Few leaders would argue that successful employee communications must be open, transparent, strategic, ongoing and allow for two-way dialogue. Yet, how many leaders sincerely understand that fun is also important? Far fewer in my experience.
Absolutely, fun has a role to play. But before you head off and plan that next internal office video showing the CEO willing to poke fun at himself or herself – stop and consider how important fun is your culture NOW, today, without employee communications.
I recently had a very interesting conversation with a company dealing with the challenges of change management and communicating that in an open way with employees. The executive conceded that the company had not always been open, consistent and effective at communications. Nor had it always been a fun, nurturing place to work. Now, when times get tough, it’s harder still to keep employee loyalty. This company did little to earn it during good times. And while I always believe a little fun goes a long way, internal communication is NOT a palliative “placate the masses” strategy you give thought to just before unhappy employees “jump ship.” Before communications comes culture (literally. look at the alphabet!). Communications is an extension of culture – not a patchwork quilt. Culture drives everything. And communications is not an afterthought. Culture and communications must be in alignment or credibility is gone.
Effective communication is HONEST and open. Fun matters when the company’s culture values fun from day one. When fun is a tightly held corporate value, when employees feel safe having fun at work, when executives actually live the values they extol on corporate coffee mugs and placards, when customers are happy – ONLY then can fun be effectively used as a communications device.
Fun is a corporate value, not a corporate band-aid on a culture that puts the FU in fun. If employees feel undervalued and disrespected every day, no amount of spontaneous fun in internal communications will change that. Using fun to patch big holes in culture and communications is not honest unless you are honestly doing something to address the underlying structural and cultural issues first. Fix first, then have fun.
Fun as a band-aid strategy to a cultural hemorrhage will backfire in a very BIG way (remember, Ron Howard’s movie, “Backdraft?”). Fun is viral, and pessimism and anger are even more so – traveling 3X faster than good news. When companies treat employees poorly and then try to “patch” it up with cheap tokens of fleeting fun, it rightly pisses people off – it’s insincere, insulting, and damaging. It’s the kind of stuff “Dilbert” is made of. Funny – only not as much if YOU are the one living the cartoon.
When fun becomes an authentic corporate value, upheld by executive behavior, fun in employee communications can be credible AND powerful.