I’ll say it many times as long as I have breath: humor is human. Not just because humor is oxygen to me or because I’m an improviser (and it is that important!) It’s because great humor is about uplifting people. It’s a big, human-centered value, and it’s one every company should pay attention to.
Humor means more than jokes and fun, and those are pretty important. Humor is about humility and connection, innovation, joy, fun, playfulness, open communication, and creativity – everything critical for healthy organizational culture.
Consider Zappos, Amazon, Southwest, Virgin, Method, Barkbox (dogs are better versions of people!) and even IBM and Intel most recently (really….they have both come a long way towards being more human). And, the list goes on. Think about your favorite brand right now. They are likely very human and demonstrate a healthy sense of humor both inside and outside the company and that is a such a part of why you love them.
Some of us have been fortunate enough at some point in our careers to work in places that value humor in the truest sense of the word – not negative humor at the expense of people. I’m talking about cultures of positive humor that champion people: filled with attitudes of fun, energy, humanity and humility. People – both employees and customers – feel the difference. A culture without positive humor is a culture that does not value people; and it’s a sign of a culture in trouble. And, even more urgently, if you’re in a negative humor culture or a humorless one, here’s your warning: Run. Now. Very Fast.
The bottom line: a culture that values positive humor values people, and reaps some big human benefits for all of us:
1. Humor involves humility and empathy. Companies that value humility own mistakes, apologize for them, and fix them. They even poke fun at themselves when they get it wrong, and they have empathy for customers and employees – you know, actual people. A company that parodies itself says to the world “We can do this because we have confidence in who we are and what we believe. And, hey, we’re not perfect.” They take what they do seriously; they don’t have to take themselves so seriously. Way too many companies suffer from terminal seriousness. Working in those companies can suck your oxygen. Humor, by contrast, makes people and brands more approachable and cultures more invigorating. And empathy is great for all of us.
2. Humor involves truth-telling. Companies need truth-tellers to call out when things aren’t working for employees or customers so they can be fixed, to ensure integrity of values as the company grows, and to make sure organizational culture works for human beings, not handbooks. A culture of humor and humility understands and values the importance of truth and transparency – that means more open, honest communication internally and externally. And it’s so much easier to speak up in organizations that value humor and honesty. That’s psychological safety.
3. Humor connects people (inside and outside the company). When I make you smile or laugh, you are far more likely to listen to what I have to say. It’s one of the most powerful connections between people because it disarms the intellectual shield that people have up all day long just to survive the daily onslaught of facts and noise. I call it the best ‘pattern disruption’ device around because it upends expectations. In a world of too much crap, that filter is getting harder to penetrate. Humor does exactly that – it changes the conversation! And, according to a global Nielsen Survey of Trust in Advertising conducted in September (58 countries), almost half (47%) of respondents said that humor resonates more than any content approach. Humor doesn’t come from nowhere. A company with a healthy culture is more likely to have healthy, humorous content. That means better engagement for all.
4. Humor fuels innovation. Innovative companies are collaborative, playful, and fun because they encourage people to explore, to be creative, to take smart risks, to challenge the status quo, and to engage in “what if” possibility thinking. It’s a precursor to innovation. That’s also the soul of humor, play, and laughter. A culture that is playful empowers people to try, learn, fail, and grow. Humor and play can make all the difference in brainstorming the best ideas. Where there’s laughter, there’s trust and that matters for YOU to do your best work and thrive!
5. Humor enhances morale and productivity. A more relaxed, playful environment reduces stress and improves morale. Less stress means fewer sick days and more engaged, productive employees. People-focused cultures make employees feel valued. That means a more loyal workforce that works harder to champion the company and make it successful.
What do you think?
What company best exemplifies humor as a big corporate value to you?
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