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Leslie Yerkes details how eleven successful companies-including Southwest Airlines, Pike Place Fish, Isle of Capri, Harvard Dining Services, and Prudential-have integrated the soft science of fun at work into both their culture and the normal course of business. Each of these eleven companies represents one of the principles of what Yerkes calls "The Fun/Work Fusion" and illustrates techniques that will help any organization create a place where people love to work.
In this edition, she includes update information on how each of these companies has grown and changed over the last six years, exploring their ability to maintain a fun-based environment in the face of national tragedies, natural disaster, growing competition, and changing economic conditions. Along the way, she discovers that the secret to their success is simple-Fun Works.
About the Author:
Leslie Yerkes is president of Catalyst Consulting Group, an organizational development and change management consulting firm in Cleveland, Ohio
Anyone who's worked with contractors on a building project has a story; usually it's a horror story. Contractors, these stories go, are a real pain. They tell you one thing and do another; they substitute materials; they move tradespeople arbitrarily from one job to another so there's no continuity on your project. In short, working with contractors is not fun. Or so the stories go.
My experience, however, is 180° different. My contractor story is a fun one and the payoff, the final product, is award-winning. And it's different because in my story the contractors had fun at work.
It took me two years to find the right space for my new office. For the first five years of my business, I worked from my home (like many entrepreneurs) creating a very successful and profitable change-management consulting practice. Now I wanted to have my own, separate office space — a space in which I could have employees and clients and fun.
My requirements for this space included being downtown on the ground floor with floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out on trees — not an easy task in Cleveland, Ohio. But I persevered. The space I eventually found was connected to a city park and had the windows I needed. Inside the space, however, were rooms and walls and doors. Because of the kind of the business I'm in, one that places high value on the free flow of ideas and information, I wanted a special space that would embody those principles. To me, that meant it had to have no rooms, no offices, no head-of-the-table, no hierarchy.
Fortunately, Bill Mason, the architect who was assigned to me by the building owner, understood my ideas and was able to develop my vision into a physical reality. The successful birth of my new office space depended on the creation of a good plan, and the plan that Bill created was perfect. All we needed to be successful now was a good midwife. We needed a contractor.
Because this was my first 'real' office space, and because it was a unique, non-traditional design, and because I'm a naturally involved and enthusiastic person (some even call me a Hokey-Pokey Person but that's another story), I visited the site twice daily; once in the morning to ask the contractor and tradespeople what was planned for the day, and once in the evening to check on the progress. Because my work with clients deals constantly with organizational development, I was acutely aware that everyone works better when someone's interested in what they're doing and when they're praised for their performance and their results. I was prepared to provide that.
At the end of one working day, as the space changed from wires and nails and dust into something that began to resemble the dream I had in my head of my new work home, I found myself really excited with the day's results. I was filled with exuberance and sudden, uncontrollable energy and, like some character from a Jules Fieffer cartoon, I decided to do 'A Dance of Done Well.' But instead of just performing this impromptu jig by myself I asked the three contractors present to join me. And somewhat to my surprise, they did.
Visualize one blonde lady in a dress, a man wearing paint-spattered bib overalls, and two men in jeans with tool belts around their waists holding hands and dancing in a circle. You now have a picture of 'The Dance of Done Well.'
Over the course of the next several weeks, this impromptu experience developed into a ritual. In the mornings, I would meet with the craftsmen onsite and discuss what they were going to accomplish that day; in the evenings we would celebrate their accomplishments with a dance. If the day's project was drywall, for example, in the evening we celebrated with 'The Dance of Drywall Done Well.' The days that followed became a lot of fun for everyone involved. The work of the day was enthusiastically anticipated by each tradesman and results were at the highest level of accomplishment. Because of these daily dances, each individual contractor and craftsman strove to do their best work — work that would be worthy of a dance of celebration. The space was becoming my dream.
Finally, the office was completed enough for me to move in but, as in many building experiences, there were still a few last-minute details to be handled. On this particular day, two seasoned and highly conservative electricians showed up to install the gallery-style lighting for the sculpture that was commissioned for our office. I explained to them why the sculpture was important to me and our company, what it represented, and how I envisioned this work of art affecting the clients who came into our space. The two men understood and declared that they'd give the project their utmost attention, and then they said to me, "You aren't going to make us dance, are you?"
I was amazed. In the contracting community in Cleveland, I had apparently become known as 'the lady who makes you dance.' I smiled and laughed and told them I wouldn't make them dance but asked them if it was okay if I got excited when they were done. They allowed as that would be all right and went to work.
