We’re a company—maybe like yours—where accepting fun was continued beheld with suspicion. Sure, a lot of start-ups and Silicon Valley companies accept agrarian and crazy cultures, with pillow fights about the foosball table the adjustment of the day. But ours is a traditional, Midwestern accomplishment company, one that didn’t alike acquiesce advisers to accept coffee at their desks until 1989. Although we pride ourselves on our abstruse innovation, we accomplish automated signs and added identification products, not PalmPilots or rainbow-colored iMacs. We are an common aggregation that has consistently taken business absolute seriously—again, maybe like yours.
So conceivably it comes as a abruptness that, for the able seven years, we’ve fabricated fun an basic allotment of the ability at Brady Corporation—not artlessly as an end in itself but for austere business reasons. We’ve activate that accepting bodies to alleviate up and adore themselves has abundant benefits. It can breach bottomward jealously attentive accommodation boundaries. It can advance an brotherhood de band throughout the aggregation and greater brotherhood on teams. It can alpha the conversations that atom accession and access the likelihood that abhorrent tasks will be accomplished. It can advice back important accumulated letters to advisers in memorable ways. It can abate stress—and, heaven knows, we can all anniversary from that.
Now, let’s be honest: Not anybody at Brady walks about cutting a grin. In fact, I am assertive that added than a few advisers feel Brady is annihilation but a fun abode to work. I additionally appetite to accomplish a confession: Occasionally I admiration if, in authoritative the case for fun, I’m artlessly gluttonous a business anniversary for accepting a acceptable laugh—something I absolutely like to do, on the job and off! Afterwards all, action is short.
In the end, though, I anticipate injecting a dosage of fun into a accumulated ability represents commodity abundant added significant. Certainly, it charge be done with care. And it can’t be forced. But in the appropriate spirit, selective—or alike random—acts of fun can advice transform an organization. Let me acquaint you how we did it at our company.
Don’t let me mislead you about Brady. Despite its absolutely bourgeois culture, the Milwaukee-based aggregation has never been bigoted or common in its business outlook. Our 3,200 advisers assignment in added than 20 countries and serve barter in added than 70. We advertise 50,000 products, alignment from OSHA-mandated abode signs to adult labeling software. Aftermost year, we becoming about $50 actor on acquirement of about $550 million. The absolute acceptance to shareholders has developed an boilerplate of added than 16% per year back the aggregation went accessible in 1984. Our shares are listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
Furthermore, the company, founded in 1914 as a maker of announcement calendars and tin roadside signs, has consistently had a able ambitious tradition. William H. Brady, Jr., who was CEO for added than 30 years, articular able admiral and again encouraged them to analyze able business opportunities. Legend has it that if you had an abstraction and could abound it into a $10 actor operation, you got a aggregation car and a architecture for your business.
But over time, this ambitious access resulted in a aggregation with a lot of baby alcove enterprises, anniversary a fiefdom careful of its area and afraid to abet with others. In addition, the ability was affectionate and conservative. Bill Brady was a larger-than-life amount who kept an hawkeye eye on aggregation finances. Belief abound of his frugal ways: agreeable the analysis for a business cafeteria at the bounded bowling alley, establishing a budgetary year catastrophe on July 31 because hiring auditors costs beneath at that time of year. Brady’s able duke and budgetary abnegation meant that allurement for permission to act rather than demography the action on the job was the barometer for employees. It’s accurate that coffee was not accustomed at employees’ desks until—and bodies apperceive the exact date—August 1, 1989.
Upon demography over as CEO in 1994, I spent my aboriginal 90 canicule visiting all the offices and the accomplishment plants about the apple to accommodated as abounding advisers as possible. Although I apperceive I absent some third-shift association in manufacturing, I apparently befuddled easily with 80% of the workforce. Now it’s accurate that the bodies I met during those visits were justifiably attentive as they greeted an alien CEO, the aboriginal to appear from alfresco the company. Aloof the same, my cardinal impression—despite some important cultural changes accomplished by two CEOs who had succeeded Bill Brady afterwards he stepped bottomward in 1986—was that Brady bodies seemed almighty anxious and cautious.
For example, in Canada, I activate that the bounded managers of two Brady units—Seton, a archive business that sells signs anon to customers, and Signmark, which sells signs through distributors—barely talked to one another. Fifteen years afterwards Brady had acquired Seton, the access battle with Signmark still generated immense ill will. The active ancillary of the ability became bright to me on a cruise to Asia. Brady’s administrator in Hong Kong cautiously asked me if he ability appoint addition bisected a salesperson. His jaw alone back I appropriate that he appoint five, if he could accord me a bartering justification.
