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"Why Choose Between Fun and Content When You Can Have Both"

Play. Observe. Engage.

Earlier this year I attended a conference on Play, the importance of it at all ages and how it can be used in business; in this case to engage people in the process of design. While at the conference I met the event planner. I don’t think we spoke for more than 10 minutes. We later became “friends” through Social Media outlets LinkedIn & Facebook.

Billy Rose’s Jumbo dvd Towards the end of summer I received an invite to spend a weekend with her and her friends at a yearly getaway retreat, their 18th year, on Lake George in New York. Always up for a new experience, something I encourage you to do as well, I accepted the invite.

Arriving at the Seneca Retreat this past weekend I was greeted by Cookie and Deb. It was like a first day at work. They were getting ready for the group that was about to arrive. I was first and they greeted me with enthusiasm. I showed up with equal enthusiasm and offered to jump right in and be of help. I was told what I could do to be helpful (and how to do it their way). I obliged. I took my constructive criticism well; like when I wasn’t paying attention to keeping the fire stoked. During the afternoon Cookie made a humorous remark to me about hanging with control freaks. We laughed. Well good, now there were three control freaks in one room. And whether you want to think so or not, everyone has a bit of control freak in them. Everyone.

The other four arrived later on that day. I was the outsider for sure, but brought right in to the group. It seemed as they were going out of the way to engage me in their conversation and get me up to speed. Or maybe I was doing my part to be part of the group. Or maybe it was a combination. Or maybe Human Resources (Cookie) made such a great selection when she ‘hired’ me?

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Unstable Fables: Goldilocks & 3 Bears Show trailer It was a great weekend that consisted of laughing, eating, playing, eating, drinking, rain, eating, playing, sleeping, rain, not sleeping, more rain, more laughing, and more eating.  In so many ways our weekend of play was no different than any workplace or volunteer experience. It offered me some great reinforcement/insight into group dynamics that should be brought into any workplace or work group. So here is what I offer you today:  

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  • Interact with new people on a consistent basis – Have the people in your life become just a bit too familiar – in and out of the workplace? Are you sitting with the same people in the cafeteria or at that association meeting? Are you walking by others in the hallway offering pleasantries but never considering getting to know that person beyond the pleasantry? Who have you wanted to get to know? Who has reached out to you and maybe you shut them out; perhaps you THOUGHT you had nothing in common? New people in your life bring new ideas, new networks, new relationships and who knows…..maybe even new business? Make a personal interaction plan this week – that is to personally interact with someone new.



  • Be a teacher and a learner – Everyone has a “my way” and a “wrong way” of doing things. Some like to call the my way the right way; others call it the wrong way. I don’t call things a right way; because I don’t always think there is a right way to do something. So by calling it my way it leaves me open to learning another way – perhaps a better way. What do you need to know or learn in order to make your work a bit easier or for you to become more efficient? A simple word game, Bananagrams, became a learning process for all when we had to look up the word dob; when even the person who used it wasn’t exactly sure what it meant; and I’m still not exactly sure it is a word . Grab your teammates together soon and have each person share something they learned to make their job easier or a bit more enjoyable. It’s the easiest way to be a learner and a teacher. It’s also an easy and cheap way to keep people engaged in their work.
  • Identify the common links that bond people

    – On my way to Lake George I stopped at the Otis Poultry Farm and picked up some farm-made apple cider, donuts and bread. Dropping $20 for my, as my new friends called them, “FREE RANGE” products became quite the joke over the weekend. The cider I picked up was about $6; the cider picked up by Cookie was about $2. So while WE ALL kept laughing at my FREE RANGE purchases, it was clear that it was an inside joke that was bonding people together. What is bonding people together in your group? What are they laughing at together? What are the inside stories, jokes and other funnies that are bringing people together rather than disengaging people and deconstructing the whole purpose of group? Hold a periodic story hour when you believe the energy is draining from your group.

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Whether your group is a work group or play group there is always something to be learned. And it’s just one more way to make your work life a bit more fun.  Try the three suggested exercises above and let me know what you’ve noticed. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Oh, and by the way, I don’t think there was an ounce of control freak in the cabin this past weekend; just a group of people who were committed to making sure everyone was engaged and having a good time. And that was had by all.


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Should I expect less customer/employee engagement when shopping at the bargain store?

A young mom in my hood died the other day and a couple of neighbors have organized a food drive for the husband and son; just one of the reasons I love my hood. I just returned from one of those job lot stores; the places with overruns of who knows what you’ll find in the aisles, but surely get a lot of stuff for your money. Some people think you also might pick up a disease or a creepy crawly pet there too. Fortunately I have avoided those………….to date.

download Synergy: Visions of Vibe Now I’m not telling the whole truth. I love these places; never know what you’re gonna find. Yes, there is a food drive, and yes I was glad to get lots for my money; that just gave me an excuse to go visit.

