80 percent of us are unhappy with our work, and that’s crazy. There is not enough play, passion, and love in our daily routine. If we don’t take the time to play, and learn to integrate it into our jobs, as Stuart Brown says, we face a joyless life lacking in creativity. The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.
– Jessica Walsh, GOOD
The purpose of this resource guide is to:
- Describe the issues that the absence of play produces
- Define the benefits of play and provide perspective on its role in a corporate setting
- Educate corporations on play strategies that can enhance, support and evolve internal communication programs
- Demonstrate the overall value of incorporating play principles in a corporate setting
- Explain what can be learned from engaging with play tools
What’s going on?
I was sitting in a planning meeting discussing an upcoming event that my company was sponsoring. In this meeting was the founding partner of my firm, two additional partners and the firm’s Director of Operations. We were discussing potential keynote speakers and pouring over budget projections. I commented on the importance of finding keynote speakers with a prominent digital footprint in order to be able to tap into their social networks. Myself and a project manager verbally debated over the validity of different costs within the budget. There was a brief pause until the founding partner mentioned that we should ask Donald Trump to speak as a keynote speaker and we all burst into laughter.
Why do I even mention this? I mention this because a brief moment of laughter even in a meeting refocuses energy and taps into innovative thinking.
Why is it that we have abandoned play and play strategies in the corporate world? There are two principles that need to be put to rest IMMEDIATELY in the corporate world. The first is, “leave your problems at the door” and the second is, “work hard play hard.”
If I walked into my office Monday morning and pitched that the entire company should be allowed to play and then play harder I would probably not have a job come 5:00.
What if we always had a constant flow of innovation and curiosity…so much so that it fueled our productivity?
I’m talking about PRODUCTIVITY versus what we are required to do for eight hours a day. In order to fully utilize the resources laid out in this playbook we have to redefine how we manage people and link our management style to what the needs of the business are.
I challenge any and all readers of this playbook to abandon generic schoolyard principles in your corporate environment and find ways to inspire your employees to play.
Communications programs can be used to introduce and educate associates on play and have an InterPlay foundation that guides the content and platform strategy. Adding the play component to communications programs enhances the probability of overall effectiveness.
What is play?
When I talk about play I am referring to specific behaviors that release innovation and decrease stress. This involves many different techniques that carry us out of our comfort zone and turn us all into explorers.
When we walk new paths, we often stumble upon new gateways to unknown knowledge about our passions and the people around us. This means that we are cultivating high performing teams and a workforce made up of critical thinkers.
Using Play Principles to Drive Engagement
With only 13% of people worldwide actually enjoying going to work, we are facing an engagement crisis worldwide (McGregor, 2013). My mantra has been and always will be that it is the organization’s responsibility to drive engagement. Incorporating play into corporate communication is a key method in driving engagement. Communication is linked to commitment, discretionary effort, and meaningful work, which are all factors of engagement (Hayase, 2009).
Coca Cola has led the charge in using digital play to drive engagement. Their primary play technique is storytelling not only domestically but across the globe. Coca Cola has also launched a full functioning multi-media blogging, video, editorial and news platform that is fully integrated both internally and externally. Director of Digital Communications for Coca Cola describes the new site as, simply put “fun” (Brady, 2012).
Why integrate play principles with communication?
In 2008, Cisco started to examine its social media presence. Cisco knew that their brand was benefiting from social media, but it couldn’t prove it. The launch of a new router using only social media would provide the proof Cisco’s marketers were seeking.
The results surprised even the social media enthusiasts. With this single project, the company shaved six figures off its launch expenses and set a new precedent for future product launches. “It was classified as one of the top five launches in company history,” said LaSandra Brill, senior manager, global social media. “It was the crossing the chasm point for us in the adoption phase of social media and helped us get over the hump of internal acceptance.”
