What’s The Worst That Could Happen? A Fun Way For Your Team To Face Their Fears… Together

What if everything — and I mean everything — that could go wrong did go wrong? When rolling out a new policy, adapting to new rules and regulations, or getting used to a new executive, there is bound to be just a little bit of fear. As we limp into 2021 after a 2020 that nobody — except for maybe a tiny bat in China who dreamed of world domination — saw coming, there’s going to be some battle-weary soldiers in the office, so when you announce another change, resistance will inevitably kick in.

Don’t resist the resistance unless you want more resistance. Instead, embrace it.

In 2014, online retailer Zappos decided to shift their management model to a holacracy, a management model where the traditional functions of managers are eliminated and job titles are replaced by roles that individuals acquire. The traditional pyramid of hierarchy is replaced by, according to Business Insider:

A series of “circles” dedicated to specific functions like marketing and customer relations.

It’s centered around self-management and requires employees to have high levels of engagement, meaning, and organizational buy-in to work. Say what you will about the management model, what I’m more interested in is how the employees and executives at Zappos, as well as outside experts, responded to such a seismic shift.

How did the employees respond?

When former CEO Tony Hsieh sent out a memo asking for full employee commitment to the new system, 18% of the company chose to take their severance packages. Yikes.

How did outside experts respond?

In the never-ending quest to prove that new ideas don’t work, publications like HBR, Inc, and Business Insider were quick to draw attention to the mass exodus from Zappos.

How did Zappos executives respond?

They made a video spoofing the idea of a holacracy. You read that right: Hseih starred in an employee-produced video where he falls asleep on the couch, and wakes up in a dream where the company has fallen into the chaos of anarchy, like the press predicted:

This video was a fun, outside-of-the-box way of communicating to the remaining employees that even if the new management style didn’t work, it could always be worse. Though Zappos has gradually transitioned away from holacracy, the switch didn’t involve panic or a coup like the video portrays, and the company has maintained a positive, creative workplace culture that consistently shows up on best-places-to-work lists.

So what was the point of the video?

It served three purposes:

  1. It allowed for employees to work together in a creative setting, side-by-side with the CEO and one another, on a fun project they could look back on, be proud of, and share with family and friends that “My job and my boss are pretty cool.” Be honest: would your boss take part in a video spoofing his own decisions?
  2. It gave employees a shot of perspective. When faced head-on with change, humans have a bad habit of gravitating to worst-case scenario situations. One way to ease this stress is to take that worst-case scenario and manifest it in the form of a fun project like this that delivers the subconscious message, “Relax — that worst-case scenario is not only implausible, it’s kind of silly.” Using humor in this way is a great tool for level-setting perspectives, so instead of stress and fear, people begin asking the question, “What can we do next?”
  3. It delivered a message to outsiders: this is a fun and engaging place to work. Imagine you’re looking for a job and you’re deciding between the “business-as-usual” company and the “we don’t take ourselves seriously” company. Though the former is consistent and you’ll feel safe and secure, the latter is one of the biggest online retailers in the world because it takes risks, has fun, and is willing to take an occasional L. Would you rather work at a company that takes work seriously, takes its customers seriously, and takes itself seriously, or a company that takes its work and customers seriously, but doesn’t take itself seriously.

If you’re a leader, making a short video to poke fun at your own ideas is one way to help your team want to get on board with new ideas, instead of making them feel like they have to get on board. Added bonus: the video that Zappos made cost zero dollars and was put together exclusively by team members. Sure, the editing, sound, and writing isn’t award-worthy, but it’s okay because the people who made it aren’t professionals. Because of the fundamental shift of workplaces we experienced in 2020, we need to find new ways to generate buy-in from our teams, and making a video where you communicate that “Yeah, this could go wrong, but with you by my side, we can make this thing work… and if it doesn’t, then at least it won’t be as bad as what happens in this video,” is just one way of many to do it.

Note: I wrote this in response to the loss of a visionary risk taker and leader whose legacy will live on in all those he inspired through working for him, reading his book, watching his interviews, and so on. If more leaders modeled their behaviors after Tony Hsieh, we’d fundamentally change the meaning of what it means to “work:”

“I think when people say they dread going into work on Monday morning, it’s because they know they are leaving a piece of themselves at home. Why not see what happens when you challenge your employees to bring all of their talents to their job and reward them not for doing it just like everyone else, but for pushing the envelope, being adventurous, creative, and open-minded, and trying new things?” — Tony Hsieh

4 Reasons Why The Office Clown Is Important To The Workplace

In school, I took more than my fair share of trips to detention and, as a result, received a fair share of admonishment from my parents after coming home with notes from teachers.

“You don’t want to be the class clown, do you?”

“You don’t need to talk out in class – you have a D in math.”

“Stop trying to be funny all the time. It’s not going to get you anywhere”

They also used to tell me that I couldn’t possibly make a living playing video games while 176 gamers are out there mashing buttons for six figure salaries (esportsearnings.com).

Now that I’ve fully embraced my role as class clown, I’m here to spread the good news: if you’re the class clown, KEEP GOING.

And if you’re a manager who has a class clown on your hands, LEAN INTO IT.

I’m not saying to head to your local open mic and try your hand at stand-up comedy (unless you really want to), but I am saying that there are benefits to being the class clown in the workplace. Whether you’re the class clown or you’re in a leadership position and trying to figure out what to do about the class clown in your workplace, lean into the laughs. Don’t worry, there are ways to utilize it as a tool to improve your culture. According to a study reported in The International Journal of Humor Research, office jokers were considered invaluable team members by coworkers and managers. Here are 4 reasons why:

1. They provide stress relief

Have you ever had a stressful day at work where it seemed like everything was going wrong when suddenly, a beautiful angel came swooping into your office and made you laugh so hard you forgot you were having a terrible day? Sometimes, it’s just what the doctor ordered, and stifling your resident joker’s ability to do this can be harmful for office morale. A quick shot of dopamine in the form of a joke making light of the day can offset some of the demoralizing effects of stress and give us a jolt of perspective.

