Breaking records and having fun

Mar 26, 2007

My last article pointed out the overwhelming benefits of making the process of work itself enjoyable and fun. Companies that succeed in creating a fun culture tend to be among the most successful in the world.

Here are some classic examples:

The airline that makes flying fun

Southwest Airlines is frequently cited as the company which has created the perfect blend of fun and humour.
Not only are their planes painted like killer whales, here are some of the rules by which they operate:
– Take the competition seriously, but not yourself;
– Don’t fear failure. Be creative, colour outside the lines;
– Treat employees as families;
– Trust intuition and explore nutty ideas;
– Make your life and work adventurous;
– Celebrate everything;
– Have a sense of humour. Think funny, adopt a playful attitude, laugh at yourself.

Southwest Airlines believes in making flying fun. Safety announcements famously include lines like “This safety briefing may save your life but that newspaper won’t.”

Or “This is a no-screaming flight. When the oxygen mask comes down, if you’re with a child, stop screaming. Put the mask on. If you’re with two children, choose which one you love most now.”

Or “We’re turning the lights down now because firstly its a government regulation and secondly I look more attractive in the dark …”

Announcements like this make you wake up, start listening to what they’re saying… and put a broad smile on your face.

Southwest realised long ago that if you make people laugh, they forgive the airline being late, cold coffee, anything. Tolerance levels go up astronomically. They could have run out of sandwiches and a passenger can be dying of hunger, but if you can make him laugh, it’s all right. If you let him sit and fester on the other hand, he’ll never fly with you again.

In the same spirit of fun, Southwest once had a lawsuit which they decided to settle by arm wrestling rather than go to court.

Southwest Airlines has turned a profit every year since 1973 yet it maintains the lowest fares in the industry. It regularly ranks best in customer service, has a consistently high safety record, has the best on-time performance of any airline and the lowest employee turnover rate.

When a comparatively small company is able to take on major players in a highly competitive industry and not only gain market share, satisfy customers and employees alike but also in the process become the world’s most successful airline, it is time for others to take notice.

From start-up to $10 billion in eight years… having fun

Google is another company that famously believes in having fun. To achieve their quest of “Organising the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful”, Google’s co-founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin stated in 2004 that “Google is not a conventional company. And we do not intend to become one.”

At Google you can do your laundry; drop off your dry cleaning, get an oil change, then have your car washed; work out in the gym; attend subsidised exercise classes; get a massage; study Mandarin, Japanese, Spanish and French; and ask a personal concierge to arrange dinner reservations. Naturally you can also get haircuts on site.

Want to buy a hybrid car? The company will give you $5,000 toward that environmentally friendly end. If you refer a friend to work at Google, they’ll give you a $2,000 reward. If you’ve just had a new baby, they’ll reimburse you for up to $500 in takeaway food to ease your first four weeks at home.

If you’re looking to make new friends you can attend a TGIF party, where there’s usually a band playing. Five onsite doctors are available to give you a check-up free of charge… and that’s just the start.

Company lore has it that Google’s co-founders Brin and Page believe that no worker should be more than 150 feet from a food source… so they have 11 free, and universally excellent, gourmet cafeterias on site at their headquarters in Mountain View, California. These include Café Seven, a haute eatery, a raw bar at the Basque-themed tapas joint, Café Pintxo, the Plymouth Rock Café, and the all-organic No Name Café.

Google people not only eat well – and for free – at work but also the work itself is so enjoyable that it’s sometimes difficult for Google employees to leave the office. You’re quite likely to see engineers in the hallways at 3am debating some esoteric algorithmic conundrum. These people are there because there is no other place they’d rather be.

Google is such an energising place to visit that the company has also become a stop on the world lecture circuit, regularly attracting the likes of Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher. Does it pay?

Within eight years of launch Google surpassed $10 billion in sales, had stunning operating margins of 35 per cent and had amassed more than $10 billion in cash. Its stock soared from $85 in 2004 to $483 just two years later… and it shows no sign of slowing down yet.

So yes having fun at work has already paid off big time for Google.

In the Guinness Book of Records… because they have fun

Closer to home, and on a smaller scale, Richer Sounds is now the biggest and most profitable hi-fi retailer in the UK, with annual sales of around £100 million.

Julian Richer, the company’s founder, believes that fun is an incredibly important component in his company’s success. Richer Sounds treats its staff decently and pay them a fair wage but on top of that they have all the extras that make the job fun.

They run a customer service competition every month where the staff at highest performing branches get one of several Bentleys or Jaguars for the month. The number plates, appropriately, include LUN1E, A1DOG and HYF1S.

The cars are for employees to use as they wish. The company pays the petrol and if they can’t drive, a chauffeur is provided for two days. Staff can get up to whatever they like in those cars and they have a lot of fun.
Having the car also adds to their prestige among customers and friends. Winning branches have often had their picture in the local paper. Customers have also been amazed to find their newly purchased hi-fi delivered to their door in a Bentley and Bentley have been so delighted with the publicity this attracts that they issued a standing invitation for all winners to visit the factory and see the cars being made.

Richer Sounds have also invested in dozens of holiday homes in the UK and overseas. Any member of staff, together with their family, friends and pets, can use these homes free of charge. They are so popular that they’re booked throughout the year and the company finds that neither the homes or the cars are abused.

The result is a relaxed, happy, healthy staff, 97pc of whom have fun working for Richer Sounds.

Having fun pays for Richer Sounds. They’ve been listed in the Guinness Book of Records for 13 years for having the highest sales per square foot of any retailer in the world. In 2002 and 2003 they were also voted the best British company to work for two years running in the Sunday Times’ 100 Best Companies To Work For list.

The good news is that anyone can choose to create a fun workplace. Plenty of qualitative and quantitative data exists to show that a fun environment can have a positive impact on productivity, quality, customer service, and job satisfaction.
To infuse your work environment with a spirit of fun, you must first believe, as Southwest Airlines, Google and Richer Sounds do, that fun in the workplace is essential to your success, and it starts with you:

– Make a conscious effort to lighten up;
– Plan for fun;
– Respond spontaneously to fun moments;
– Embrace fun as the chosen tone for your work environment.

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