Thoughts While Shaving…
Here are the results of a completely unscientific survey.
Please rank these in order of preference, with 10 being the most annoying.
- You are forced to share an office with your loud eating, aromatic, talkative co-worker
- You are stuck in traffic with all stations tuned to a Bieber marathon
- You hear your dentist say, “oh that’s interesting.”
- Buffering…damn buffering
- You found out your spouse won the lottery and never told you
- The person in front of you at the grocery store has a checkbook and is trying to return grapes
- You realize that your beagle has more friends than you do
- You’re trying to go to sleep and you hear a mosquito
- You encounter an uncovered sneeze and you feel the breeze
- It’s time for you to take your Annual Corporate Compliance Training
Employees are Drinking Out of the Fire Hose
Talk to a typical employee and the thing they hate the most is their corporate training. It’s a necessary evil like mother-in-laws and health insurers. When it comes to corporate training there is a lot of it – legal and regulatory training, your new five step sales methodology, updated product qualities, code of conduct certification, safety training, data security reminders and on and on it goes. There are so many policies and trainings that are required and/or are being force fed to employees who for the most part just want to do there jobs well and not be hassled. Mix that with the fact that employees are busier than ever, have shorter attention spans and are under various degrees of internal and external pressure to be successful. And to top it off, there are 10 different departments each with their own set up rules and they are all a priority and important. This is the reality of an employees’ environment, which is why it’s important to be thoughtful, empathetic and creative when engaging employees with your most important policies and trainings.
Out of site, out of mind.
In many companies, finding corporate policies are the equivalent of Where’s Waldo. Employees certainly aren’t looking for them but if even if they were, no one can find them.
Or perhaps there is a dedicate learning intranet site or policy portal and they are readily accessible, but then they are often written by this guy.
Booooorrriinnng. And we all know you can’t bore people into learning.
Your policies and trainings are hidden in plain site…like apocalyptic, futuristic survivors from a lost era that have morphed into unintelligible, painful legalese not meant for human consumption. They don’t need to be protected by firewalls or war rigs or masked bandits because employees just aren’t that interested.
*note I recently watched Mad Max Fury Road so that may have influenced my forced analogy here. But it was fun to write. 🙂
Communicate Like Human Beings
Here’s the thing. Most policies and presentations are written from the writers’ perspective, pushing out information like a monologue. But communication is not one way. What you send has to be received, accepted and understood. That means that policies and presentations should be re-written from the employees’ perspective, telling them what they need to do and why, to better facilitate understanding. Don’t push information. Create dialogues. When it comes to complex concepts, do simple better. It’s the only way to win mindshare.
*In improv there is an exercise called “Red Ball” which is an excellent exercise to demonstrate this point.
Many trainings are set up to show (measure) that employees have read something and presumably understand it. Often educators need to prove that you took the course and passed the test. But there is no actual learning going on. Just because you check the box saying that you’ve accepted and understood the rules associated with your software upgrade, doesn’t make it so. Demonstrating 100% compliance presumably provides legal protection but there is no pretending that employees are learning, which actually, in my opinion, increases risk.
Let’s say you’re one of the good companies that has invested in making learning more interactive and fun. There is some interactivity. There’s a gaming aspect. There’s some videos involved. Etc. That’s cool. You care about learning. You’re on the right track. That is step 1.
The importance of training AND communication
See, even if it’s great, that 45-minute annual training doesn’t work on its own. You can’t treat your employees like bears and expect one big meal to sustain them through the winter. They aren’t camels that can store up water and live off of it walking across the Sahara. They aren’t penguins that live off their fat or pythons swallowing warthogs in one sitting. In these analogies your training is the fat and the warthog. These animals do survive, and penguins are cute, but nobody thinks camels and pythons are smart. You wouldn’t ask them to help with your finances.
