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You Know, You Are Allowed to Have Fun in Business!

A few years back there was an article in Sports Illustrated about football coach, the late John Gagliardi, who coached little Division III St. John's College in Minnesota, and who also happened to be the winningest football coach in NCAA history. At the time, I was taken by a phrase in the article, "...his teams have more fun than any team in the country." Interesting. Now, you could say, of course, they have fun because they always win. But that isn't it. They win BECAUSE they have fun.

We often use the same terms in business that are used on the sports field when we describe what is necessary to succeed. Intensity. Passion. The will-to-win. Yet, what may be missing is a critical emotion. Fun!

Business can be very serious stuff. Often a small business owner has much at risk, personally; may feel the responsibility for the livelihoods of employees, and have deep concern that the customers are being served effectively. But, at the end of the day, if it isn't fun, for the small business owner, the employees, and yes, even the customers, the chances of success are limited.

In sports, coaches have a choice as to the way they approach practices, dealing with the players and managing the game. And players respond, in kind. Coach Gagliardi simply made it fun to play. And their response was winning.

In small business, owners also have a choice as to the way the manage their business, deal with their employees and customers. A great example of a small business (now quite a large business) that had fun, right out of the chute, is Southwest Airlines. The late, Herb Kelleher, who was their founder, was never afraid to step out of character as CEO and both make fun of himself and keep a light hand, when it comes to employees and customers. And if you ever watched their commercials, that sense of fun was conveyed, there. That doesn't mean that that either St. John's or Southwest didn't take things seriously. It's just that they kept it in perspective and found ways to make it fun. In short, they succeeded because they had fun, not the other way around.

Do you have fun in your organization? While there may be "no crying in baseball," there can be laughter in business! As the leader of your company, you set the pace for that. This doesn't mean you have to be a "standup comic," but you can make it both enjoyable and fun to come to work for your employees, and enjoyable and fun for your customers to do business with you. For example, every company I ever ran (even most I advise today) used what I called "sales-grams." This was a light-hearted way to celebrate major sales. Someone (a different person every quarter) was responsible for "spreading the news," both locally and to any employees who were remote. Locally, the person responsible would have to find a novel way to "broadcast" sales' wins in the office. The louder, the better. We had everything from gongs to foghorns to my personal favorite, a real siren! Not only did it enable everyone to know we just closed a big sale, but it, invariably, caused everyone who heard to break out into laughter, because it was funny! Fun in business!

There are a myriad number of ways you can make your business more fun,. Most of them have at their foundation, a better sense of team and cooperation and reduction or the banishment of b.s. in daily operations. Beyond that, contests (not just $ incentive ones, but things like a "product naming," as an example) or company events that place all employees on equal footing (like a night out at the ballpark) are just a couple of ways to get and keep the fun in the business.

No matter what you do or how you do it, fun is underrated and not, often considered as part of the culture you build. Think again. A smile, a laugh, a light touch can be things that make long hours driving toward a deadline or tough contract negotiations with a customer worth it. Make fun a fundamental part of how you run your business.

"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things. He's been there. May success be with you!


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