise generate a broader range of ideas, but it also promotes collaboration among teams that might not normally work together.
Going into Hack Day, Fugett explains, the goals were simple: “It was really to spark creativity and get people thinking about bringing new ideas to the table – whether that meant addressing market needs or what they’ve talked to sales reps about.” So it was a pleasant surprise to see just how passionately employees took to Hack Day. Over 300 employees actively participated in the first two Hack Days, resulting in a total of 75 new business ideas.
“The volume of participants exceeded our expectations, as did the ideas that generated from it. We started out thinking we’d probably pick just one idea from the first set of submissions, but we ended up picking fourteen – the quality of ideas was just that good,” says Fugett.
As for advice he would offer other companies that want to implement their own hack day, Fugett says, “You have to have a tolerance for failure. If you project manage stuff to death and need everything to have an ROI, pulling this off is going to be tough. If you’re going to be innovative, you have to anticipate some failures.”
He also adds that communicating the idea that failure is crucial when encouraging employees to participate. “You want all the ideas. You don’t want people to keep ideas to themselves in fear of being chastised for failing.”Related
Forget what you think you know about HR... it's all about to change.
Sign up to start getting exclusive content designed to empower you with the insight necessary to go from HR professional to strategic business partner.