According to Association for Talent Development, “effective long-term learning is rarely achieved by a one-off event.” The forgetting curve is steep with 87% of corporate learning is lost within the first month. And this makes sense. We’re all busy! There’s a lot of info to keep in our heads. So even the best training needs to be regularly reinforced to get knowledge into practice. Both training AND communication are significant parts of the puzzle.
Invertising – Internal Advertising can Help
- “Can You Hear Me Now”
- “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance”
- “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands”
- “Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm is There”
- “The Few, The Proud, The Marines”
These are just a few memorable slogans that have been reinforced time and again and are imprinted on our brains. Good advertising works. Effective advertising makes an emotional connection with the audience. Humor is great way to make an emotional connection. But more important than funny is to be interesting and empathetic, in service of a message. Advertisers talk about effective frequency, meaning the number of times a person has to be exposed before the message sinks in. There is no right answer as to how frequent that is, but safe to say that not all your messaging will get through the first few times. A regular, repeatable, thematic approach has a better chance of getting noticed by more people and breaking through employees’ outer shell. The internal advertising methods – or Invertising – can work for your internal training, policies and corporate messaging.
Employees need to be fed throughout the year with a variety of interesting “snacks” to keep them nourished. Variety and volume is important. Short and interesting is essential. Add in thematic and you can really be effective. Regular, repeatable, fun, positive communications can not only help with learning transfer, it can help establish culture. Focusing on fun, effective communication, demonstrates to employees that you believe their time is valuable. It demonstrates that the message is important. Its’ so important, you need to ensure that they pay attention and remember. A few additional thoughts and recommendations.
- Clickbait – you don’t have to say everything in your message. Use teasers to highlight themes and employees know to click further when they need more info. (You also can measure click-throughs)
- Establish themes. Think through high level messaging that serves as an umbrella over the lessons/examples/teachable moments that fit underneath.
- Chop it Up. Take your training and chop it up to its essential snackable parts and dole it out throughout the year.
- Marketing Support – Make friends with your marketing and communications team and plot out a communications calendar. Map out what you are sending, to whom and when.
- Building an Audience – Take a long term approach. Employees won’t receive every message. You are bombarding them with short, fun, thematic communications and hoping that some of them get through.
- Have Fun! Most importantly, have fun and be creative. People engage and learn when there is a sense of play.
To read more posts, visit Thoughts While Shaving
L&E Productions – Comedy, Communication, Corporate Education
“Have you ever been on stage or been a performer?” is a question I like to ask when I meet new people. The responses you get are really interesting and sometimes quite fun. Unfortunately, “Oh I’m not creative” Is a common response. #teardrop. Or sometimes their eyes light up and you learn that they played Frenchie in their high school production of Grease or rocked bass in a metal band called Brnt Toest! Now they are lawyers, accountants, IT guys, sales people, healthcare professionals or executives of some sort. There is no judgment here. As Bill Murray once famously said “It’s hard to be an artist. It’s hard to be anything. It’s hard to be.” “Do you still perform?” I ask as my follow up. More often than not it’s a fond memory from the past. But for a moment you can see their humanity. You see a glimpse of their inner-artist.
Everyone is Creative. Everyone is an Artist.
First of all, everyone is creative. It pains me when I hear people say that they are not. Because their response is a product of self doubt or self consciousness rather than truth. The person who says they are not creative probably tells stories at parties. They write notes on napkins in their kids lunch. They make fun, weird noises in the elevator when no one is around. They probably sing in the car or shower. For those of you that were writers, musicians, finger-painters, or actors in your pre-business years, we know that its in you. But perhaps it lays dormant.
All of you “non-creative people” and “secret artists” have the ability to tap into a plethora* of unique problem solving skills that aren’t being accessed because our learned behavior is that it’s not appropriate in the workplace. And it’s a shame because work is where we spend most of our time. We have all of these creative people from the top executives to the people on the front lines all walking around with our own weird, fun, unique perspectives on the world and no one is letting it out to our mutual boredom! We talk in buzzwords and statistics instead of telling stories. We lecture from pre-prepared speeches instead of interacting with our audience. We send out wordy emails instead of videos, Gifs & Memes or other fun communication devices. We conform and it’s hurting our productivity, our corporate culture and our sanity.
