A perennial member of the “best places to work fraternity,” and the subject of the book Why is Everyone Smiling? Beryl is one of those inspiring workplaces that I have spoken about for some time, so when given the chance, I knew I had to pay it a visit.
I had the chance to spend the better part of an afternoon walking around its Bedford, Texas headquarters, where I had the good fortune to meet many of the employees, see the energy in action, and interview co-founder and CEO Paul Spiegelman, as well as Vice President of Culture, Lara Morrow (whose alternative job title is the “Queen of Fun and Laughter”).
Beryl is a health care call center business, which, Spiegelman reminded me, is an industry notorious for low morale, low profit margins, and high employee attrition rates. It’s a demanding, not very glamorous, 24/7 kind of business.
But since its inception, Spiegelman decided that Beryl would operate differently, that by focusing on its workplace culture, employee engagement and fun at work, it would create a business where employees want to go to work and love what they do.
Here are six lessons about adding fun and humor into the workplace that I learned in my afternoon at Beryl:
1. Culture doesn’t just happen by accident. At Beryl they make the creation and maintenance of their culture a top priority, which includes a full time employee (The Queen of Fun and Laughter) dedicated to focusing on its culture, as well as several culture-related committees. Beryl commits time and money to make sure its values really mean something.
2. It’s a choice for fun AND work, not fun OR work. Too many business leaders still cling to the outdated notion that investing in their people or in fun-at-work activities is a cost that adds nothing to their bottom line. Yet companies such as Beryl prove time and time again that you can make the choice for fun AND work. Beryl makes five times the profits of its closest competitors and has an employee turnover rate of only around 15%, compared to an industry average of 80%. CEO Spiegelman believes, in fact, that the level of employee engagement is the leading indicator of success, not the financial numbers.
3. It’s the right thing to do. When I asked Spiegelman if he had a light bulb moment, an epiphany about the kind of company he wanted to lead, he chuckled. Spiegelman’s response: “I get asked that all the time, yet the truth is we’ve always done it this way for the simple reason that in addition to giving us a competitive advantage, it’s simply the right thing to do. When the company first began, employees would praise the senior leaders and tell me what a great place Beryl was to work. But the thing is, I thought this was how every workplace was! I just thought it was the right thing to do!”
4. Building a fun culture isn’t about leading with fake passion or through the power of charisma. Paul Spiegelman is a shy, almost introverted person. He’s not naturally funny or outrageously gregarious and outgoing. Yet, Spiegelman has recognized the importance of stepping out of his comfort zone from time to time to engage with employees in meaningful ways, and sometimes in very fun ways (through events such as Beryl’s annual Gong Show, its “Dancing with the Executives” event, or even, on one occasion, rollerblading through the call center).
And more importantly, Spiegelman recognizes the importance of creating a people-focused, family friendly, and fun work environment and to that end has encouraged other leaders (such as Lara Morrow, their Queen of Fun and Laughter) to play a significant role in developing their culture, as well as ensuring that the culture is maintained from the bottom up. Leadership that is dependent on the force of a leader’s charisma and personality is ephemeral, but when you build an inspiring culture from the ground up, the way Beryl as done, it will outlast and out-survive any changes in the senior leadership team.
5. Creating a fun work culture doesn’t mean it’s all puppies and rainbows. Focusing on employee morale and fun at work, even as much as they do at Beryl, doesn’t mean there aren’t still serious challenges and conflicts. There always will be stress in every workplace, in every job. And just because it is a “family-focused” business with an emphasis on having lots of fun, doesn’t mean that the leaders at Beryl are a pushover or that conflicts don’t flare up. Like any business, employees at Beryl are expected to work hard. But, certainly, by focusing on building a positive culture, it goes a long way toward minimizing stress and creating the kind of open and trusting culture where, when conflicts do arise, they are dealt with in a timely and humanely manner.
6. If you’re serious about your culture, get serious about your hiring practices. There are no shotgun weddings at Beryl. As Lara Morrow described it, getting hired on at Beryl is tantamount to entering a fortress. Beryl has an incredibly rigorous recruitment and hiring process that involves several layers of interviews that focus first and foremost on the attitude. “You can’t teach people to be nice or to be humble, which is why we place a premium on attitude,” says Morrow. “It may be a bit of a pain to get people in, but it’s still less painful than having to fire people because of a poor hiring decision.”
7. There’s nothing wrong with asking people to check their attitude. As the CEO, Spiegelman appreciates you need to do as much as you can do to make it easy for people to bring a great attitude into the workplace. He also makes it very clear that he expects people to bring a good attitude into the workplace. He says he is unapologetic when it comes to reminding people and even imploring people to check their attitude, given that so much of success in the workplace begins and ends with attitude.
8. Allowing more humor into the workplace doesn’t unleash unsafe humor. Many leaders fear that if more humor is encouraged at work that somehow their workplace will devolve into a seedy nightclub; yet, like with so many workplaces that focus on creating a more relaxed, fun and humor-filled environment, politically incorrect humor is a non-issue at Beryl.
9. Different strokes for different folks. At Beryl, they recognize that everyone has a different idea of fun that extends even to a difference among departments. The IT department, for example, has a very different idea of what is fun than do the call center employees, so at Beryl they understand the need to ask people for input and involve them from the ground up. They also operate by the principle that everyone has the chance to participate, but no one is ever forced to participate in an event.
10. Maintaining a great workplace culture is a never-ending work in progress. Too many workplaces put a halfhearted effort into defining their culture. They plan a two-day leadership retreat, blather on about their values and vision, and then return to work with a sense that they can cross that “culture thing” off their to-do list.
The leaders at Beryl understand that, just like maintaining a great marriage or business partnership, the work is never done. Sustaining an inspiring culture demands an on-going and concerted effort by everyone from the ground up, from the top down.
Copyright Michael Kerr. Michael Kerr is a Hall of Fame international business speaker and funny motivational speaker and trainer. He is the author of six books including The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank. www.mikekerr.com
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