We were all talking about workplace culture and the room was buzzing with wine, ice cream and networking.

Kudos Inc was hosting an event called “Building Great Companies by Creating Great Cultures”. In one corner staff were demoing their signature employee recognition software. In another, old friends were toasting a recent success. But the energy of a hundred people was nothing compared to the energy of guest speaker Michael Kerr.

Michel Kerr is an international Hall of Fame business speaker. And it shows in his funny, fast-paced speech. Kerr is the author of The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank.

In his book Kerr tells the stories of countless companies that have experienced tremendous results by putting humor to work.

But he doesn’t stop with anecdotes. He peppers his book (and his speech) with facts culled from studies and articles. Each one support the economic upside of employee engagement. In his view a fun and playful work environment is the key to generating above average engagement.

But making money is serious business. Isn’t it?

Not so fast, says Kerr:

“Don’t for a moment get sucked into thinking that your workplace or your business is somehow different and that humor couldn’t possibly work there…. Humor can have a profound impact on your organization’s much-coveted bottom line.

In fact, a Hewitt and Associates study found that organizations with higher levels of employee engagement … outperformed other companies on the stock market.” Kerr says these companies show “increased shareholder returns of 19% relative to companies with less-engaged employees.”

One of my favourite tales to come out of Kerr’s speech concerned his experiences waiting on hold. “Press one to repeat this message,” he phone told him, “press two to repeat this message in Pirate”. In PIRATE? Who wouldn’t report a great customer service experience when they hear how important their call to Captain Jack Sparrow?

Kerr went on to suggest that any workplace could make their meetings more fun and engaging by conducting the meeting in pirate.

Since today is Hallowe’en, it seems like the right day to give it a try. Halloween comes from the long and venerable long carnival tradition. A carnival reverses the normal order of things. This kind of topsy-turvey role-play releases tension and fear. The new world order allows the lay person to speak truth to power without fear of reprisal.

So throw on an eyepatch, don a tricorn hat and encourage your team to become someone else for a while. Turn the world on its side for a moment and you may hear something worth keeping.

or at least, call the meeting to order in pirate …


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