A great guest blog on Humor at Work from Aaron McDaniel (aka “Mr. Business”) is the author of the Young Professional’s Edge blog (YP Edge). He is a corporate director, entrepreneur, public speaker, community volunteer, author and avid world traveler. He has experience in sales, customer care, marketing, operations, strategy and business development and has managed over 110 different direct reports and organizations as large as 60 at a Fortune 50 company. Ready more from Aaron@ http://ypedge.com
In a corporate world full of rules and policies and responsibilities it is refreshing when creativity prevails. Besides the novelty of doing something differently than the drones of corporate managers out there, bringing in new management strategies and unique approaches to problem-solving can be incredibly effective.
In my experience managing dozens of people in different positions from customer service to field technicians, from union employees to sales people, I have found that “spicing things up” a little bit can go a long way in improving results and succeeding in challenging environments.
Here is a taste of some of the effective techniques I have used to manage employees:
• How to eliminate tardiness and administrative rework- While managing a sales team I found that my employees were routinely late to meetings (at times not even showing up) and often sloppy with admin responsibilities. After addressing the issue over and over (and OVER) again, I decided to get creative. In response I created the “Team Event Fund.” Any time someone on the team was late to a meeting they paid $1 per minute late to the fund. If I had to send back an expense report they did wrong (after I gave them the template to use) they had the “opportunity to contribute” $5. If someone did not show up to a call or meeting and had not let me know ahead of time then they owed $25. The lists continues, but you get the point. Then a couple times a year I would take the money and sponsor a team event (a lunch or after work activity) and I would use the “Team Event Fund” money to pay for things (adding in some extra money of my own if the cost was higher. As time went on it became clear who the biggest offenders were and eventually these issues began to go away.
• How to stop all the complaining- A few years ago I was managing a team of unionized call center reps. They were great works but MAN did they complain. They seemed to want to gripe about everything from the drinking fountains and bathroom paper towels to the kind of work they were doing. I began to become wary of not only the countless issues, but more importantly the negative influence it had on team morale. In response, I set aside time during each one of my team meetings that I called the “Venting Session.” During this time, my reps could complain about anything that bothered them. I would take notes of all the items they brought up, and (most importantly) I did not attempt to refute or downplay their issues. I only asked clarifying questions to understand (side note: if you belittle their requests or attempt to refute them this process will not work. You have to LISTEN). The first time I incorporated this idea into a meeting the “Venting Session” took over an hour. Between meetings I would get answers to questions and find ways to solve some of the issues they vented about. Then at the next meeting I would report out on the things that would change and the items that they would just have to live with. As time went on something amazing happened. The venting went from an hour to 40 minutes to 10 minutes and eventually when it came to that part of the meeting everyone said that they had nothing to talk about. The reps became happier and their quality of work went up.
• Play some games- Never underestimate the power of games. While fun, games can also teach key lessons that really stick. I routinely use games to prove points to my teams. Games can range from something as simple as the human knot exercise (people get in a standing circle and connect arms with two different people across the circle. Then without letting go the group must untangle themselves- teamwork at its best), to complex.
• Use Props- I have found that symbols and props are always great to solidifying understanding of key concepts. While managing an operations team I found that it was very hard to focus the team on our main goals because so many new directives were coming up from our VP. What I decided to do was look at our job responsibilities and come up with a silly (and memorable) acronym that I wrote on a portable whiteboard that outlined our goals. Then, any time a new directive came down from above I would pull out the portable white board and refer to the letter in the acronym the new rule applied to. In other situations I brought in a team mascot, a chameleon beanie baby to illustrate our need to be flexible and adapt like a chameleon does (the mascot’s name was “Crash” because the day of the meeting two teammates got in a car crash, don’t worry they were ok).
• Flip it- One final technique I have successfully used is to change things up by taking roles I would usually take on and assign them to my employees. Instead of leading a meeting I would have one of my people lead it. Instead of creating a new report format, I would assign it to someone else. Not only did this “get the monkey off my back” (since I gave the responsibility to someone else, a topic which merits its own blog entry), but it allowed my employees to influence how the team is run while seeing all the work that I routinely put in to support them.
Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and even possibly be made fun of by your team (which I routinely was for my silly acronyms that they always seemed to remember). If your people are having fun, they will tend to work more effectively and have better results.
It is important to remember to use your creativity for good instead of evil (a la “The Art of Demotivation”). By simply taking a step back to see if there are any other ways to motivate your team to do better while (at times) thinking like an 8 year old (doing what is fun and funny), you can improve your teams results while improving morale and job engagement.
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