Karyn Buxman

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Archive for October, 2008

Traveling Barbie Creates Fun Corporate Culture

Traveling Barbie Creates Fun Corporate Culture

Times are tough economically, markets are down and customers are cranky—even angry! Taking care of the employees that have to deal with these customers, and taking steps to make the environment less stressful, makes for a healthier, happier, and more productive workforce. And taking care of employees is exactly what the folks at First Allied set out to do.

In preparation for my presentation on humor and stress management (I’ve Got One Nerve Left—and You’re Standing on It!), I first met with Blake Bjordahl, Sr. VP and Director of Operations and got a personal tour of the operations in San Diego. I was delighted to see evidence of many employees who took their jobs seriously and themselves lightly. Cubicles were decorated with pictures, cartoons, and even Legos, In one area, nicknamed “The Playground,” a bookcase contained numerous games, books and toys designed to help the staff de-stress. The vending machines were even subsidized so no one had to pay big bucks for their snacks!

Blake, and others at First Allied, grasp the importance of developing a corporate culture where employees play well together. A conscious effort is made to schedule activities where staff and their families can socialize, whether it’s a bar-b-que, a picnic, a softball game or some other fun activity. One of the great benefits of humor is the positive effect it has on bonding. People that play and socialize together develop much stronger senses of rapport. And stress levels definitely go down while people are having fun.

During my presentation, I gave the attendees strategic ways they can deal with stress by proactively using humor and laughter. After the presentation, it was my turn to get a lesson (I love that!).

A manager attending my session, Paula, introduced herself to me and to her Barbie Doll (see photo). This was no ordinary Barbie, as you’ll see by Paula’s explanation below!

“Years ago, I was going to Hawaii so someone gave me a Hawaii Ken doll for a Christmas gift. Ken came along and had his picture taken everywhere we went and ended up with his own travel photo album. In my current job, I travel a little bit and after my first trip I remembered Ken and his photo album and thought he might enjoy going on more trips. I looked everywhere and couldn’t find him but I did discover that I had a Barbie doll (another gag gift from a co-worker) so she had to do. My department is Business Strategies Group (BSG), so she quickly became BSG Barbie and accompanies me on all my trips. She does whatever I do and I have an album of her working the conferences, attending some of the fun events, and enjoying my few moments of off-time by having her picture taken doing some relaxing things as well. She has been to Atlanta, New York, Arizona, Nassau in the Bahamas, as well as working the conferences locally, and she’ll be going to Austin this month.

Of course, she worked/attended our national conference here in July and on the closing party aboard the USS Midway, she was kidnapped. The kidnappers “borrowed” my camera for a short time that night and when I downloaded the pictures, I was shocked to see some pictures of Barbie I hadn’t taken myself. I received a ransom note, got a “proof of life” picture, as well as a picture with a bag over her head so she couldn’t see her captors, a picture laying across a train track, and a picture depicting some heinous torture to her feet. Ultimately, I had to pay a batch of homemade cookies to my team (they have no idea why the kidnappers would allow them to enjoy the ransom), leave the floor for 10 minutes, and she was returned with some new clothes. The next team meeting we had at our local independent coffee shop (a weekly tradition), our favorite barista walked through the place with what looked like an address book, asking who had left it on the counter. He brought it to me, opened it, and showed me a picture of Barbie that I had already been sent, but it was the first in a travel size photo album of Barbie’s trip on a cruise to Cabo and a trip to Colorado that the kidnappers had taken her on.”

Wow! Barbie is famous within the organization—and has enough frequent flyer miles to book her own trip to Vegas! Paula and her co-workers have demonstrated incredible creativity, ingenuity, team building and a positive work environment. What a marvelous example of constructive humor in the workplace. These are the kind of people you’d be lucky to have working for you!

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Lead with Laughter!

“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership.”
~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

The secret for effective humor in leadership is to set the tone for humor, while at the same time, set high expectations. Effective leaders understand that there are three primary benefits for using humor with their staff: Stress management, communication, and motivation.

Stress management
“Terminal professionalism” seems to be a sign of the times. But taking oneself too seriously can have some unpleasant side effects. According to a recent Gallup Poll approximately 1 million employees in the US miss work daily due to stress related conditions. Stressed out workers make costly mistakes; sometimes even deadly ones.

Humor is recognized as a healthy coping mechanism (as compared to unhealthy means, such as smoking, drinking, drugs, excessive work, etc). It is by no means the be-all-end-all. Today people need a variety of coping mechanisms to survive and thrive. Melodie Chenevert, author of S.T.A.T. explains, “Some days you need tools, some days you need weapons, but you need your sense of humor every day!”

Communication
Whether it’s in a classroom setting, a budget meeting, or one-on-one, humor can give leaders a serious advantage. Want to convey information? A humorous quote, a short joke, or even a cartoon—if you can get someone laughing, you can get them listening. Do you need to deal with an unpleasant situation? Humor can relieve tension and provide a different perspective. Does your situation call for negotiation? Humor builds a sense of trust. Studies have shown that people who use humor are more likely to get what they’re negotiating for. The more relevant the humor, the more effective your communication will be.

Motivation
The primary reason a person becomes less productive or even leaves his position isn’t usually money. It’s because he’s unhappy. Making the work environment more pleasant and fun isn’t the only answer—but it helps; particularly when you’re dealing with Gen X and Gen Y, who often value pleasure over monetary compensation.

I once spoke for an upper management group in Chicago about humor in their company. They were so excited about the concept that they had me return 6 weeks later to address everyone from middle management down to maintenance and housekeeping. Imagine my surprise when I saw the following feedback on numerous evaluations: “This is great! I just wish my boss could have heard it.”

What’s wrong with this picture? While upper management claimed to approve of the use of humor, the message being conveyed was, “Beatings will continue until morale improves!” Companies with this mindset generally suffer high rates of turnover which can cost tens of thousands of dollars for each lost employee.

Lead with laughter

Set the tone: If you’re in a position of leadership, give others permission to have fun. Walk the talk. Be willing to overcome the fear of foolishness. Creating positive change may involve stepping outside of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to look a little silly: a goofy tie, button, socks, etc. When employees demonstrate the use of humor, give positive feedback or guidance, if necessary, but don’t punish them.

Set the environment: Humorous posters, memos, and signs can lighten the surroundings. Bulletin boards displaying cartoons, jokes, and funny notes don’t take a big investment but can provide an abundance of entertainment. Create a positive working atmosphere at the desks with toys such as Legos, Nerf guns, Silly Putty, Koosh balls and hula-hoops. Add some comic activities or theme days to the calendar. Encourage everyone to be involved. A little competition between units or departments may increase interest.

Set the pace: Don’t delay taking action. Be proactive and practice implementing humor on a regular basis. The more you use humor, the easier it becomes, the more benefits you’ll reap, and the more you’ll enjoy work and life.

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