By noon they had finished and I inspected their work and they showed me how the switches worked and how to change the bulbs when they burned out, no easy task in a space with 14foot ceilings! I thanked them profusely and shook their hands. This was the point at which I expected them to leave. They had performed their best work and they had been praised for it. All the structures and requirements of the work relationship had apparently been fulfilled. Instead, they stood at the door, silent and expectant, looking alternately at their work and at me. After several seconds of this waiting, one of them looked me in the eye and said, "Aren't you going to ask us to dance?"
I had discovered an essential truth about what makes work valuable: Work Needs Fun. If there isn't fun in work, if there isn't enjoyment, work doesn't mean as much to the workers.
So, what did we do? We danced.
THE FUSION OF WORK AND FUN we experienced while building my new office space created a working relationship which all the members of the process valued highly. Not only was it a peak experience for the individuals involved, but the outcome of our work created a peak result: the space was gorgeous. The reality exceeded my dreams. Together, we had created something greater than the sum of its parts. The fusion of fun and work also has bottom-line value: our office space was awarded the AIA Ohio Design Award of Honor and the IBD-CID Award of Merit. To my way of thinking, these awards are the visible, tangible, outside confirmation that fun works. And it works well!
My new space also allowed me to attract and retain employees and clients whose values were in alignment with mine. Because my workspace so perfectly represented my energy and values, people who entered it for the first time would immediately feel comfortable and energized themselves — or they wouldn't! Either way, I now had a first-line screening tool to help me select people who would best improve my business.
My contractor story is one example of how when fun and work are successfully integrated both the process and the resultant product are improved.
IF WORK AND FUN ARE BEST WHEN integrated, how did we get to the current state where the common perception is that fun is an add-on? That the only time we are allowed to have fun is after work is over; that the only way we can have fun is to earn it through hard work? Work hasn't always been perceived in this way; work and the perception of work have changed and evolved. As you can see from The Timeline of Work Attitudes, work has evolved from Aristotle's 'work is for slaves' to Calvin's 'work is a commandment;' from 'work is a virtue' to 'work is who I am.'
We adopt the attitude toward work that our parents taught us; or we assimilate the attitude currently held by the strongest influence: our peer group or our employer. For many of us, work has become who we are. It is how we define ourselves. Unfortunately, that often means that work is life without fun, without friends, without family. In The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work, Joanne B. Ciulla says "... work sometimes substitutes for the fulfillment we used to derive from family, friends, religion, and community.... One of the first things Americans do when they meet someone new is say, 'What do you do for a living?'"
Regardless of where society happens to be on the work-life timeline, it is possible to intentionally adopt individual elements into the current prevailing attitudes. Specifically, it is possible to reintegrate fun into our work. I say reintegrate because for long periods of time fun and work co-existed. During the agricultural age, for example, work songs helped turn dreary tasks and repetitive actions into activities that, if not fun, at least contained an element of anticipation and comfort. If they had to work, at least they could sing while they did it. Barn raisings were changed from a task impossible for one or two people into a picnic-style community event during which barns seemed to be born full-grown in a single day. The element of fun turned an impossible task into an anticipated one, one at which friends, family, and neighbors worked side by side for the common good, caught up on old times, and shared food with one another. Vestiges of this behavior can be seen today when groups of people get together on a Saturday to clean up a ball diamond, paint a senior citizen's house, or build a playground. Throughout history, there are many such examples of the integration of 'fun' with activities replete with the most boring and worst imaginable elements of work.
When the United States of America broke away from the Old World, Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers put these words into The Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. That among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." During the last 150 years of industrial work behavior, the element of fun began to be isolated from work and treated as a discrete, separate, and segregated concept and activity. We had decreed fun to be separate from work. We had made fun at work taboo. Apparently, we no longer had the unalienable right to enjoy work while we pursued Happiness.
Today the concept of work is again in the midst of change. We are beginning to rediscover that fun belongs with work. It is my premise that fun and work naturally go together. That fun works and that work pays off better when it is fun. That for us to go forward, we need to unlearn 150 years worth of taboos about fun and work.
The integration of fun and work isn't about what you do, it's about who you're being when you're doing your work. Fun isn't the prize — it's the work. The enjoyment that comes with Cracker Jack® isn't simply the prize. The fun of Cracker Jack® is the process of finding the prize while you're eating the caramel corn and peanuts. If the fun were only the prize, that's all that would be in the box! But it isn't. Without the process, without the work, the prize would be meaningless. Enjoyment is a result of the integration of fun and work, of the Fun/Work Fusion.
