Blog: Business Lessons Taken from ALS Ice Bucket Challenge


The latest Internet/social media craze sweeping across the Facebook and Twitter horizon is the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge.” There are thousands upon thousands of videos of celebrities, athletes, politicians, and even your neighbors, dumping buckets of ice and water over their heads.

Former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates is credited with kicking off this phenomenon. Frates — who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease — has lost the ability to use his arms, so he used Facebook to “call out” friends and family to take the challenge and post the results on social media. The fad has brought people together and it’s inspired a movement to create awareness.

It seems to me that any business could use a similar dose of inspiration and employee togetherness. Even the companies with the great cultures, and companies that are considered great places to work, can suffer from an occasional lack of engagement with their employees.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has given us three important lessons, which can apply in any company to engage employees and co-workers:

1. Relate to a cause. The objective behind the campaign was to help raise awareness about ALS while raising donations. I believe that employees want to participate in something bigger than them. A cause, which strikes an emotional chord with employees, does well. Ask yourself, what is the cause in your business? What is a rallying point that everyone can get around? Does it have a reach beyond your business, maybe into your families or communities? Once you discover the cause of your business, share it throughout your company, create an action plan around it, and engage employees to get the message out.

2. Be simple. The Ice Bucket Challenge is very simple. All it needs for one to participate is a smart device, a social media account, and a bucket of ice water. The rules of the challenge are simple: Once challenged, a participant has 24 hours to either dump a bucket of ice water over their head, or donate $100 to the ALS charity of their choice. To enhance the outreach and spread awareness further, every participant must then nominate three more people to either take the challenge or pay up. To participate in the awareness campaign is essentially free, and the embarrassment factor is extremely minimal.

There is beauty in its simplicity. The cause in your business should also be simple. Bosses are known to overthink and overcomplicate things. Once you have created your action plan around the cause, ensure that its execution is simple to do and simple to understand.

3. Have fun. When you’re interacting with employees and co-workers, it’s important to have fun, so long as your business type allows it. Therefore, it should be no surprise that people enjoy entertaining and fun-loving engagement. The Ice Bucket Challenge did enough to engage people on a very simple, enjoyable level.

The activity results of the Ice Bucket Challenge have been impressive. More than 176,000 people have tweeted about it since Aug. 11. Imagine if your business had a huge increase in activity around your cause.

The financial results have been staggering — according to the ALS Association, more than 70,000 new donors have given money to one of its nearly 40 chapters since the competition launched July 29, contributing to $4 million in donations during this same period, compared to only $1.12 million during the same period last year. While a nearly 300-percent increase is probably unrealistic for most companies, the goal should be to figure out what type of increase would be realistic for your company — what would a success, on the Ice Bucket Challenge scale, look like at your business?

So, my “Ice Bucket” type challenge would be to have each employer in metro Detroit create a simple, fun employee engagement program, designed around a cause specific to your business. Don’t forget to share your results via social media and include @dbusiness in the body of messages. Good luck!

Todd Palmer is founder and president of Troy-based Diversified Industrial Staffing and Diversified PEOple LLC.