Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric was on CNBC Squawkbox the other day talking about corporate leadership. The interviewer asked whether CEO’s were worth the enormous salaries they get when compared to start-up founders who create a new technology or other innovation. He said, “New technologies and innovations are enormously important,” implying that founders are worth their compensation. Then he said something I did not expect. He said, “The fundamentals of management don’t change. You have to develop great people. You have to build great teams. And it should be fun! Business used to be fun. Managers have to find ways to make it fun again.”
I was not expecting this last point from “Neutron Jack”, the popularizer of “rack and stack” takent management under which you fire the bottom 10% of your organization every year. I have to admit though that I think he is right about fun being missing.
Are you having fun at work? At one point, you could get in trouble for it. Then it became acceptable on special occasions such as retreats and team building exercises. Then there were rumors of companies that made it part of their culture to have fun (Southwest Airlines, Google, Zappos). What happened? Globalization, downsizing, 9/11, housing crisis, off-shoring, outsourcing and on and on. There has been a lot of disruptive change and disruption is upsetting, not fun.
Still I like Jack’s challenge to make work fun again. What is fun? Games are fun. Play is fun. Games have a design that include a goal, challenge, constraints and methods for achieving the goal. Sometimes these methods are clear and explicit. Often it is part of the game to discover the methods. Plus, there is usually an element of risk involved. If any of these elements are missing, it’s no fun.
As Daniel Pink points out, we all need the opportunity to develop mastery, to experience our own autonomy and to work with and toward a meaningful purpose. Are you having fun? If not, maybe what’s missing is a game worth playing. You could create one, or go find a place where people are joyfully making work fun again.