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Interview with Bob Pike, author of The Fun Minute Manager

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Bob Pike is chairman and CEO of The Bob Pike Group and has consulted on training and performance improvement since 1969 with organizations like IBM, AT&T, Hallmark Cards, the USMC, the Joint Military Agency, Microsoft, and Pfizer. He is the author or co-author of 29 books, including the best-selling Creative Training Techniques Handbook and Dealing with Difficult Participants. More than 125,000 trainers on five continents have attended his multi-day train-the-training workshops. (His website.)

Tell us about your latest book,The Fun Minute Manager.

The Fun Minute Manager is a business fable in the style of Ken Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager (Ken and I have been friends for more than 20 years – and he wrote a wonderful forward to the book, by the way.) The principal character, Bob Workman, wonders why he finds fun at his civic club but not at work. He wonders why friends have created fun work environments that have improved productivity in the challenging work environments at their organizations – and he and his people seem to only derive stress from their challenges. The result is a series of events that allow Bob and his people to transform their work environment and increase productivity and customer satisfaction while having fun at work.

Everybody wants to have fun, but just don’t have it at work. Why not?

While making time for “fun” has not been viewed as a traditional role of a manager, smart managers will gain big dividends (ROI) when employee spirits are lifted–and they are reminded of their value to their manager, their organization and to each other.

This same smart manager will also discover that fun at work:
• Reduces stress,
• Energizes employees and lowers turnovers,
• Improved both employee and customer satisfaction,
• Lowers absenteeism and increases productivity, and
• Creates employee loyalty and group cohesiveness.

Why is fun at work important to an organization – and how can managers make it happen?

Any business owner or manager can learn relevant ways to bring fun into the workplace. The Fun Minute Manager endorses the concept of having a fun component as part of developing any skill. Based on major research and our vast work experience, the book explains how having fun at work is a primary need among employees. Creating a fun work environment is worth the time and effort for any company. Managers that care about their employees AND their bottom line will find practical, timely and concise ideas you can implement easily and without any excessive time and costs.

What exactly is “fun at work”?

First, let’s get rid of either/or thinking. It is not fun or productivity – you don’t have to make a choice. It can be fun AND productivity. My colleagues John Newstrom, PhD and Robert Ford, PhD and I have identified some simple strategies that can (and have) been implemented in almost any work environment you can imagine. A fun work environment is one in which a variety of formal and informal activities regularly occur that are designed to uplift people’s spirits and positively and publicly remind people of their value to their managers, their organization, and to each other through the use of humor, playful games, joyful celebrations, opportunities for self development, or recognition of achievements and milestones.

Doesn’t that take time away from the job?

It’s less about taking up time – and more about some thoughtful planning. Here are just a few of the things people are doing right now (in order of frequency) to create a more positive, fun, work environment:

• Recognition of personal milestones (e.g., birthdays and hiring anniversaries).
• Fun social events (e.g., picnics, parties, and social gatherings).
• Public celebrations of professional achievements (e.g., award banquets).
• Opportunities for community volunteerism (e.g., civic and volunteer groups).
• Stress release activities (e.g., exercise facilities, and massages).
• Humor (e.g., cartoons, jokes in newsletters and e-mails).
• Games (e.g., darts, bingo, and company-sponsored athletic teams).
• Friendly competitions among employees (e.g., attendance and sales contests).
• Opportunities for personal development (e.g., quilting class and book club).
• Entertainment (e.g., bands, skits, and plays).

The book provides over 100 examples. Anyone can find things that will work in their organization. Many people say, “We do these things” but they don’t do them consistently – or in a way that makes employees feel valued. One example is an employee recognition dinner where people feel it’s simply a cattle call with too many people being recognized in too short a time period.

Why do you think the concept of “fun at work” has a place in these tough economic times?

Let me answer that by asking several questions: Do you believe that job stress is higher than it’s ever been? That people have greater fear about their jobs and financial security than ever before? And that stress and fear reduces productivity? That fatigue makes cowards of us all? The concepts in “The Fun Minute Manager” are an antidote for these conditions. This antidote could be taken almost anytime and anyplace. Organizations need it now more than any other time in the past two decades.

Why is fun an antidote?

Because two things drive out fear in a workplace: faith and fun and as the tough economic times continue, entitlement (if I show up I deserve a check.) shifts to fear (Will I have a job tomorrow?). Your great people are less affected. They know that security is in themselves and they’ll have no problem getting another job. When an environment of entitlement exists there is no stress, but there’s also little productivity. As soon as that environment disappears it is replaced by fear – which causes high stress – and also little productivity. That environment can also cause top people to leave. They don’t have to put up with that environment. When you put clear goals and accountability in place, support people – and then consistently add little celebrations, some humor, and recognition in the environment on a consistent basis – productivity and profits come back – often dramatically.

