In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – SNAP – the job’s a game!. You want to get some fun into the office; start by not planning it, nominate your Mary Poppins and ensure that there’s always a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.
Mary Poppins is the original Culture Transformation consultant. She came into an organisation with some major staffing challenges (unruly, messy, children), a dysfunctional executive board (Mr Banks being only numbers driven, Mrs Banks focussed on other projects) and operations managers struggling with the scale of their job.
Her first task in the house, rather than to define a framework or strategy for culture was to focus on practical operations concerns (e.g. tidying the nursery). Her first change was not to recommend huge expenditure on a new environment, on training or new processes but rather ‘In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – SNAP – the job’s a game! ‘. She very successfully changed the mindset of the everyday task into something fun e.g. tidying up by singing a song with some characters (and granted with some magic).
Looking at Mary Poppins, she isn’t a naturally ‘fun’ person (even if she is practically perfect in every way). She is very serious even with the fun, she smiles rarely, she is hugely strict in management and on timescales, and is incredibly inflexible. After a few short weeks though, even though her focus was on the lowest ranks of the organisation (the children), she made a huge change to the whole organisation; including the bank of the children’s father
What would Mary make of today’s corporates?
There is a recognition that the way we are all working is changing. Projects are shorter and more intense, Agile etc, people are working harder in shorter timescales. We are increasingly blending together people of different working backgrounds; designers with testers, analysts with accelerated workshops, digital native grads with 30yr veteran CFOs. There has been huge investment in working spaces; activity based working, collaborative spaces, innovation centres etc. This is all worth nothing unless there is single thread of culture you can weave throughout. The simplest thread that everyone can connect to is ‘fun’.
The only problem is, corporates are typically pretty poor at being fun and consultants are even worse. Here is what Ms Poppins thinks.
Not about planned fun – there is an obsession with having launch ‘parties’ or quarterly meetings with a ‘fun’ element. These things are usually heavily planned and agreed in advance, typically watered down to be acceptable and usually run by HR. Mary has a simple rule for this; if you put an agenda item called ‘fun’, it’s not going to be fun. People will go to these events partially because they have to and partially because ‘why not’. However, the Christmas party does not make up for a whole year of boredom and it’s madness to try. I once watched the senior leadership team dress up as the ‘supremes’ and sing a karaoke number; the memory haunts me to this day. Fun needs to be a way of working, not a reward. It’s like a bonus, if you come to expect it the value is reduced and can actually work the other way. Examples of my own include; an all day connect 4 match where a move is played only at 15 minutes and 45 minutes past the hour; the Susan Race, where the team had the time to complete a deliverable as long as Susan took to run 10k which we monitored online. (name changed to respect Stef’s identity); the Wednesday afternoon British vs Australian Dairy Milk taste-off (controversial victory to Straya). Mary would build fun into the fabric of the day to day and you should too.
Nominate your Mary Poppins – don’t underestimate what a few people can do to a working environment. An office is like a party, there will always be a few people which make the difference between okay and great. You can still have a quiet conversation in the corner but you remember the person singing cover songs of Frank Sinatra into a banana and wearing a tea cosy. You get the strange effect of fun osmosis where the atmosphere spreads to people who aren’t involved. You need some people to be like casino concierges, walking around having chats, handing out free fruit/chocolates, showing some interest, tell a few jokes. Mary was constantly thinking up new ideas, new people, new adventures.
Micro fun – a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down – in most organisations, you give big carrots to people for big achievements. There should be more little carrots for little achievements and they should not be financial. Take a process like doing your expenses. If that could be improved just a little with some fun, you would vastly augment the experience. Working on something big can be reward itself but it’s the little jobs everybody hates. You work a 60 hr week and it’s the 90mins on the expenses you complain about all week. E.g. completion of an expenses report entitles you to one spin on the roulette wheel which could win you a coffee or an iPad or half a banana; anyone completing expenses is allowed to sit on the special massage chair with an expenses only laptop to do the work. Little incremental changes have huge benefits. Mary made the small boring tasks the most fun, this is a great place to start.
So before you spend a fortune on rewards and environments have a think about how you put some fun into the workplace; get onto it before the wind changes
For all the reasons why fun is important and for some much smarter writing, have a look at these.