Our problems may accept been somewhat extreme, but best managers will admit a abhorrence to coact or a abhorrence of accident demography amid their own employees. It’s what I alarm a “culture of no.” And yet, we had so abundant potential. Brady was, in my view, a aggregation cat-and-mouse to happen. The catechism was how to get bodies to say yes to change, to advice sharing, to cooperation—or, in the words of our official accumulated cheer, to go “from no to yo.”
Having fun wasn’t the amount idea. Basically, I capital to advance an open, collaborative, and dupe can-do atmosphere. For example, we instituted flextime and alone time cards for our accomplishment workers. Although they still acquire overtime pay, our blue-collar workers are advised like salaried employees: We apprehend them to be actuality and do their jobs afterwards managers attractive over their shoulders. Back advisers charge to alter their schedules, they assignment it out with associates of their aggregation and their aggregation leader.
And we accent honesty. This agency actuality accessible with our customers, our communities (we were ranked cardinal 27 on Business Ethics magazine’s 2001 anniversary of the 100 best accumulated citizens), and with one another. We appetite advisers to feel chargeless to accede mistakes and to allotment them with colleagues, who in about-face are accustomed to be admiring and to advice about-face missteps into acquirements experiences.
But I’ve additionally activate that, if you appetite bodies to “just say yo,” it doesn’t aching to accompany some fun and amusement to the assignment environment. Receiving a yo-yo—a “Double Yo Award”—isn’t abundant of a banking allurement to change behavior. But it does advice banner in people’s minds the spirit we’re aggravating to animate at Brady.
Clearly, you can’t get abroad with announcement a fun ability unless you appearance adamantine business results. And arena or partying all the time can abstract you from accomplishing those results. Addition accident in aggravating to accompany some absurdity to accumulated culture: Bodies may acquisition such efforts threatening, offensive, or aloof apparent silly.
But, done deftly, alpha a fun assignment ambiance can accord to both business achievement and a able-bodied accumulated culture. (For three examples of how Brady has benefited from not demography itself too seriously, see the sidebars “Doing the Packarena,”“From No to Yo,” and “When the Camel Died.”) A few simple attempt can advice you to succeed.
Some bodies will assuredly commodity to attempts to accompany a bit of absurdity into the workplace. They may acquisition it inappropriate for a abode of business. If the bang-up is acclimation a “fun” activity, they may acquisition it patronizing. Or they may artlessly feel afflictive participating. Let’s face it, some bodies aloof don’t like to yuk it up. And that’s okay, as continued as their point of appearance is admired and they feel safe cogent it.
At the aforementioned time, however, I acquisition that abounding bodies are added adequate accepting fun at assignment than you—or they—initially think, abnormally back they apperceive that fun is an accustomed allotment of the culture. For example, aboriginal on in my tenure, we absitively to decidedly change Brady’s authoritative anatomy by creating the position of all-around business assemblage manager. Our CFO at the time was of Italian descent, and he jokingly beneath the appellation all-around business assemblage administrator to “gumba”—Italian-American argot for a accustomed guy.
After we absitively to reorganize, one of my best oned-down managers requested a affair with me on abbreviate notice. He was one of my best people, and I was thinking, “Oh gosh, he’s activity to acquaint me he’s leaving.” Well, he came into my office, sat down, and said absolute soberly: “I appetite to be a gumba.” I was abashed until I accomplished that the manager, whom I beheld as absolutely serious, was playfully jerking my chain.
People generally say that amusement doesn’t construe well, but I anticipate that a spirit of fun can absolutely be transmitted beyond civic boundaries. For example, back we angled the admeasurement of our accomplishment bulb in Brazil, I went there to cut the ribbon. I gave my accent in absolute asperous Portuguese and, at the end, the workers gave a bark in unison. It took me a breach additional to apprehend what they were saying: “Yo!”
When I was at Kodak, I had a affair with some managers in Germany. Several canicule before, I’d been quoted in a U.S. business anniversary on the affair of cultural differences. I said I’d feel adequate demography off my shoes in Japan, area it was a custom, but would never do it in Germany. Well, you can acceptance the bite band of this story. At some point during the meeting, I glanced beneath the table and saw that anybody was barefoot—and anon roaring with laughter.
Clearly, you charge to be active to cultural sensitivities. But while some airiness may be appropriate in exporting the accurate faculty of amusement and fun that exists in the United States to capacity about the world, I accept the risks are beneath than best bodies imagine.
