Have You Tried Humoring Your Business Lately?

Have You Tried Humoring Your Business Lately?

by Ted Harwood, Ph.D

Let’s face it:though the work we do is often pleasurable, as we complete challenging new tasks, launch a new product, sign up important customers, or get orders moving, there can be drudgery and boredom too. A low energy workplace, in which the DTFR — the drudgery-to-fun ratio — is high, reveals itself in everything from your employees’ downcast looks to the curt and unfriendly treatment of customers, vendors and others.

While there’s no silver bullet that can change working in the warehouse or accounting room into a Disneyland ride through the Magic Kingdom, there are steps you can take to put more sparkle and pleasure back into your employees’ work lives.

When used properly, humor can make a big difference in morale and productivity.And you don’t have to take out a bank credit line to fund this kind of human capital.Or should we call this your company’s humanecapital?

Large companies have begun looking for ways to use appropriate humor as a workplace motivator, and have enlisted humor consultants to help them.

But why pay a consultant $700 or $1,000 a day to figure out how to make your workplace more enjoyable?Fact is, you probably have a couple of humorists already working at the company.You may even have what it takes yourself!Indeed, you may have known you were a humorous and fun-loving business owner or manager all along, and secretly fantasized about your debut in a cabaret act as a comedian, co-starring with Whoopie Goldberg or Don Rickles.

You just didn’t think a comedy act was appropriate in the business!Here are some humor and fun ideas you can try out at work, to test the water.

First, your e-mail system is a good medium for exploring your creativity with humor.If your messages are fun to read, they’re apt to be read more promptly by colleagues.You may find yourself getting more help, and more quickly, than you expected.It may also give you a competitive edge in networking.

Here’s an example of a stiff, bureaucratic sounding e-memo and, following, an example of how it might be differently worded to motivate your business associates’ taking an interest in your problem.The case involves an increase in the customer service department’s error rate:

Standard stiffly worded e-Memo:

TO:Jack and Jill
FYI: The 15% Error rate in customer service.

Wanted to bring your attention to the March report on the 15% error rate on information provided to customers calling to place orders, based on a review of our customer service department’s supervisory records.I thought we had dealt with this problem at last January’s meeting.It’s my recollection that the supervisors were going to take a look at our re-designed training manual, report back to us with their suggestions and then implement new procedures so as to reduce the CS reps’ error rate.Can we meet next week to discuss this?

Re-enerized E-memo with humor:

FYI…yippie-i-yo:’tis human to err’ but I didn’t know humans worked here.

Hey guys, we’ve got a problem that isn’t just “CS”.We can lose customers if the CS reps don’t get their act together in dealing with customer order queries.Did the Sups in that department ever get back with suggestions on that new training manual?Were they told they’d get free copies to give as gifts to their relatives if they responded by Jan. 15? I got a call from the Guiness Book of world records about that increase in the march error rate of 15%.If we can get the errors up to 50% of the calls, we’ll make it into the Guiness book this year! Is that the same company that puts india ink in its beer?Let’s confer, mon confreres!Getting the error rate boosted up to 50% could prove a herculean task for our people.

Tom should get his colleagues’ attention with a memo like that — and make the challenge of dealing with the company’s customer response problem more fun.

Trying your hand at humor with e-memos on your company’s LAN has the advantage of allowing you to edit before sending — to get just the right touch. Be sure you know your colleagues, and have a good sense of how they’ll respond.Above all, avoid humor that could cause problems — for example, insulting put-downs of other colleagues,foul language that could get you into trouble, etc.Unlike casual conversation, an e-memo puts you on record because e-mail can be printed out, and also recaptured from the data base.And they’re not as private as you may think.

There are many other ways you can put some fun into your business, and pleasure into employees’ work lives as well as customers’ experience with your product, through the adroit use of humor.Ben & Jerry’s, the Vermont ice cream company, queries its customers’ satisfaction with the Flavor of the Month using a rating card with four categories:1) totally awesome; 2) real cool; 3) about like brand X; and 4) no way Jose.This is probably more fun for customers than rating the flavor on a scale of 0 to 10, and probably induces more to take time to fill out the card.

You could send out a memo to your in-house copywriters and other staff:”Fight the Blands!Get Funny!”

Here’s another idea: Instead of a cold, bureaucratic reprimand, you might send out “goofy golf balls’ to under-performing employees, which they are invited to redeem for 15 minutes of your time — to “putt” in an appearance at your office, to discuss the problems in their department.This putts…er, puts… a somewhat different “spin” on the process of helping staff improve, taking some of the sting out of the unpleasant business of having to deal with work performance issues.

Evaluation and performance reviews, often a source of employee discomfort and anxiety, can be more effectively dealt with through humor.A “Jack, ’tis human to err, but we’ve got a ‘net-tlesome problem because our company’s net is really on the line” approach to an associate who is underperforming is apt to work better than a stiff warning or even a sugar-coated warning.Why?Because humor is a good way to humanize your human capital.

Of course, you want to be sure employees take their jobs seriously, and understand that performance isn’t just a joking matter.
It’s no joking matter, right?But it is a matter you and they can joke about…..just a little!If you’re firing an employee, don’t use humor.You can be friendly, but it’s best to deal with these painful situations in a matter-of-fact way.

Ted Harwood is head of Business Persona: Executive Communications Consulting, reachable at truegrit@tiac.net