* “plethora” is fun to say. So is “cornucopia.” Say it three times fast. Do it now! 🙂
I say, learn to let the monster out! Creativity is contagious. It can help you and your business succeed.
Now I’m not suggesting that everyone has amazing talent. And often you get the interesting combination of lack of talent paired with overconfidence, which is only funny from a distance. But this is not the point. The point is that we are all creative animals and we should embrace and feed that part of ourselves. In addition, the pursuit of artistic endeavors helps you acquire new skills that can make you be more effective – more creative, a better listener, a better collaborator, a better leader, more positive, and more interesting to be around. There are skills that can be acquired and there are muscles that require practice. Working on your inner-artists can’t make you talented, but it can help you build skills and improve exponentially.
Art and Artists Can Teach You Things
I’ve been a student of improvisation for the better part of 20 years, and one thing you notice is that the vast majority of people who take classes in improv, music and theater have no intention of making a run at Hollywood. They do it because it’s fun. They do it because they want to meet new people. They do it for professional development or the challenge. They do it because humans like to learn new things! My favorite are the people that do it because it scares them. Yes!
Here is a list – because apparently people like lists – that offers some tips from the wonderful world of theater and improvisation.
- Say Yes. Give up control. Be open to possibility.
- Reserve judgment of yourself and others.
- Collaborate with others. Jump out of the plane together. Figure it out on the way down.
- Care about ideas, not who provides them.
- Listen like a thief. Absorb everything.
- Don’t be funny. Be honest. Be interesting. Be genuine.
- There are no right and wrong choices. Just choices.
- Solutions aren’t good or bad. They are working or not working.
- Play to the height of your intelligence. Treat your audience like geniuses, artists and poets.
- Embrace Failure. Fail spectacularly. Mistakes are gifts. It’s how we get better.
- You don’t have to love every idea, but you should love every idea for a little while. It will open new doors.
Improv can teach you things.
Bring an Improv Skills-Building Workshop to your Company.
- Improv for Sales – listening, agility, storytelling
- Improv for Consulting – engagement, rapport, trust
- Improv for Legal & Compliance – collaboration, managing difficult conversations
- Improv for Technical Professionals – communication, confidence, presenting
- Improv for Leadership – coaching, status and presence, collaboration, trust
- Improv for Team-building, Collaboration & Fun!
Matchmaking & Translating – Syncing up Artists with Business
I’ve had the good fortune to have spent time with a lot of talented artists who have not only tapped into their inner-artist, they’ve let the monster out! Many of them, at first, don’t realize the skills they have, have implicit value in the workplace. Let’s face it, performers don’t dream about the big day they get to perform a scene about data security at your annual leadership retreat. But many improvisers, comedians and theater folk do have a background in business and most do not go on to SNL. Many of these artists embrace their roles as teachers, writers, performers, consultants who have wisdom to share and they love sharing it.
I launched L&E in no small part to empower these artists, to enable them to share their knowledge and expertise and apply it to different challenges in corporate environments. We’re matchmakers who bring artists and business together to solve problems. We love helping “non-creative people” and “secret artists” tap into and improve their business communication and leadership skills. We love collaborating with corporate educators, compliance officers and general counsels, sales executives and HR professionals to find fun, creative ways to simplify messaging and make stuff (live or digital content). Art, entertainment, music and humor helps to socialize learning and bridge alignment and it can help you improve communication and corporate culture. Charles Bukowski once said, “an intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.”
Embrace your inner-artist. Bring it to work. Your company culture needs you!