2. They’re integral in building a strong culture

So you say you want to attract and retain the best and brightest applicants. In various surveys and polls, millennials would rather work somewhere where their work carries meaning and allows room for creativity over a company that just pays well. In a world where companies are competing with, not only their competitors down the street, but on the other side of the country to hire the best talent, culture plays a vital role. If potential hires can see that you not only allow your people to showcase their creativity and humor, but you embrace it, they’re more likely to be excited about your potential partnership. As an added bonus, office jokers naturally put fun twists into stories about the company, thus playing a key role in keeping the corporate history alive.

3. They question authority without subverting it

As a manager, life becomes easier when you give someone a task and they respond, “Yes, right away!” But sometimes, believe it or not, your employees may have a better idea for how things could be done since they have a different perspective of their jobs than you. For many managers, the thought of employees not being subservient to every request and demand can be scary, but fear not, because questions can often bring better answers and ideas than your people blindly nodding along with everything you say. You don’t want blatant insubordination, but there’s a difference between that and your office joker poking holes in the legitimacy of your commands. Along with this openness, you must be vigilant about being open to new ideas. If you’re going to be open to your authority being questioned, you better make it clear that:

  • those who question you damn sure better have a new idea that improves upon yours
  • you have a forum for employees and coworkers to come to you with ideas and you LISTEN and try to improve upon them when necessary

otherwise, people will have trouble taking you seriously.

4. They push boundaries

Bringing humor into a professional setting carries with it many risks, but in today’s world of rapid and continuous expansion, taking risks is one of the most important actions for keeping your organization ahead of the curve. When you embrace office jokers, especially when you’re comfortable with their challenges, this signals to the rest of the office that you’ve got an open mind when they try new things, which is a natural human tendency. With risks come failure, which is where your leadership is most important. When your people fall short with their new ideas, it’s up to you to help them discover new ways to course correct by utilizing objective facts – not subjective emotions –  from which they can learn. Human beings learn more from messing up than from everything always going to plan. Allowing the office joker more freedom in itself is a risk, but if the strategy initially doesn’t work out, it gives you the wisdom to respond in a new way, which communicates the important act of showing, not telling. By course correcting yourself, you serve as an example for how your people should respond when their ideas don’t work. After all, this is a team effort – no matter if your role is manager, clown, or both.

What’s Your Work Experience?

When you’re filling out a job application or updating your resumé, this is a question you have to consider. Your response is probably a list of previous jobs and brief descriptions that you think make you sound way better than how you would describe those jobs to a friend. Great. Now your prospective employer knows the version of your story you want them to know:

  • Provided quality customer service to customers
  • Accurately calculated ROIs for new company initiatives
  • Efficiently mopped

Looking back, however, what’s more important is your real work experience, or your experience of work. Think of the last job you had, what was your experience? Was it focused on making money to provide for yourself and your family? Was it centered around meeting and working with cool people? Were you there to give back to the community or fulfill a passion? Was it a positive, negative, or just “eh” experience? Was it filled with stress, dealing with impossibly difficult people, and a lack of motivation? Or was it enjoyable, filled with supportive people, and an inspiring, engaging environment? When we think of an experience, we think of something that happens to us or around us, when in reality, our experience is something we create for ourselves based on our perspective. If you work for an accounting firm because of the benefits, you’re going to have a different work experience than you would if you were there because you cared about your coworkers. Ask yourself, “What experience did I create for myself and others at work?” Then ask “How can I improve my current work experience, not only for myself, but for those around me too?”

One of my first days working at a restaurant in Cleveland, one of the people training me told me, “This place is bullshit. Get out while you can.” He was fired not too long after this and, according to him, the reason he was fired was, unsurprisingly, “some bullshit.” I have now worked there for over two years, but I know that if I were to spend it looking for “bullshit,” I’d find it and not enjoy the job like I have. Instead, I focus on providing guests and coworkers a fun, memorable experience by making my positive experience contagious. Though it isn’t my dream job, I have enjoyed every minute of it, all because of my conscious choice to mold my experience to make me and those around me better.

How can two people work at the same place and have two completely different experiences?

Imagine you’re a camera operator at a basketball game. You’re positioned along the baseline under the basket. On the opposite end of the court, a foul is called, resulting in boos from the home crowd and protests from the players. The TV broadcast then cuts to an instant replay from your camera’s angle to see what exactly happened, but because of where you were positioned, you didn’t get a clear shot of the incidental contact between players. However when the broadcast switches to another camera angle closer to the action, the foul becomes evident. Both cameras witnessed the same play, but each captured a different story.

The work experience you create is determined by what you choose to see. If you choose to see the “bullshit,” then it’s going to be tough to create a positive experience for yourself and the people you work with. If your focus is on creating a positive, rewarding experience, the “bullshit” will be harder to come by. What work experience did you create at your past jobs? What work experience are you creating for yourself at your current job? What kind of experience do you want to have? What can you do to change your experience into one that is enjoyable and fulfilling, but also supportive of those around you? Your call to action today is to assess your perspective of work, decide what type of experience you’d like to have, and take one step toward creating that experience for yourself.

Your experience depends on your camera angle, which determines your subsequent action, creating your result. I can’t imagine you wanting to be surrounded by “bullshit,” so create your work experience the way you want. The better your experience, the better the experience for those around you, and the better you perform.