When fun is integrated with work instead of segmented from work, the resultant fusion creates energy; it cements relationships between co-workers and between workers and the company. When fun is integrated into work, it fosters creativity and results in improved performance. Over the years, companies have worked hard at improving things like their customer service and at improving their quality. Many dozens, if not hundreds, of books have been written and published on these two very important elements of successful business. What has been overlooked is the inestimable value of fun in work.
IN MY EFFORTS TO UNDERSTAND THE importance of the Fun/Work Fusion, I have formulated eleven principles for integrating fun and work. Principles which, if applied to your work, to your work relationships and to your company or business, will unleash creativity, foster good morale, and promote individual effectiveness.
In the creation of Fun Works, we researched companies whose behavior, attitudes, and systems illustrate the validity of these principles and also support the integration of fun and work with regard to each principle. Although I found dozens of companies who qualified, I chose to feature the ones that best represented each of the eleven specific Principles of Fun/ Work Fusion. I spent months traveling to each company, interviewing key staff members, walking the facility, and witnessing the company at work. I took pictures and gathered collateral material. And I observed how each company embodied the principles of fun at work and determined which one they illustrated best. Their stories are located in Part Two: The Principles of Fun/Work Fusion.
Following are those principles, a brief explanation of each one, and a description of how that principle is represented by its case company.
PRINCIPLE ONE: GIVE PERMISSION TO PERFORM
Allow individuals to bring the best of their whole self to work each day. This principle requires a superb leader if it is to be effective. Leadership is essential to organizational well being. The leader creates the vision; the leader sets the tone for the journey; the leader holds the value that only by integrating fun and work can the best results be achieved. John Yokoyama, owner of Pike Place Fish in Seattle, Washington, World Famous home of the flying fish, believes play is the most important tenet. Employees interact with customers using play; they toss fish, they tell jokes, they dance with the customers. And when the play is done, Pike Place Fish has created employees who visit the fish market on their day off and customers who have committed to being customers for life.
PRINCIPLE TWO: CHALLENGE YOUR BIAS
Remove self-imposed obstacles to the release of your full being. We spend more time at work than any other single place, yet our biases prevent us from enjoying that time to its fullest. Our belief that 'when the work is done we can have some fun' may be the strongest obstacle we face to integrating fun in the workplace. Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) actively encourages its employees to enjoy their work, to interact with Harvard students, and to think beyond the box. When new systems threatened old habits and comfort levels, HUDS encouraged its employees to consider the students first and do what was best for them — not necessarily what was best for themselves.
PRINCIPLE THREE: CAPITALIZE ON THE SPONTANEOUS
This is not a program but a philosophy. Fun doesn't necessarily happen on schedule; it grows in a culture that fosters its existence. Southwest Airlines (known for irreverent flight attendants, unassigned seats, and low fares) is a culture in which fun grows easily and quickly. And it generates profits, as well. The Southwest Philosophy is to hire nice people and create a working environment that is fun. They succeed.
PRINCIPLE FOUR: TRUST THE PROCESS
You can't muscle energy. A laugh that is forced is not a true laugh. Americans are experts at task orientation: we thrive on to-do lists. We need help, however, with process orientation: we need to trust our people and trust the process and then stand out of the way. Employease is an Internet Business Application Service Provider that offers web-based Human Resource services to a wide variety of companies. Their philosophy is: 'Successful management requires a lack of ego. Surround yourself with good people because it has a snowball effect. Good people give off more energy than they consume.' Employease has created a process that its employees love and follow with outstanding results.
Excerpted from FUN WORKS by LESLIE YERKES Copyright © 2007 by Leslie A. Yerkes. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted May 3, 2007
Here's the only change I'd make to this wonderful, even essential book. I'd title it: LOVE WORKS. Creating Places Where People Have Fun at Work. This change would highlight what this book is deeply about, because to me it's about what happens when everybody in an organization embraces each other's rich humanity, essential wholeness, and the tremendous capabilities we all bring to the table. Ms. Yerkes understands that a lot of performance of critical importance to a company's goals, and a lot of positive attitude of critical importance to every employee in a company, gets locked away when nobody is thinking about how the human puzzle actually works, at work. It should work to benefit and empower everybody. Doing a job shouldn't be punishing! What Yerkes has accomplished is to exemplify principles for unleashing performance and positive attitude that she discovered in companies which put those principles into practice day in and day out. This 2nd edition revisits companies researched five years ago, and, lo and behold, they're all still doing well. This was the most practical book on fun at work five years ago and it, in this substantially revised edition, remains so today. Essential, accessible, and useful as soon as you dip into it. Highly recommended.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.