To read more posts, visit Thoughts While Shaving
L&E Productions – Comedy, Communication, Corporate Education
EMBRACING YOUR ROLE AS CHANGE AGENT
How many times have we heard or read or written or said things like these? Perhaps you are already numb to it. Or you have accepted your fate. Or there’s justification as to why in this situation, that’s the way it has to be. What’s interesting to me is that in my 20 years as a business, creative and communications professional, who has been in hundreds of corporate environments across a broad spectrum of industries, what I’ve found is that most people recognize this kind of negativity, but don’t associate it with themselves. It’s unconscious. I’m not that way, but oh gawd, Susan is! (Note: in this example Susan = your boss or co-worker or the powers that be. Apologies to the Susans reading) People have trouble recognizing their own behavior. Or we do recognize it and don’t feel empowered to do anything about it. Or perhaps we just choose not to fight. And then we find ourselves living in a corporate culture that bores us to tears. We spend most of our work lives in an environment that doesn’t represent who we are as interesting, creative individuals. I find it fascinating how we separate or disassociate ourselves from our ability to influence our environment. I believe
Negativity is like yawns…it rapidly spread from one person to the next and it’s your responsibility to break the chain.
Think of “Yes” as the gas and “No” as the breaks. “No” stops action. It’s safer. It also kills creativity and stops ideas, both good and bad, from advancing. “No” in it’s many forms is at the root of the problem. We can’t control everything, but we can control how we choose to communicate. This applies to one-on-one conversations, emails, small group presentations, webinars, conference calls, speeches, trainings, policies, documents, posters, newsletters and company-wide communications. Each form of communication can be positive, interesting, often creative and fun. And these things have the power to affect those around us.
Corporate culture can be affected by how each of us chooses to communicate.
I was at a conference, pontificating about corporate communications and the importance of “tone-from-the-top” and creating “mood-in-the-middle,” when the Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer at a Fortune 500 aerospace and defense company, says this to me. “You realize that there is no such thing as corporate culture. We’re actually dealing with thousands of mini corporate cultures that vary depending on the country, work environment, office and manager. Basically if you like and respect your boss you have a good corporate culture and if you don’t you have a bad corporate culture.” The simplicity of this stopped me in my tracks and changed my opinion about the subject. He was right. The lesson here isn’t that there’s not much we can do if your boss is a jerk-wad. Or that corporate wide initiatives don’t have an effect. It’s the opposite. We all have an active hand in shaping our own immediate culture. And if you’re in leadership (or want to be) or happen to be in a job function that touches a broad part of the organization – learning, compliance, communications, HR, talent development, etc. – then you have an even greater ability to affect change. You are responsible. You have the power to affect the person or groups in front of you. You can’t change negativity, but you can change how you react to it. You can’t make everyone think the way you do, but you can bring energy, creativity, empathy and passion. The good news is, there are many tools at your disposal to help you improve how you communicate as an individual and how you communicate across the organization.
I happen to have spent much of my career in the improv, comedy and theater community, and have found many effective tools that can be adopted in the workplace. Here are a few that can help you be a more effective communicator.
Individual Communications – Tips from the world of Improv
Improvisation is not just about the funny. It is the craft of creating something out of nothing, in the moment, off the top of your head, in collaboration with others, quickly, confidently and without fear of failure. These are skills actors use on stage and can be learned to help you be a more effective communicator and build trust. These are muscles that can be exercised, that require practice. Here are a few improv tenets and philosophies to try to adopt.
- Practice Active Listening – listen to understand, don’t wait to talk. This is harder than you think. Practice listening all the way to the very end. Pause, absorb, and then formulate a response. Everybody loves a good listener.
- Stay in the Moment – Don’t think about what happened 10 minutes ago and what might happen 10 minutes from now. Apply yourself to the person in front of you and the task at hand. Play the scene you are in, not the one you want to be in.
- Be Others Focused – some say improv is the art of being others focused. Don’t think about yourself. Think about making your partner look good. Put yourself in service of their needs and they are more likely to respond in kind.
