We’ve just sent one of our engineers to a 20-sessions professional acting course as part of his personal growth plan. His goal for when he graduates from Jolt is to co-found a startup – so together with our Employee Success Team he defined self confidence and public speaking as some of his key goals for the next few months.

We even made a short video about it.

Wait, what?

Did you just say you’re sending a DEVELOPER to ACTING CLASS?

It’s 2000 all over again. F*ck you startup world.

Well, the opposite is true. What this actually represents is a step further in startup maturity. Meeting other startup CEOs, it’s often said that this doesn’t make sense financially. “It’s too expensive”, they say, “it’s wasting your investors money on nonsense.”

Oh, is that so?

Investing in Development

There’s no unlimited vacation at Jolt. There are also no beer taps, pool tables, game consoles, power naps, yoga classes, fitness rooms, in-office showers or flashy offsites. We don’t give away expensive swag, we stay at inexpensive AirBnB rooms when we travel. We renovated our office ourselves with furniture we bought from the flea market.

We don’t even offer competitive salaries. We think trying to compete with tech-giants on pay is both futile and stupid.

We literally save every dime we can on nonsense other startups invest SO MUCH MONEY IN – and spend as much as we can, instead, in our employees’ growth and development.

It should be well known, by now, that the current workforce in Silicon Valley values purpose over parties and growth over perks. We went as far as conducting a survey among California-based millennial techies. Turns out 45% of them think their employers spend too much on perks and office space, while only 20% of them are happy with the training and development they receive.

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For millennials, Learning and Work are one. With most of us prioritizing learning as their key factor for choosing a job, it’s safe to say we now measure Workplaces as if they were Schools. After interviewing about 500 candidates for different positions in the last few years, we came this realization. “Why did you leave your last workplace?” The same answer was given over and over again – “I felt like I finished growing” or “I was looking to learn something new”.

This is not coincidental language; millennials actually see their workplaces as learning places. Beyond a certain amount of monetary compensation, it seems, money is no longer the deal breaker. It’s growth. It can be for one of a million reasons. It might be that millennials understand that they may quickly become irrelevant, and that honesty, curiosity or aspirations are needed for rapid success. But be the cause what it may – there’s no way around it: learning has to be integrated into work.

Taking this one step further

Building work itself around learning requires some serious, disruptive thinking. As a company, (regardless of our core commercial product), we developed Chapterships, Jolt’s unique approach to hiring and leveraging its talent.

Here’s the gist: we invest a significant percentage of our payroll in developing our employees into the creative monsters they want to be. As soon as a new team member joins (and even before that, as part of our screening process), we look into their goals and dreams and help them build a personal growth plan (or PGP in short), to make sure their two years at Jolt would develop them as much as possible. Then an employee success manager, who has the resources, invests in executing that plan.

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There could not be a better investment than that.

Trying to overdose your team with perks so that they don’t want to grow out of your company is futile; co-founders leave. Employees leave. People naturally want to move on. And perks, well, perks are not the answer. They’re merely a way to increase the one (wrong) metric – employee retention.

Instead of finding a way to make your employees better – the one metric HR people are obsessing about is employee retention. Optimizing for keeping people in place, instead of pushing them forward, is a safe way to creating companies full of zombies disemboweled from their creative juice.

It’s also comic to think about the following – how often entrepreneurs mention they want to “leave a mark” or “make a dent in the universe”, and fail to see how little impact they leave on the team who trusts and follows them. Might changing the world actually start with empowering the people around you first?

If you’re a startup CEO or an HR professional, consider not wasting your company’s funds on nonsense. Spend it differently. Replace perks with employee development. Offer team classes instead of team parties. Lunch & Learns instead of happy hours. Millennial employees deserve (and are often looking for) self-development opportunities. While only a few would refuse free beer or free yoga classes – does it really correlate with the motivation and aspirations of your team?

And is that the mark you want to leave on them?