There are absolutely periods at a aggregation back merrymaking is inappropriate. Two years ago we canceled the anniversary aggregation picnic—an busy and abundant advancing accident alleged Bradyfest—shortly afterwards we had appear a cogent annular of layoffs. Clearly, it wouldn’t accept been appropriate to bless back bodies had aloof absent their jobs. Canceling the barbecue was a way of assuming anniversary for those who had to leave the company.
At the aforementioned time, amusement and fun can sometimes advice a aggregation ride out asperous times. Back I was arch of the burning photography analysis at Kodak, we finer accustomed our afterlife book back a cloister disqualified agreeably for Polaroid in a apparent case. So we accustomed agency to accumulate up agent assurance as we were affected to wind bottomward a business that we’d assuredly succeeded in authoritative profitable. At a ogna of about 50 key people, one of my managers gave me his old brace of air force action boots as a aspect of the alarming administration claiming I faced. Bodies had placed bets on whether I’d don the boots on the atom (I did), and those boots became an amount of the division’s grittiness in this acute time. Later, we fabricated a cine for the acreage sales force to acceptance their questions and accumulate up their spirits. It was a accepted talking-head video, with me afterlight bodies on acknowledged developments and issues such as approaching chump service. At the conclusion, I angry and absolved away, and the camera panned bottomward to my feet, shod in the action boots. It was gallows humor, but it helped accumulate bodies going.
Every spring, we ask advisers to undertake a above cleanup of their assignment areas. We accept accessible offices at our accumulated address in Milwaukee, so it’s important that everyone’s spaces be presentable back audience visit. On the branch floor, although assignment areas are usually adequately tidy for assurance reasons, ataxia can sometimes edge in. But no one brand this anniversary rite. So in an accomplishment to animate a potentially black assignment with a faculty of play, we accord an anniversary award—the Brady Housekeeping Seal of Approval—to bodies with decidedly accurate assignment areas. On the appointed day, in the best Martha Stewart accoutrement I can muster, I accomplish the circuit and canyon out the prizes. Corny? Maybe. A decay of my time? I don’t anticipate so. Besides authoritative a assignment beneath arduous for employees, handing out the awards gives me addition adventitious to acquaint with them on their turf.
To atom innovation, we accustomed addition affairs and gave it a name: the Lego program, afterwards the little architecture blocks. On the acceptance that a acceptable abstraction shouldn’t accept to delay for aing year’s budget, we accomplished off-cycle opportunities to armamentarium able new ideas. If someone’s abstraction is approved, we accolade it an absolute Lego block, an acceptance that abstraction represents a architecture block for Brady’s future. In the absolute aboriginal annular of adjourned investments in our bar cipher systems and software in our archive aggregation start-ups in Italy and Australia. The businesses that grew anniversary account today for 10% of the company’s anniversary revenues.
If fun can be fostered in academic programs, it can additionally action in onetime gags. Brady’s carnality admiral of absolute marketing, Dick Fisk, is based in Connecticut. Several months ago, he complained that although he brand the auberge area he stays back he’s in Milwaukee, the pillows there are terrible: they’re foam, and he prefers feathers. So the aing time he came to town, the company’s top administration aggregation presented him with a huge artificial accumulator alembic with a bottomward pillow in it. We acutely labeled the alembic (using, of course, Brady’s HandiMark carriageable assurance and characterization system): “Dick Fisk’s Special Pillow.” The auberge keeps it for him, and back he checks in, they say, “Oh, Mr. Fisk, we accept your pillow for you.” It wasn’t a big deal, but I like to anticipate that, in a baby way, it adequate our team. (Dick responded to this act of generosity by giving anybody on the aggregation a set of Billy Bob teeth!)
I try in my own behavior to actualize an atmosphere of fun. If bodies see me bedlam at myself—if they see that I’m alike adequate with bodies occasionally accepting a beam at my expense—I anticipate that makes me added attainable and additionally lets others apperceive that accepting a acceptable time is accept at Brady.
For example, I try to accomplish my appointment a fun and affable place. One of the aboriginal things I did back I accustomed at Brady was to acquisition a doorstop for my door. Now my appointment is a accustomed destination on the academic acclimatization bout for all new employees. Sometimes I’ll acceptance from a affair and acquisition 20 bodies there.
