Does anybody remember Laughter?
I began writing this blog article last Wednesday. I wanted to make it impactful, get it just right, so here I am still messing around with it. LOL! However, this blog will be very different than any I’ve done before. This blog article is partially crowd-sourced! But, more on that in a minute.
Last week a person that I had met for lunch asked me why I thought I’d had so much success building and leading sales teams. He seemed impressed with the legacy sales teams I’d built, and he wanted to know how I assembled them. It’s a good question, but far from an easy one to answer. To be fair, there were many factors that made up the long run of success that I’ve been blessed to celebrate. I stammered out an answer, not wanting to pat myself on the back that much. I may have told him that I hired a lot of talented people and stayed out of their way. But, it’s not exactly that simple. Like I said…many factors, but if I were forced to pick just one dynamic that not only attracted people, but also compelled them to stay, I would pick the power of FUN.
I recall not wanting to leave Penn Life back in the early ‘80s. I disliked some things about the company, but I had so much fun with my boss. Tom always made me laugh; he was always cutting up, playing harmless pranks on people to keep them loose and he was always taking us out for a beer on Friday afternoons. How could you not love the guy? Eventually, I had to move on to a better gig, so I made sure to take him with me because he was so much darn fun to have around.
When I signed on the line that was dotted and became a card carrying MLM distributor in the mid ‘80s, I did it mostly because it looked like it was going to be fun, not because I wanted to sell soap and vitamins. My mentor was kicking butt and grinning the entire time. He made the business incredibly cool. Together we built a huge downline and I made tons of money, but more than that, I couldn’t think of a day during that incredible growth curve that we didn’t have a blast. (Until the very end when things went very wrong…but that’s a story for another day.)
When I accepted a regional manager’s contract in 1993 with the company that has a white spokes-duck, I had already experienced the yin and yang of sales cultures. I knew the difference between organizations that were alive and thriving and ones that were on life support. (Think of the walking dead.) I was committed to having fun and I told my team that if it ever became NOT FUN, I’d be gone. I began my management career with Aflac convinced that my highest and best calling (beyond selecting and training the right type of candidates) was to make the business enjoyable and create an environment that people wanted to flock to. (Sorry about the FOWL pun!)
It started with the way we interviewed people. We had a professional screening process, but I made sure to walk the candidate around the office so they could see people laughing, smiling, and having fun. It continued with our new associate sales training classes. Our training platform was serious, but there were game show type quiz sessions with cash prizes along with lots of good pizza and fried foods for lunch. (I know…not acceptable now with our health conscious society, but, please, this was the ‘90s)
Our awesome culture culminated with the way we treated people. We treated them like family. On the weekends, many of our sales people and managers would come to our home and swim in our pool. At our formal sales events they would come up on stage and receive an award in front of their spouse. We’d always have a live band or a DJ. After the awards were handed out, we’d keep the bar open and dance until the hotel kicked us out. We let the sober people drive home and bought rooms for those that over-imbibed. Our new people would comment that they’d NEVER had that much fun at a sales event before. They’d tell us that their spouse didn’t want to come to the event initially, but now were asking when the next one was scheduled for!
And the trips…we took our top producers all over the world. Most of the trips were on corporate’s dime, but the trips that my former teams still talk about the most are the ones we organized and paid for. We made sure that there were no formal business meetings and the “free time” started when they woke up and ended when the bartender yelled, “Last call”. Those trips to places like Puerto Vallarta, Santa Barbara, Maui, Cabo, Scottsdale and Palm Springs are still being talked about and the stories and laughs are more memorable than any commission check they ever received.
When someone had a tough week, month or quarter, or they were experiencing difficult times in their personal life, they may have thought about abandoning ship, (for a minute) but the bonds were too thick. If they got down and needed lifting, there were no shortages of people that they could have an open conversation with. This team was their extended family and you don’t leave your family. Family picks you up when you’ve fallen. Family takes you out for a slice of pizza when you’re down. Family helps you feel better in spite of your challenges.
This is what an inspired team looks like. This is what a team with a heart and soul acts like.
To this day, if I ever feel a little down or melancholy, I can still call one of the great friends I’ve made and we can conjure up a few of our favorite old stories.
“Hey Joe B., do you remember that time in Cabo when you marched over to the World’s Smallest Bar and you ordered 21 shots of warm Cuervo because you thought there were 20 of us following you? The waitress lined ‘em up and when you turned around it was just you, Marshall and Castro? That was awesome, man! I can’t believe you guys drank every shot of that warm tequila!”
After I wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes I hang up. I feel better. Whoever said, “Laughter is the best medicine,” was right. (It also doesn’t leave a hangover like 21 shots of warm tequila does!)
My point is that sales teams work well and thrive when everybody is having fun. But you can only have fun in a safe environment, one that employs trust and caring. Fun doesn’t happen because you try to force it down someone’s throat. People relax, laugh and have fun when they trust you and know that you care and have their backs.
So, here’s where I get to the crowd-sourcing part. As I started drafting this blog I made a short Facebook post about incorporating fun into a sales organization and it kinda’ blew up!
It was the most active post I’ve seen in months!
I knew I had hit a chord with people. There were a ton of great comments and I want to share just a few of them with you. Here are a few excerpts from what you had to say about this subject.
“Trust is earned through doing what is promised. Without an environment of trust, how can you have fun?”
“This is spot on Joe. Not just the trips, parties, awards functions, etc. Everyone has fun with those. It’s the fun atmosphere created day to day that’s the key to attracting and retaining good people.”
“I’ve always believed it’s a leaders job to create a culture of fun… Fun drives creativity, enthusiasm and loyalty. We spend far too much of our lives ‘making a living’ for it not to be fun.”
“I think that sometimes people are promoted based on the numbers they’ve hit, not because they would make great leaders. They get into the position and can teach people how to hit numbers, but they don’t know how to make it fun.”
“Fun starts from the top down. If leadership isn’t having fun, the team is afraid to have fun or there is a false sense of ‘fun’ that seems forced or fake.”
“Joe, what a great topic. I’ve been giving this some thought. It does start at the top creating a fun atmosphere that people want to be a part of. I remember one of my team members saying that he felt like he won the lottery every day when he walked into our office. It was fun, upbeat, positive and a winning culture. I look forward to reading what you write about this!”
“Fun + ethics + substance + consistency + accountability = a long term healthy culture.”
“I worked for someone who was absolutely NOT fun, but our team managed to not let that stop us! While I agree that sh*% rolls downhill, it’s still all about what we personally want to make it. That said, the best case scenario is leadership being on the same ‘fun’ page.”
“Fun occurs when people feel appreciated, respected and they are part of an enlightened environment. Fun happens when they are celebrated for thinking outside the box.”
So, going back to the beginning of my blog, when I think about how I should have answered that guy’s question, “How did you build all of that,” I guess I should’ve just told him to go read my Facebook wall. My Facebook friends in sales apparently know a little bit about having fun.
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