Cisco Router Launch: Promotion Through Play
Up to that point, a traditional product launch was executed as follows:
- Fly in more than 100 executives and press members from 100 countries to headquarters in San Jose, California
- Take a few hours of the CEO’s or an executive’s time to prep and present
- Distribute well-crafted – but static – press releases to key media
- Email customers
- Run print ads in major business newspapers and magazines
For its Aggregated Services Router (ASR) launch, Cisco aimed to execute entirely online leveraging social media, and in doing so, engage network engineers in a more interactive, fun way. Cisco did this by meeting its audience where they were – in online venues and the gaming world. Cisco built a stage with big-screen monitors, chairs for the audience and palm trees for its flagship launch event – entirely in a Second Life environment. It then piped in video of executives presenting the ASR. Network engineers or the press could board their own “personal transport device” to surf through a virtual router. To generate pre-launch buzz, the team held a concert in Second Life featuring eight bands over seven hours. An executive presents the new ASR in a live Second Life event. A 3D Game – More than 20,000 network engineers learned as they played a 3D game, wherein they “defended the network” using the ASR. (Research shows that 17% to 18% of IT professionals play games online every day.) Top scorers went on to a championship round with the winner bagging $10,000 plus a router. “If they’re playing games, that’s how they want to engage and that’s who they are,” Brill said. “How do we make that applicable to what they do at work?”
Cisco used YouTube, video conferencing, Mobile apps, Facebook, social media widgets, blogs and online forums to spread the news. The campaign lasted three months with the launch in the middle. During pre-launch, launch and post-launch, Cisco kept the audience engaged by encouraging discussion with and among its audience. “For every product launch, our formula starts with listening. We start a list at least a month before of buzzwords and challenges and then figure out the right tools,” Brill said (Hibbard, 2010).
Cisco’s story helps us understand how important it is to involve play in communication endeavors. Doing so accelerates basic forms of communication and addresses the human component of communication. The ‘plays’ laid out in this playbook should be used as tools to accelerate communications endeavors that are falling short and not engaging corporate audiences. These same tools can increase collaboration, enhance organizations members’ ability to communicate and strengthen relationships.
7 Communication ‘Plays’ for Cultivating Corporate Culture
Play I: Fuse Body Wisdom Principles With Leadership Storytelling
Henry Ford once enlisted an efficiency expert to examine the operation of his company. The efficiency expert shared his reservations with Ford, “It’s that man down the corridor,” he explained. “Every time I go by his office he’s just sitting there with his feet on his desk. He’s wasting your money.” “That man,” replied Ford, “once had an idea that saved us millions of dollars. At the time, I believe his feet were planted right where they are now.” (Leadership, 2016)
What is leadership storytelling?
Leadership stories are stories that are aligned with the organization’s mission and core values that are meant to engage, inspire and motivate an organizational community (Mackenzie, 2016). Leadership stories inspire members of an organization, set a vision, teach important lessons, define culture and values, and explain who the organization is (Schawbel, 2012). Fusing Body Wisdom Principles with leadership storytelling open up the capacity of a simple story, filter out any hint of propaganda and provide stories with the capability to resonate on a personal level with individuals.
Using Stories to Foster Organizational Play
In 1989, Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry conceptualized and began to develop the practice of InterPlay and grounded the practice within eight Body Wisdom Principles (Interplay, 2016).
Body Wisdom Principles
- Easy Focus
- Internal Authority
- Physicality of Grace
- Body Wisdom Practices
Organizations today face many challenges such as implementing new strategies, managing organizational transformation, advocating cultural inclusion and employee engagement (Smith, 2012). Leadership stories that trigger Body Wisdom Principles can inspire employees to act organically.