- Say “Yes, And” – in this context, don’t think of the “yes” as agreement, but rather affirmation and validation. I’m listening…I hear you…I understand. The “And” is there to help you build on the conversation positively. Exercise: Try to go one whole day without saying “no.”
- Bring a Brick not a Cathedral – Add one thought, one idea, one comment or solution. Then pause and allow others to contribute. This is a lesson in collaboration. You may know more, but you can go further when you allow space for others. It empowers them. You also might learn something new or find unexpected connections and solutions.
- Say Thank You – Try silently saying “thank you” before responding. This is a lesson in being grateful for information, regardless of what it is. It can help you have what might have been a difficult conversation in a positive way. “Thank you” can help take you from the emotion of the topic to a more thoughtful productive response.
There are many improvisational and theatrical techniques that can be utilized to help you avoid boring podium speeches, dull webinars and “death by PowerPoint.”
- Involve Your Audience – improv works in part because the audience is a contributing partner in the show. Ask questions, utilize polling, create little competitions and games. Make them do something. Interactivity leads to engagement and learning transfer.
- Embrace Failure – Everybody screws up. It’s how you react to it that defines you. People crave authenticity. Mistakes are interesting. Acknowledge, move on, and utilize them to your advantage.
- Utilize Entertaining Formats – Wrap your messaging in fun forms. Hosted “Talk Show” style Interviews vs. lectures. Interactive “Game Shows” vs. lists. Show with videos, visuals and cartoons vs. tell with slides.
- Embrace Storytelling – don’t just tell the what, tell the why. Use specifics. Stories are filled with colorful characters, heroes and villains and anecdotes that paint a picture, all of which can help you make an emotional connection with your audience.
- Bring Energy – Energy is contagious. Let your personality out. Be interesting! Newsflash…you can’t bore people into learning.
Utilize the communication vehicles, storytelling devices and media that people use to consume information in their every day lives and apply them in the workplace. If it’s important, you need employees to pay attention and remember. Humor and entertainment are great ways to socialize learning. Here are some fun devices to help get your corporate messaging noticed.
- Movie Trailers & Fake Commercials – to introduce new corporate policies
- Songs and Music – to highlight values and themes
- Scenic Videos – right way, wrong way videos to highlight behaviors and teachable moments
- Podcasts – with featured guests to share best practices across the organization
- Gifs & Memes – to highlight and reinforce key messaging
- Top-Ten-Lists & Listicles– to surround rules and policies to make them more memorable
Remember that we’re business people some of the time and regular people-people all of the time. People like to have fun. People like to learn new things. We don’t have to accept dull, boring communications as the norm. It’s ineffective and nobody likes it. You don’t have to shut out your creativity the moment you clock in.
Regular, positive, proactive, empathetic communications are the gateway to improving corporate culture.
We all have the power to make a difference to the people and tasks in front of us which will ultimately improve the culture around us.
“Follow the Fear” is attributed to the legendary improv teacher/mad scientist, Del Close. Do what scares you most. If it’s uncomfortable…do it more. Lean into it and you will discover new worlds. With improv, as with life, it’s the fear that stops you from moving forward, not the thing itself.
Another favorite quote of mine is “most people live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them” which is attributed to Henry David Thoreau. It’s a sad commentary about society but I’ve always divined inspiration from it. Don’t be afraid of (calculated) risk!
I also love this quote from another madman, Charles Bukowski. “Find what you love and let it kill you.” I interpret this to simply mean, give it your all. Follow your passion. Do not be deterred.
I have found these inspirational quotes entering into my thoughts for much of the last year as I’ve contemplated making a change.
Embracing Risk – Round 1
After starting my adult life on the straight and narrow with a strategy and planning business degree followed by a modestly successful consulting career, I took one of the biggest risks in my life, when at the age of 30, I quit my corporate job and pursued a life on the stage. It was foolish and fun. I learned to live with less (meaning poor) which was a much needed humbling experience. I had fallen into the Chicago improv comedy community which has now been a part of my life for the better part of 20 years. “Find what you love and let it kill you.”