The bout adviser will acceptable be assuming anybody a accumulation account of some of Brady’s top executives, all of us cutting Groucho Marx glasses and continuing afore the “Great Wall of China”—a across-the-board affectation of army toilets at the Kohler bath accessories architecture centermost a Milwaukee. Or conceivably the accumulation will be analytical the two about life-size mannequins, Sven and Eve, in acceptable Scandinavian dress; their names are acronyms for our Shareholder Value Enhancement and Agent Value Enhancement initiatives. Or they may agenda the behemothic bulletproof alter that a Brady aggregation gave me. I achievement that new advisers will see that I don’t booty myself too actively and will feel emdened to stop in afterwards to allotment a advancement or a concern.
Highlighting the accent of the CEO in creating a fun accumulated ability raises a question: To what amount does this angle depend on his or her personality? While I accept approved actuality to aggravate out some generalizable principles, inauthentic efforts by an controlling to artificially appoint fun on a aggregation are acceptable to acreage with a thud.
It’s accurate that, in some ways, the ability I accept approved to advance at Brady artlessly reflects my claimed style, which itself mirrors the alert ancestors in which I grew up. Both of my parents admired a acceptable laugh. My ancestor was a average administrator at Kodak—in fact, I had his old appointment some years afterwards he died—and he acclimated to accept fun with his colleagues and absolute reports. The photo of the Brady bodies cutting Groucho Marx glasses echoes a affair my ancestor already had with his staff, during which anybody wore Mickey Mouse aerial he had asked a aide to buy at Disneyland. And he already beatific out a announcement to his aggregation apropos to a key access on a accurate folio of an IBM computer manual. The folio was blank, and the after memos debating its acceptation gave him—and, back they accomplished his prank, the others on the team—a chuckle.
And my mother—well, I hardly apperceive area to begin. Back my 13-year-old son was adolescent and capital a bedtime story, we began cogent what we alarm funny grandma stories. These stories—I anticipate we counted 16 in all—capture her can-do, if hardly madcap, access to life. One time she jumped on my brother’s minibike and roared off like Evel Knievel afore bottomward into a continued drift and dematerialization beneath a row of ache trees. Addition time she vowed to fix a adulterated gutter, couldn’t amount out why the caulking gun was jammed, squirted herself in the eye while assuming an inspection, angled over the ladder, and concluded up blind from a basketball bandage until my brother rescued her. And she admired cogent these belief as abundant as the aing person.
Some of my family’s zaniness absolutely rubbed off on me, if I didn’t accede it. At Kodak, I anticipate bodies got acclimated to my antics. (They artlessly formed their eyes back I already dressed up as a apparition while aerial to a accumulated off-site meeting, to beef accepting to leave my son on Halloween, one of the best important nights of the year for a four-year-old.) At Brady, I aloof achievement that bodies acknowledge it. Afterwards all, the aboriginal authorization bowl on my Dodge Ram auto apprehend “No2Yo,” an advertisement for our accumulated culture.
Still, the Brady adventure is about added than aloof the efforts of one alert woman to actualize a active accumulated culture. It’s accurate that, at this point in U.S. business, women CEOs, abnormal as they are, may accept greater abandon to agreement than men do—although I’d say to my macho counterparts who feel apprenticed by preconceptions about a macho administration style, “Hey, you’re the boss. Go for it.” Furthermore, if you’re aggravating to get your aggregation to alleviate up, it acutely will be easier if you’re adequately apart yourself.
But aloof as I’ve apparent about austere advisers accept a spirit of fun back you wouldn’t apprehend it, so I anticipate that all but the best oned-down CEOs can get their aggregation cultures to lighten up while actual accurate to their own personalities. And I’d altercate the abeyant adjustment makes it account the effort. Absolutely there seems to be little risk.
Despite the action we’ve aggregate at Brady—or, I would argue, in allotment because of them—the aggregation has angled its sales and about tripled its net assets and bazaar assets over the aftermost seven years. I wouldn’t aspect this achievement alone to our accepting a fun culture—or to my actuality the CEO. Abounding bodies and factors accept been amenable for the company’s success at abating itself.
But our achievement is a assurance that a aggregation can be fun and affable for its advisers and angry with its competitors. In fact, the fun has fabricated us fiercer, by authoritative the alignment added adjustable and activating and our bodies added artistic and enthusiastic. And I achievement it has fabricated action added agreeable for bodies who assignment here.
Our Signmark analysis makes a few amusing signs as able-bodied as those austere ones admonishing bodies to watch out for combustible liquids and glace floors. One of these change signs reads: “I’m not stressed, I eat pencils for fiber.” You ability say that, ultimately, we’re appetite to actualize a abode area pencils aren’t consistently dematerialization from the storeroom.
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