Leadership Stories Related to Body Wisdom Principles
|Noticing||I heard a story about a mother who brought her child to the Dalai Lama because her child was addicted to sugar. The Dalai Lama did nothing to help the women and asked her to return in one month. The women returned in one month and the Dalai Lama spoke to the child and warned him of the dangers of eating too much sugar. The child agreed to listen to his mother and refrain from eating sugar. The mother was furious and asked the Dalai Lama why he didn’t have this conversation with her son a month ago. The Dalai Lama responded, “ Because I was addicted to sugar one month ago”. The Dalai Lama noticed the pattern of his behavior and knew that he had to make a change before helping others to do so.|
|Easy Focus||Leaders who take care of themselves physically and mentally. Have the capacity to perform at higher levels. Tom Morris (2014) talks about a high profile business founder and leader in his network that is one of the fittest people he has ever met. This business guru can out-walk almost anyone, hiking the Appalachian Trail or just striding down the street in his neighborhood. His home study is piled high with books, full of volumes of all kinds and not just leadership books but history, philosophy, religion, etc. He reads an amazing amount for a person in his position and he works hard to take care of his body and his mind. “What do you need that you’ve been neglecting? More regular exercise? Some leisure reading? Time with family or friends? Meditative, alone time? A spa visit? I’m not kidding. Take care of yourself, physically and mentally…” (Morris, 2014). Hold onto “Wheeeeee” moments in order to perform your best as a leader.|
|Exformation||Two years into my bachelors degree I hit a wall. Working sixty plus hours a week coupled with school was starting to wear on me. I was constantly sick and having severe asthmatic episodes. I seemed to be doing all of the things that I needed to be doing but none of it was actually releasing any of the excess information that I had. My yoga practice was what finally brought this about in my life and helped me through my last two years of college.|
|Internal Authority||Judge Lou Olivera sentenced a retired Green Beret to be locked up for a probation violation. What makes the story noteworthy is that the Judge knew that the parolee suffered from PTSD and a night in jail was going to be traumatic for him. Rather than removing the responsibility from the parolee, the Judge decided to spend the night in jail with him in order to help dispel his fear (Barnes, 2016). The story of Judge Olivera and his actions towards this individual represent the concept of internal authority strongly as the Judge uses his own internal guide to dictate his actions.|
|Physicality of Grace||Many leaders do not know when to say “Uncle”. Richard Branson recently gave a keynote speech at Sage Summit 2016. Branson spoke about the early days of building his airline and what work/life balance looks like for him. Branson mentioned the benefits of working from an island, surrounded by his family and how this keeps his stress levels low. Bloomberg columnist John Ryan (2009) had this to say about how leaders manage stress. “Most of us lead busy but undisciplined lives. We have ever-expanding ‘to do’ lists, trying to build momentum by doing, doing, doing—and doing more. And it rarely works. Those who built the good-to-great companies, however, made as much use of ‘stop doing’ lists as ‘to do’ lists” (Ryan, 2009).|
|Affirmation||CEO of JBCStyle, Brian Zaslow (2016) provides 37 ways for supporting motivating and encouraging employees. “A good job is hard to find, but every entrepreneur knows a good employee is even harder to keep. As an entrepreneur, one must ensure his or her company is staffed with people who look forward to coming to work every day for more than a paycheck.
Through the years, I found that it was easy to keep employees motivated – all I had to do was provide them with a leader worth following and tasks worth fulfilling. But after almost seven years in business, I still find myself searching for new ways to maintain productivity while providing each individual with the drive they need to perform to the best of their ability” (Zaslow, 2016). Zaslow (2016) advises employers to support new ideas, empower individuals, celebrate personal milestones and many more.
|Incrementality||My sisters and I were all homeschooled from Pre-K through High School. When looking to our future, all three of us knew that it was up to us to make our own way. I remember watching my sister Deborah through her time as an undergrad student at The University of New Mexico. To this day Deborah is one of those people that moves at their own pace and one step at a time. Deborah trekked through her undergrad years while working full-time and graduated Summa Cum Laude with a double major in Political Science and Sociology. From there Deborah went on to law school and is now the Assistant Attorney General for the State of Illinois. My sister Deborah is living proof of incrementality. We all have to operate personally and professionally with the pace of our own bodies. Doing so guards against burn out and adds long term benefits.|
|Body Wisdom Practices||Ryan (2009) stresses the importance of exercise and says that anyone that wants to sustain their success as a leader over the long term should exercise. Research conducted by the The Center for Creative Leadership sampled executives from around the world and found that those who exercise regularly were rated significantly higher on leadership effectiveness by their bosses, peers, and direct reports than men and women who exercised only sporadically or not at all.
“Exercise can be a potent weapon against stress. It helps keep your emotions in check, relaxes you, and boosts your energy. It can be difficult to work exercise into a busy schedule. But if you’re not doing it already, find a way to carve out some time on your calendar. Your colleagues—and your family—will thank you” (Ryan, 2009). Exercise is a physical action that can be repeated and benefits yourself and those around you.
Paul Smith (2012) has studied human behavior and discovered some of the main triggers that organically drive human behavior. Smith (2012) provides insight into why storytelling is so impactful in changing behavior, attitudes and perspectives. The answer is actually rather un-complex. Storytelling is simple, timeless and demographic proof. Stories are timeless and transcend the boundaries of race, culture, creed and religion. They are contagious, easy to remember and inspire. Good stories stay with you and are easily passed on from generation to generation (Smith, 2012).
