COLLEEN KENNY

Workplace wackiness FTW!

“The main evolutionary significance of humor is that it gets us from the closed mode to open mode quicker than anything else.”– John Cleese

Human Resources, Learning & Development, Higher Education, Teaching Modalities, Social-Emotional Learning, Learning Management Software, Internal Communications, Continuing Education, Employer Branding, Corporate Social Responsibility …

Ask a seven-year-old if any of these things sound like fun and the answer will be a resounding NO!  Show them the horrendous stock imagery that populates most institutional websites and they’ll fall asleep on the spot. 

Children give honest feedback. They do not tolerate dull, dour, and tedious content and instruction. They respond to it most often by shutting down, disengaging, tuning out, and giving up in favor of an easier, more mindless pursuit like throwing erasers at their nemeses across the classroom or covertly watching creepy “creator” families on YouTube. 

In my professional experience, moguls and rainmakers behave the same way. Don’t ask them to read the 20+ page report — distill it into an executive summary and key learnings bullets.

Yet, too often these same leaders hold their own people to different standards. Employees must wade through all manner of bullsh*t and bureaucracy to assemble a baseline understanding of their compensation, benefits, and corporate policies not to mention content related to business strategy and results. 

Learning the language of business too often means knowing how to translate ghastly jargon and corporate doublespeak, and sit through long, tedious training sessions and town halls that offer little in the way of actual inspiration and integral information. The earnest few make it their mission to do the extra homework to self-teach, but the majority skim the surface and consequently know less, care less, and produce less.

WHY? WHY DO LEADERS TOLERATE THIS? Why do they throw billions away on fraudulent digital advertising while refusing to invest in communicating with the real human beings who serve and represent them? It happens in all institutions, public and private, but feels the LEAST excusable in the corporate world where resources and the ability to innovate are far less constrained. 

Perhaps it’s the vulnerability of comedy and creativity that is so scary for leaders. It’s tough and hard, albeit possible, to do it well. One of the greatest learnings from my entertainment career is to always, ALWAYS put the audience first. And these days, employees are among the most important target audiences around. 

It is SO critical to speak to them (and to children for that matter) using the level of engagement and sophistication that are accustomed to experiencing staring into the supercomputers in their pockets for 6+ hours a day. The data’s in, and it proves that fun works. Entertainment, when leveraged effectively and responsibly, is a powerful social lubricant that facilitates community and supports intellectual and cognitive effort.

What’s wild is that we know this when speaking directly to consumers or externally to the press, but somehow when focusing internally and speaking to our own employees we hide behind legalese and the faux veneer of “professionalism” that more broadly ends up alienating people and making them feel disconnected and disaffected. 

It’s the classic case of the shoemaker’s children having no shoes, and it eventually happens in organizations large, small, public, and private. Alas, it’s a fixable problem and awareness is the first step. If you have made it through the week without enjoying a great laugh with your coworkers/team, ask yourself how you can add more ease, fun, and joy to your shared days?   

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