But two thoughts came to mind as a result of my visit today. So here goes:

  1. Just because you sell overruns and closeouts at great prices, and hire minimum wage help; should I expect to feel any less engaged as a customer?
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    Blocked aisles and butt cracks were on the shopping list at Ocean State today. Now I love stores that work feverishly to keep the shelves stocked, but I’m taken aback or “abutt” when you’re blocking the aisle, ignoring me, or showing signs of disdain when I ask for you to move – especially after I’ve stared at your butt crack for way too long.  I did tell him (humorously) I was admiring his butt crack. We both laughed. And what’s with this not letting me through even when you are looking right at me. Is there really a need for me, the customer, who pays your salary, to ask for you to get out of the way?

  2. Should your employees be any less engaged in their work because you hire minimum wage workers? Do they not deserve training; technical and/or customer service? The stock clerk making fun of the elderly woman in the next aisle did not appreciate the stare down my nose at his comment; and I’ve got a big nose. The cashier yelling at the piece of “crap” (not the word he used) scanner more than once during my checkout, while comical, was clearly a cry for some good ole register or customer service training; perhaps even as simple as having a meeting before you open and telling everyone not to curse in front of the customers.

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No matter what level you are in the organization – working with the customers or in the Ivory Tower – you are representative of your organization. Customers expect a certain level of courtesy and respect whether you’re the bargain basement or the uptight overpriced status boutique on Rodeo Drive; or West Hartford. Keeping me engaged in your business starts with you keeping your people engaged in your business – or perhaps getting them re-engaged in your business.

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What are you doing to keep your employees engaged? Re-engaged? What training and development are you offering them? What are you doing to reward the experience they deliver to a customer? Think these aren’t important questions? Think again. Because remember; there is another bargain outlet or uptight boutique employee down the street.

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Why some companies need to re-engage their players and others don't

When I walk into a Starbucks I see happy employees; people having a good time. Employee engagement and employee morale is high. I see the same things at places like Trader Joe’s, Outback Steakhouse, and the Apple Store. People seem to be enjoying their work and having fun creating a fun and pleasurable experience for the customer. And whether it be funny uniforms, sitting on my lap, flowered shirts, or gadgets to play with; I see two things – employees and customers who are engaged in the product or service. 

But it makes you wonder……..What is the tone back at the home office?

When you walk into a McDonald’s you see bright colors, play places, and perhaps even a Ronald McDonald. When I spoke at their headquarters earlier this year I saw row after row of cubicles with uptight office furniture; perhaps even inhabited by uptight people? When I visit parks and recreation facilities I see fun playful environments. When I go to visit their administrative offices…….Well you know what I usually see – and it is often times anything but fun and recreational. Terror Train

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There is a lot to be learned about engaging or re-engaging all levels of employees by looking at the employees and customers at the locations where your revenue is generated. Wouldn’t it have been fun to be greeted at the door by Ronald McDonald when I walked in to Corporate HQ? Heck, if I worked there I would even volunteer to do it a few times a month. Wouldn’t it be cool if I had to shoot a basket or do a quick bit of recreation as a requirement for entrance to my job at the parks and recreation office? I wonder if people at Starbucks HQ are taking turns making coffee drinks for their office mates? I’m sure the product development people might be doing these types of things, but what about the accounting types? The administrative types? The technology folks?

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Years ago I worked for a travel service. I was a financial type back then, but when I walked in to work each day I was reminded of all the cool places out there to see. I smiled and dreamed. Everywhere I turned there was something to remind me of the sexiness of travel. I was engaged in my work all the time and proud of the service we provided. Now I also worked for a cement manufacturer. The big cement “tomb” when you walked off the elevators also reminded me to keep myself engaged in my work……………..or else.

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What’s the excitement of your company product or service? What is it about that product or service that makes you proud? Where are the reminders of what you do and who you do it for?  Or is your work area a cold, stale, non-descript environment that is anything but engaging? Now I am more than happy to help organizations re-engage their people, but here are some simple thoughts to get you thinking how you might be able to start the process.

And the purpose of this meeting was……….

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It’s happened to everyone. You walk out of a meeting and you say to yourself  “and the purpose of this meeting was……..?” Your time and energies were sucked out of you by the meeting room vacuum while work piles up back at your desk. This is clearly not the way to increase employee morale or engage employees.