Smith (2012) tells a story of Jim Bangel who was hired by Proctor and Gambel many years ago. Part of Jim’s duties were to write a monthly memo that detailed the results of his memo over a thirty day period. After many years of producing this monthly memo, Jim decided to create a narrative with a main character that he named “Earnest Engineer”. The narrative involved short stories that included interactions between the main character and his boss and peers. The story ended with the lessons that were learned which in turn was the result of his research. Jim Bangel found a creative way to fuse play principles with leadership storytelling and revolutionized Proctor and Gamble’s organizational culture single handedly (Smith, 2012).
Play II: Create Highlight Reels That Display the Talents of Your Team
Creating highlight reels that display the talents of your team is a fun way to present the diverse talents of your team and help create avenue’s for team members to discuss and collaborate. If many on your team write books start an “Author Hour” section in your newsletter of intranet. Maybe you have many artists on staff. Create an art gallery in your office that they are able to display and discuss their work.
Play III: Produce Video’s That Inspire
Using video’s in your communication programs WILL increase engagement. It allows for people to gauge body language and see their leaders answer questions in real time. Remember Cisco’s story? Cisco’s “Future of Shopping” video received more than 3.3 million views in their external campaign. The same tactic can be used internally. Treat the members of your organization like your clients and satisfy them with an extensive play buffet of communication options that meet every individual where they are.
Play IV: Utilize Comics & Cartoons
Playful images are a great way to catch people’s eye and tickle the funny bone! Associates can contribute by sketching their own comic strips about the organization or even their teams.
Play V: Integrate Images That Affirm Your Corporate Community
Using images helps to add a visual component that helps to drive your message home to your audience. Images also include infographics and can involve fun facts that affirm your community and corporate culture.
Play VI: Create Traditions
Creating traditions within the workplace align the companies mission and help to foster relationships among associates. CEO of JBCStyle Brian Zaslow, has an annual around the event in order to participate and attend the event with their work family. “Every holiday season, we host a toy drive for a school in the Bronx. Employees from across the U.S. fly in to partake. Start a tradition and keep it going” (Zaslow, 2016).
Play VII: Invest in Collaborative Spaces That Foster Play
Organizations must invest in creative spaces that associates can use for play. As a leader in technical innovation, Silicon Valley has been consistently known for its play habits. Companies are known to hand out excursions of all shapes and sizes to their associates and provide top of the line creative, play and rest spaces for their employees (Kaplan, 2014).
Combating Artificial Play
Organizations must be careful not to impose artificial play tactics in an effort to build morale or enhance culture. Artificial play programs commonly surface when:
- Organizations implement blanket and disconnected solutions
- Leader’s are not able to derive innovative solutions
- Organizations look for quick fix or low budget methods to fix culture issues
In turn, associates look for ways to play that may create conflict in a culture that does not have an active play culture.
- 74% of employees dislike participating in at least one of their company functions
- 21% of employees say that getting away from their boss is a bigger reason for needing time off than getting away from the office
- 34% of employees say they do not enjoy costume parties
- 50% of employees prefer to work from home (Blanchard, 2012)
Communications programs include verbal, print and digital mediums that demonstrate the organization’s mission and core values. Organizations must consciously orient play into communications strategies in order to reinforce the behavior.
Steps to Incorporating Play Into Communications Programs
- Develop your organization’s definition of play
- Develop a “play” mission statement
- Add a “play” component to the concept and strategy phases of communication planning
- Determine appropriate platforms to house “play” concepts and resources
- Appoint “play” advocates and/or a “play” committee to reinforce activities
- Seek out “play” sponsorship from the organization’s leadership
Organizations have the responsibility to consciously reinforce their mission and core values. Communications programs can educate individuals on play and lead positive organizational cultural shifts that promote creativity and innovation. In my organization we have a ping pong room but it we’ve never put out any type of communication on how play impacts our organization. Incorporating play principles into communications programs fuels corporate messages with the ammunition to engage employees. Internal communication programs have the power to rally members of an organization around a central mission, enhance collaboration, improve relationships by helping associates get to know each other and create a culture based on lively communication and transparency.
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McGregor, J. (2013, October 10). Only 13 percent of people worldwide actually like going to work. Retrieved July 16, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2013/10/10/only-13-percent-of-people-worldwide-actually-like-going-to-work/
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Smith, P. (2012). Lead with a story: A guide to crafting business narratives that captivate, convince, and inspire. New York: American Management Association.
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