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Dear Workforce How Do You Create a Fun, Yet Serious, Environment

Never forget that you are running a business, and your employees are paid to perform.
September 7, 2011
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QDear Workforce:

    I would be interested to hearof some communications strategies for situations where the owner of a businessis relatively the same age as his staff (and trying to promote a "fun"workplace), and he is having trouble letting staff know when he is serious aboutdecisions/deadlines/performance factors. Often staff members do not perceive theseriousness of an issue in the midst of the fun environment.

- Peter Moritz, HRConsultant, Shalom Business Development Centre, Brisbane, Australia

Dear Peter:

    Never forget: You are runninga business, not a club. You hire people, not to have fun, but because there is abunch of work to be done. No matter how much you treat your employees likefriends - and no matter how much they may in fact be your friends - they areworking for you because you are paying them. If you stop paying them, they will stop coming to work. Count on it.

    Yes, it is very important tocreate a work environment in which every person feels comfortable, respected, andvalued. It’s important because it is the right thing to do, it is personallygratifying from the standpoint of the boss, and it makes employees feel glad towork hard and contribute. But a healthy enjoyable work environment is perfectlyconsistent with a clear and unyielding focus on the mission of the organizationand all the work that needs to be done every day to pursue that mission.

    As to fun, per se, that meansdifferent things to different people. To one person, fun could mean playing agame, watching a movie, or going to the mall; to another fun might mean goingfor a long walk or having a meaningful talk. But if “work” is to be fun andstill be “work,” it should mean some or all of the following: Working withpeople whom one likes and enjoys. Learning new and interesting things, whileworking. Feeling a sense of excitement about work. Tackling new challenges andtaking pleasure in the fruits of one’s work. And so on. Note that the commontheme here is “work.”

    Sometimes when people saythey want their workplace to be fun, what they really mean is they want tocreate an atmosphere where most people maintain a sense of humor and don’ttake themselves too seriously. This makes for a pleasant workplace, and onceagain, such a workplace is perfectly consistent with a clearfocus on results.

    The problem is that mostbusiness leaders, like most people, want to be liked by others, including theiremployees. As a result, sometimes a boss goes too far and errs on the side ofeasygoing, soft-pedaling his or her authority to the point that the employees -and thus the businesses - loses focus. Once that happens, it can be hard to getpeople back on track without seeming angry and punitive.

    If that’s the situation,here’s what I would do: get each person or each team focused on an importantproject. If the project is the regular work of the day, give it an urgentdeadline, even if you have to manufacture the urgency. Once you have everybody’sattention, clarify goals and deadlines for each individual. Be prepared to coacheach person to success and then hold people accountable. Reward the highperformers and let people who don’t deliver know that their performance isunacceptable.

    Giving people feedback ontheir performance - before, during, and after - is the key to coaching. Butfeedback is not aimless banter. It is the banter of acute focus, ongoingimprovement, and constant accountability. The only thing that matters is what weare doing here today. So that’s what we talk about. And we talk about it allthe time. Nobody gets chewed out, but nobody can hide. Everybody gets remindedall the time, so everybody is always on notice. Standards are high. There are noexcuses, only performance. If somebody is failing to perform, his or her onlychoice is to improve or else leave the team: “Good riddance.”

    By the way, what do you do,once that special project is done? Do it again. And then do it again. And again.Every project is a special project in a high-performance organization. By theway, keep your sense of humor, don’t take yourself too seriously, and makesure everybody is having “fun” while they are
working very well, very hard, and very fast.


SOURCE: Bruce Tulgan, adviser,RainmakerThinking Inc., New Haven, Ct. is author of several books, including Winningthe Talent Wars (WW Norton, 2001), www.winningthetalentwars.com.

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