Make Fun Sacred

Newsletter 12

You can have fun without having high performance in your organization, but you can’t have sustained high performance in your organization without having fun. This seems glaringly self evident to me, but I’m always surprised at how many people will argue this point.

Example: The president of a division in a major manufacturing company produced incredibly high profitability numbers for several years running. For a time the folks at the corporate office were singing his praises and holding him up as an example of great performance to inspire the presidents of the other divisions. Then rumblings of discontent from members of the division’s senior leadership team began to reach corporate ears, and profits began to slip away steadily. There were tales of a miserly and over controlling management style that seemed inconsistent with high performance.

A corporate trip to the facility found the buildings and equipment to be unsightly, outdated, and in a state of general disrepair. There was a high level of turnover among existing managers, and new talent was hard to recruit because of low compensation levels. The president was famous for watching the parking lot from his office window to see if any of his senior leadership team members arrived after 8 a.m. or left before 5 p.m.

Morale was at an all time low, pride in the division was practically nonexistent, and profits were continuing to slip because of a lack of investment in talent and equipment to keep pace in the marketplace. Ultimately the president was unceremoniously replaced and morale and sustained performance were restored.

Among the myriad mistakes this president was making was that folks weren’t having much fun. It’s not much fun to be paid less than your market value; it’s not much fun to be micromanaged and treated like an idiot; it’s not much fun to work at a place that has shabby buildings and equipment.

So why is having fun so important to sustaining high performance in your organization? When people are having fun and are excited about their work, then they are internally motivated to pursue the goals of your organization. If they aren’t having fun and are not excited about their work, then you have to provide external motivation in the form of “management,” which is darned hard work. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you tried to “make” somebody do something they really didn’t want to do? Is there any harder work on the planet?

Sigmund Freud and others have pointed out to us that the small child or “kid” in all of us never really grows up. Our basic needs really don’t change over time; we still need air, water, food, learning how to get what we want from our environment, and acceptance by significant others. In general we seek pleasure and avoid pain-seems like a healthy approach to me. Hopefully we get wiser about how to meet our needs as we grow older.

One of the ways you can be more successful in getting what you want from your organizational environment is to pay attention to the “kids” of your team members and make sure that they are happy and internally motivated. For students of management theory, this emphasis is the core difference between Douglas McGregor’s Theory X (applying the carrot and the stick) and Theory Y (healthy people love an exciting challenge) management.

For example, how internally motivated do you think your team members would be over time if you required them to work killer hours, intruded regularly on their free time, and gave them no recognition for their efforts? Incidentally, how are you treating your own kid these days-are you having fun?

TECHNIQUES

  • Technique #1: Make sure you are managing yourself well. Are you having enough fun to sustain high performance?
  • Technique #2: Make sure your team members are having fun, energized, and internally motivated to pursue the goals of your organization so they can sustain high performance.

  • Technique #3: Hire generally happy and fun loving people who add positive energy to your organizational energy system for sustaining high performance. (Besides, would you really want to work with a bunch of long suffering masochists?)
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