Thanks to an introduction from Grasshopper's Ambassador of Buzz (yes that's his actual job title) Jonathan , I was able to connect with David Hauser , Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Grasshopper.com to talk about employee incentives and corporate culture--two topics that a lot of companies talk about but generally don't truly get beyond paying them superficial lip service.
One thing you won't glean from David's lofty title, but that you'll pick up on within 14 seconds of speaking with him, is that he truly cares about this stuff and that he spends an incredible amount of time thinking up new ways to engage their team.
And now on to our Q&A...
Me: You're doing some really neat stuff to make Grasshopper.com  a great place to work. Will you talk about some of the things you're doing and how they've helped to boost morale?
David Hauser: We want Grasshopper to be a place where everyone wants to come to work and enjoys the people around them, this is what culture is all about. We give 4 weeks paid time off, so people can be flexible with their time, rest when needed and ultimately work hard and play hard. Rather than installing a pingpong table (although fun) or any other typical .com perk we decided to put a Wii in all of our offices. This brings people together and provides for some fun entertainment.
Me: Did a lot of your initial inspiration for creating a rewarding work environment come from your previous work at other start ups?
David Hauser: I learned for sure what a fun work environment is like at other startups and my goal was to replicate that not copy it. For example I saw that many startups were offering free drinks and snacks, and this became our healthy snacks and fresh fruit program. So bring the items I would expect to be there or would have in my house to work, compared with the cheapest or easiest option. Anyone can dump some chips and candy in a basket and say they have snacks.
Me: Creating an employee incentive program from scratch might sound like a daunting task for a lot of newly minted managers (I know it did to me). Where would you tell someone to begin?
David Hauser: We started with looking at best practices of companies that highly value true core values and combined this with our understanding of high growth companies. What came out as a result was quarterly reviews, quarterly bonuses and an excellent goals system. Our employees are evaluated not only on what they do, but how they do it. I would start with looking at what the pain points are, what are the goals and in our case the ultimate goal was to link performance with pay and provide timely and effective feedback.
Me: You've had some interesting activities planned around your quarterly strategic planning sessions--kart racing, snowboarding, and most recently brewing beer. Have there been any activities that weren't well received?
David Hauser: As this is a small group each activity has had its positive and negatives but the goal of getting together and doing something different is always accomplished. It is easy to go to dinner and hang out but once in a life time or at least once in a year type things are fun and bring creativity to the team.
Me: Grasshopper.com also has some very interesting and actionable core values. Will you talk a little bit about how you were able to get past clichés and ambiguity to something much more meaningful? And to that end, have any employees had to be disciplined for being overly radically passionate?
David Hauser: Core values must have real meaning, not the honesty and respect ones from years past and large companies. Honesty and respect are expected to even get an interview, so those are the ground rules. Core values define how to do things, how you interact with people and customers. It took a lot of time to get the right words but the actual values are there, they are not aspirational they are what people do and why they were hired. We always try and provide feedback and coaching using core value stories so people can see exactly what is meant in more than just words. There have been times when passion has resulted in a lower rating or a training opportunity because so much passion caused other problems.
Me: Your bio mentioned that you enjoy long walks on the beach. 1) is that true and 2) if so, where are the long beaches in Boston?
David Hauser: I do like the beach, although prefer the pool since as there is less sand. It is not true, and I have not been to many beaches in the Boston area. I am surprised you even saw this.
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Shawn Graham is Director of MBA Career Services at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (www.courtingyourcareer.com ).