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Putting Fun Into Work

Philip Maughan

Fun, not a word commonly found in corporate Mission Statements which tend towards phrases such as 'delighting our customer' and 'superior service' So when I saw Fun in the Mission statement of a recent client, my interest was sufficiently aroused to ask a number of staff how much fun they were having in their work. I have to say that the answers were fairly negative!

The fun word appeared in the statement; 'Our workers will ... operate in an innovative, non hierarchical, customer driven, fun, workplace committed to continuous learning' Fun is a highly descriptive word, the dictionary definition of which is 'lively or playful amusement'. Most of us are fairly clear about when we're having fun and it's therefore easy to measure, hence the quite definite feedback.

Remove fun from the Mission Statement and it reads perfectly well - so why put it in? Mission Statements are often aspirational - they paint a picture of how an organisation would like to be rather than how it is. The negative reaction to the description of a 'Fun workplace...' was more powerful because it clearly didn't match the employees view of the workplace. When British Telecom first described itself as a 'World Class' organisation, many of their employees, most of whom had been part of B.T. in its former Post Office days, were scornful. Today however, B.T's place as a World Class organisation is unquestioned, partly due to the change of language.

Terra Nova has identified four key stages in any major change programme (see below). Though the Stages will overlap they're generally sequential. Stages 1and 2, changing the language and the introduction of new working practices, are both inputs made by the organisation. The goals or outcomes of the change strategy (Stages 3 and 4), Changed Behaviour and Attitude are more challenging and require significant time and effort.

Inputs

Stage 1: Language

Stage 2: Working Practices

Outcomes

Stage 3: Behaviours

Stage 4: Attitude

Fig 1. The Four Key Stages Approach to Culture Change

Using the Key Stages it's possible to plot a strategy for Fun. Stage 1 might involve publicising Fun as a legitimate and worthwhile aspiration. For the other Stages it's probably easier to work backwards from Stage 4. Think about the dictionary definition again, 'lively or playful amusement' Times when we're lively or playful tend to be when we're relaxed and confident in our surroundings, enjoying what we're doing and who we're doing it with. Our senses are heightened as is our energy and awareness. We communicate openly, warmly and spontaneously with others. Stage 4 then is concerned with the attitudinal factors associated with fun such as respect, trust empathy and confidence. If you're not sure about this, imagine having fun with someone that you don't respect or trust!

The Behaviours (Stage 3) that will best encourage the desired attitudes are those principally associated with the development of high trust - trustworthiness, openness, supportiveness, plus the willingness to challenge constructively and value different points of view.

So what are the Working Practices (Stage 2), that will best encourage the Stage 3 behaviours? A teamworking, non hierarchical structure, where people are multi-skilled and encouraged to use their initiative to take decisions seems appropriate. It may not be possible to make the work itself fun of course, some jobs are intrinsically boring. However if staff feel there is a high level of trust and support, where boring tasks are shared around and not dumped on one or two individuals, where there are tangible dividends for team achievement, then the outcome of all of these can and should be - Fun!

Inputs

Stage 1: Language

Fun rules O.K!

Stage 2: Working Practices

Empowered
Multi-skilled
Team working
Recognition

Outcomes

Stage 3: Behaviours

Open
Trustworthy
Supportive
Challenging
Energetic

Stage 4: Attitude

Respectful
Trusting
Empathetic
Confident
= FUN

Fig 2. Tracking the development of Fun through the Four Stages

When embarking on any culture change programme it's essential that staff see any new language backed up by investment in new working practices. To its credit, the organisation whose Mission Statement stimulated this article has a good many of the necessary operational changes in hand, indeed Terra Nova's input was to develop team-working and a leadership style that will encourage a fun approach to work. Like all Change programmes however, to effect Culture Change takes time. I therefore leave you with the views of David Garvin (1), who suggests that we should think in years rather than months when implementing major culture change programmes.

(1) 'Building a Learning Organisation' Harvard Business Review, July - Aug 1993


Articles in this section:

Intellect, Will and Passion: The Art of Facilitating Outdoor Development Training

Putting Fun Into Work

Developing a Learning Organisation

Hearts & Minds Wins Latest Work Force Battle

Principle Centred Leadership

Becoming an Employer of Choice

The Half Hearted Virus: A trainer's tale of despair

Leadership: Death of the Hero?

Engagement: Increasing productivity by gaining the commitment of the workforce