Though I rarely perform these days, I will always consider myself an improviser. It has become part of my DNA and I’ve taken great pleasure in introducing the philosophies of improvisation and its applications to the business community, family, friends and all who would listen. For those not in the know, the improv community is filled with a tremendously diverse group of interesting people, from all ages and walks of life, who value things like listening, collaboration, creativity, being supportive, non-judgmental and others-focused. This community embraces the concept of “following the fear” on a regular basis which propels them to do great work on stage, television and film, but maybe more importantly, makes them interesting, insightful and thoughtful people. You should take an improv class. It will help make you a better person.
Embracing Risk – Round 2
When it became apparent that SNL wasn’t calling (on my corded land-lined phone), I made what seemed like a difficult decision at the time, to push performing to the background and join up with famed improv institution, The Second City, but in a management capacity. I was offered the opportunity to help lead the growth and development of a corporate education business that would become my life for the next 7 years. I found joy providing work for my gifted friends and colleagues and it has been great fun introducing the corporate world to the benefits of improv as a communication skill and using comedy as a tool to socialize learning. It was a transformational time at The Second City as I was able to both lead and learn and exert influence on the business and we experienced tremendous growth and success.
One of the interesting things about a “dream job” is that one of the words is “job.” Even working in the wonderful world of comedy, there is a business to be run that comes with all the same stresses and personalities and conflicts of any job. And while I am grateful for the friends and colleagues and co-workers who I was able to associate with, learn from, and sometimes mentor and lead, I started feeling more of the stress than the joy. It was comfortable but limiting. Question – Do you leave something you love if its no longer feeding you? I don’t think there is a universal answer, but I do know that you can’t be afraid to make a move out of fear of failure. The great improviser, Stephen Colbert famously said, “you’ve got to learn to love the bomb” meaning that you have to embrace failure and the discomfort in that. It removes the barrier to try new things and the result, even if its not what you expect (because it won’t be), leads to the next thing. “Follow the Fear.”
A New (Ad)Venture
I left my “destination job” at the end of the year to take another risk and build a business of my own. I’m excited and nervous all over again. I look forward to taking everything I’ve learned (on the shoulders of giants) and building something new out of nothing, with it’s own unique voice. In the improv community we say “bring a brick, not a cathedral.” I don’t need to know every step I’m going to take, just the one in front of me. What I do have is an understanding of what’s important to me, which I’d like to outline here.
Introducing Learnings & Entertainments
I’m quite excited to introduce to the world, Learnings & Entertainments (bad grammar, good communication ☺) focusing on comedy, communication and corporate education. We will help companies improve corporate communication through the use of improvisation and purposeful humor. We will leverage a network of musicians, writers, and performers from the improv comedy community to create multi-media advertising campaigns around important internal training programs…Inverstising! We will collaborate and co-create lots of fun, meaningful content (digital and live) to help socialize learning. We will bring improv philosophy to the world whenever we can. We will have fun.
L&E Vision – This is what drives us.
- We will care about the work and will fight to make it great.
- We will care about the ensemble. This will be an artist-friendly business that empowers the creative team to do great work and rewards them for it. They are the engine that drives success.
- We will listen. All colleagues, clients and partners should feel heard and respected.
- We will collaborate, pooling together expertise from multiple disciplines to co-create.
- We will focus on creating content that is both fun and meaningful.
- We will create an environment where the best ideas advance, regardless of their source.
- We will emphasize quality over quantity. Growth for growths sake can be counter productive.
- We will be honest and trustworthy and genuine. We will do what we say.
- We will introduce improv philosophy to the world. It has value. It can teach you things.
- We will have fun.
L&E Services will include:
I thank you for reading these rather self-indulgent musings and making it to the end. I’m excited to build this creative enterprise and look forward to speaking with many of you to join me on this next adventure.
“Follow the Fear” / “Find What You Love And Let it Kill You”