Are We Having Fun Yet?

In today’s corporate environment, fun in many workplaces has become about as rare as a mink stole at a PETA convention. But as David Hemsath, author of 301 More Ways To Have Fun At Work (Barrett-Koehler Publishers, 2001), notes, a little fun added to your sales incentives can go a long motivational way. So how can managers ratchet up the incentive program fun factor? Hemsath says the first step is to get everyone involved, and that means more than just the salespeople. “Get input from your salespeople to develop a game plan, because everyone’s sense of fun is not the same,” he says. “But beyond the sales staff, talk to your best customers, and find out what they think will be fun. Input from the people who are involved is essential, because if they don’t buy in, it’s not going to be successful.”

Next Hemsath suggests finding a single person to represent the sales staff and including that individual in the planning. “Find the person the others in the office look to for mini-events that aren’t sponsored by the company – Happy Hours, the March Madness pool, that sort of thing,” he says. “Bounce your ideas off of him or her. ‘I’m leaning toward this idea. How would you present that to our customers?’ Also, talk to a customer or two directly and take the sampling back to build a promotion that they’ll all find fun and exciting.”

Of course you’re going to want to announce your new contest with a lot of funfare – whoops, fanfare – but the key to making fun motivational, says Hemsath, depends on how you maintain that enthusiasm.

“You have to do something fun that ties into the theme of the promotion,” he explains. “Last year we ran a promotion geared toward a Bahamas trip. During meetings we’d pass a piece of bamboo to one another to talk about our successes, we played tropical music and took to wearing Hawaiian shirts. There are fun theme-related activities you can do on a regular basis that reinforce the overall objective of the promotion, and they don’t have to be expensive.”

Another key Hemsath tip: make food a part of everything. People care about their stomachs, he says, and whenever they’re asked what puts the “fun” in office function, food is always at the top of the list.

Finally, it’s time for the part of the contest that’s inherently fun – awarding prizes. Hemsath says this is no time to start excluding people. “Here’s how you have fun at work,” he says. “You tell somebody you’re going to do something and how you’re going to do it. Then, when you achieve your goals you celebrate. And assuming you’ve involved your customers from the beginning, keep them in the loop at the closing stage too. Let the number one sales rep bring a top client to the party or celebration. Acceptance and inclusion are the foundations of a fun workplace. If you can include the broadest scope of people – even management that are not sales-related, research or production – whatever different groups you can get, and your customers, then you’re going to have a more successful program.”