What if executives and managers don’t believe that fun and work mix?

Then their competitors are glad that they’re about to stop reading this interview! They want you to think that the idea of fun reducing stress and increasing productivity in these tough economic times is ridiculous? They want your organization to simply try to survive, rather than thrive in these turbulent times. Your competitors are silently cheering that you’ll continue to believe that. And they will continue to implement fun in the workplace and reap the productivity benefits.

What proof do you have that fun at work actually raises productivity and profits?

The research is in — and it’s contained in an entertaining way within the book. And we list more than two dozen companies like Southwest Airlines and Microsoft where fun at work is part of the culture. These companies produce phenomenal results year after year. Did you know that Colleen Barrett, who recently retired as CEO of Southwest Airlines sent over 3,000 handwritten notes every month for nearly 30 years thanking employees for specific things they had done to improve the passenger experience for Southwest customers?

What Bob Workman discovers in the book is that there are simple ways to prove the benefits to individuals and the organization for implementing fun at work. In the appendix we provide the tools to create a baseline – and then measure results over time. After all it doesn’t matter if it works everywhere else – it matters that it works where you work!

What do business leaders think about this?

CEOs and leadership experts are taking this seriously. Kemmons Wilson, Jr. of the founding family of the Holiday Inns said, “The responsibility of incorporating “fun” into an organization is as important a trait for a CEO to possess as is strategic planning. Having fun is a quality of success. The impact of having fun “together” is paramount to a family, a neighborhood, a church, a business, and a community. It may seem like a little thing, but it can make a BIG difference…Live, Laugh and Love.”

Howard Putnam, another former CEO of Southwest Airlines states: "Successful organizations have a clear vision where they are headed. They understand what business they are really in. And most importantly they develop a culture that supports the vision and business, just as Southwest Airlines did. We hired employees with attitudes that contained a humor and fun component and developed their skills. “

And Ken Blanchard, Chief Spiritual Officer of the Ken Blanchard Companies and co-author of The One Minute Manager, said this: “Both the United States and the world at large are in one of the greatest economic crises that any of us can remember. It has been largely brought on, I believe, more by fear than by facts. There are two things that can drive out fear. The first is faith and the belief in a better way of doing things…The second thing that will drive out fear…is fun…fun is not synonymous with games. It means a lot of things. It is about ownership and creativity, celebration and recognition. It's about doing the right things in the right way with the right people for the right purpose, and doing more of that each day. It's about letting people find ways to feel pride and have fun with not only the things integral to their jobs and organizations, but also the things they should be celebrating in their lives.

What are some guidelines for using fun at work?

We give ten in the book – we use them with our clients to insure that fun leads to productivity. Fun activities should:

1. Make people smile (at a minimum) and laugh (if at all possible).
2. Positively and publicly remind people of their value to the organization and to each other.
3. Be inexpensive to develop, easily prepared, and able to be implemented within time and space limitations.
4. Uplift people’s spirits in ways that make them feel good about being part of this organization (e.g., not embarrass, belittle, or offend anyone in or outside of the organization).
5. Be as inclusive as possible, while respecting the right of anyone to opt out without censure, ridicule, pressure, or criticism.
6. Not detract from anyone’s ability to safely, professionally, or efficiently perform his or her job responsibilities.
7. Contribute to, and support, the organization’s culture and core values.
8. Be done on a frequent basis, encompassing both planned and spontaneous events.
9. Be planned and implemented largely by employees (not be a top-down program).
10. Produce organizational results that are desirable, identifiable, and measurable.

These are the “whats” the book gives specific examples and “how tos”.

Isn’t it time consuming to add in fun at work activities?

It doesn’t take a lot of time to put fun in the workplace to achieve results. What it takes is planning. And the results are well worth it. We are in the midst of tough times, but in the toughest of times people have always realized at a deep level that things were too serious to take seriously. So warriors joke when going into battle, while in battle, and in between battles – not because there is anything funny about it – but because it’s too serious to take seriously.

And those with health challenges are found lightening things up – because it is a way to move on through that particular challenge. And as those responsible for producing results in the workplace – and on whose shoulders rests the real job of moving the world through this current global economic crisis – we can do it faster, better, easier – if we’ll have the courage to allow and encourage our colleagues and co-workers to have fun while they are doing it.

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.