An Innovation Straight From the Heart

July 01, 2016

Case categories include: Human Resources   Leadership   Operations   Trends   

Performance reviews can be dreaded by management and employees alike. Cookie-cutter questions, stultified meetings and heightened competition among employees abound during this annual corporate tradition. That’s not to say that performance reviews are all bad. To the contrary, management needs a way to identify their most productive employees and award them for all the hard work. Yet, couldn’t the system have a little more heart?

The answer is indeed it can. And the heart comes in the form of the “Love Machine,” a peer-to-peer appreciation tool created by Linden Lab Founder Philip Rosedale in 2005 that allows employees to literally send love to each other. Using an internal tool (or a Slack bot), an employee simply types in a colleague’s name, and then describes why they’re sending “love.” For example, the reason could be, “for your quick help with my Excel question!” The recipient then receives an email with the message, and others can see it, unless the love was sent “quietly,” in which case it only goes to the recipient.

Ebbe Altberg, the current CEO of Linden Lab, explained that the Love Machine began as a simple and visible way to thank a co-worker for something by “sending them love.” To boot, a budget was assigned to these amorous missives and applied to all those who received them. For example, if $10,000 were budgeted for love that quarter, the 100 employees who received loving messages would receive an amount of money proportional to how many “loves” they received. One could think of it as a grass-roots micro-bonus system.

People commonly giggle at the name “Love Machine,” but the idea has expanded beyond Linden Lab into the open arms of several other companies. Indeed, the software is now available as a standalone product called SendLove. The service helps organizations measure individual employee contribution through peer feedback. Following numerous trials with technology organizations, SendLove has been successfully deployed within the financial services, healthcare, and retail sectors.

"The Love Machine is used across the company, including upper management and the executive team, employees in our headquarters, remote offices, and folks who work from home," says Peter Gray, Senior Director of Global Communications for Linden Lab. "It varies from person to person - some send a lot of 'love,' others, not so much, and people's personalities can come out when they send love as well. The Love Machine can also be a great way for employees to get to know one another across departments and teams, and find out what others are doing within the organization.”

Peter provided numerous examples of when love might be sent. Perhaps a new employee was just onboarded; why not send them some love? Or maybe someone went beyond his or her job description to help solve a problem in another department; that deserves love. Or, simply, love could be sent to employees on their birthdays. Why not?

While the Love Machine does not replace the performance review, it does give management enhanced optics into which employees are excelling. In the review process, employees select several pieces of “love” received, and comment on them in a similar way that employees comment on goals and objectives achieved during the quarter. It’s an opportunity to highlight to the manager some of the “above and beyond” work that may have otherwise gone under the radar. Love plays directly into the bonuses that employees might receive, with earmarked cash coming from the “love budget.”

In the case of Linden Lab, employees have enthusiastically embraced the Love Machine. An employee commenting on Quora in 2011 wrote, “Love is sent freely and oftentimes performativity. There is a lot of humor that goes into the Love Machine…in my experience, typing ‘love x for y’ many times per day is a very affirming, humanizing experience. Over time you get to really know and care about your coworkers, and it provides an outlet to really get to know people's personalities…I may be an extreme case, but I've even gotten to the point where I am sometimes signing ‘Love’ at the bottom of my business emails. Then again, I may just be a California hippie.”

The Love Machine goes to prove that California hippies have not cornered the market on spreading the love. Indeed, love has a place in corporate America at large. This simple mechanism for providing peer-generated positive feedback makes an outsized impact on company culture, while giving management more information on which to base their performance judgments. An innovation straight from the heart!