I do my best to make things simple – it’s what I talk about about and it’s how I work with clients. I encourage people to come up with easy ideas that will measure their success; no matter how complex the project may be. For example; this is my success measurement tool; it’s a quote:

“The easiest success measurement tool is a simple question. What did you do today to move forward? The easiest project plan on earth is also a simple question. What will you do tomorrow to move forward?At the end of each day, document your success and design your next move.” – Rich DiGirolamo

Pretty simple. Doesn’t involve graphs, charts, matrices, and forms. Doesn’t involve a status meeting or conference call; not that all those things don’t have their place. It’s two simple questions I ask myself each day to keep on track. And even on the days when I’m feeling a bit less than productive I can usually answer these two questions in the positive.

Which brings me back to those meetings. People often comment to me about not only the number of meetings they attend, but the number of useless meetings they attend. It’s one of the reasons I suggest people use the Meeting Playce Mat as a place to document meeting activity. If you’ve got to be there, you might as well make it a little fun. But in my never ending battle to make life a bit simpler for people and to remove some of the craziness from those things that drive you crazy at work……………………..Here is Rich’s Two-Step Plan to a successful meeting:

  1. At the beginning of the meeting (or even better, when you send out the invitation) make the following comment: The purpose of this meeting is ____________________.
  2. At the end of the meeting make the following comment to the group: And the purpose of this meeting was ________________.

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Hopefully the two answers are somewhat the same. Hopefully you also have enough trust within the organization that allows people to tell the truth if they are not.

Now when you leave the office take this one more step; what other areas of your life could use a two step measurement tool? Try and identify them.

Take A Fun Creativity Break For Memory’s Sake

It’s been proven that people who take breaks retain information better and longer. If you want proof Google the information yourself to find out. Or if you’re smart and want to use your time productively, just trust me on this one.

So with that in mind here’s a quick 20 minute creativity activity to try with your staff or coworkers today:

  1. Everyone will need a piece of paper and something to write with. (Yes, you’ll have to put down the Blackberry for a few moments. Get a grip. The world really can do without you for 20 minutes. Really, it can. Trust me on this one too.)
  2. You will need a timer of sorts. (Okay use the Blackberry if you must; but promise not to check your Tweets, emails and other incoming garbage during this exercise. If you’re not capable of doing this you probably need this exercise more than anyone and should choose someone else to be timer. )
  3.  Draw a box in the center of your piece of paper.
  4. Spend two minutes developing a new toy based on that square. DO NOT PUT ANY WORDS ON THE PAPER. At the end of the time pass your paper to the person on your right. DO NOT TELL THEM WHAT YOUR PRODUCT IS. 
  5. The next minute is spent by you contributing/adding to the picture/toy in front of you.
  6. Continue to pass this paper around for 5 rounds.

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There should be no talking during this exercise; other than someone letting you know that time is up. After the 5 rounds discuss:

  • what you were thinking
  • what others were thinking 
  • things that now frighten or amaze you about the people you work alongside
  • anything else that comes to mind as a result of this exercise

Keeping a workforce engaged involves giving them time to express their creative selves and offering them time to play with one another to build stronger relationships.Taking a creativity break just like this is a great place to start. There will be more to follow. So in the meantime……………..

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Socialism, Social Media, Social Distancing, or Socially Lost

buy God Told Me To So half the citizens of the United States think that President Obama is leading them down a path to Socialism. Entrepreneurs think that the new and only way to make money is Social Media. And apparently Human Resource Leaders (and attorneys) think that the best way to keep people healthy this season and to avoid the dreaded Swine Flu / H1N1 Virus is to keep employees away from one another through a process called Social Distancing.

Social Distancing? Yep, Social Distancing. There was even a Human Resources Forum held in the City of Hartford recently to discuss this growing topic. In social distancing you do the following:

  1. You let people work remotely
  2. You redesign office workspaces to keep people further apart from each other
  3. You hold fewer meetings

Let’s take a look at these……….

Remote Workforce –

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Letting people work remotely has become like a game of Simon Says. Work from home. Don’t work from home. Work from home. Don’t work from home. It’s been used for cutting costs – less office space needed helping increase the bottom line. It’s been used for work/life balance. It’s been used to get that arrogant salesperson who completely ruins employee morale out of the office; after all he or she brings in a boatload of cash and we can’t let them go. It’s been proven to be effective; it’s been proven to be ineffective; depends on who is tweaking the study. Some people can work from home. Others need a structured environment. Well kids, Simon is now saying work from home again. Pack up those laptops. Fill up those briefcases with office supplies. Drop off your surgical mask on the way out the door; you won’t be needing it at home.

Office Redesign – And the walls came a tumbling down. Cubicle walls went away. Open space floor plans became popular. We’ve moved people out of big cities into local communities. Offices are only given to Officers. Heck, even the C-Suite at McDonald’s Corporation is a version of cubicles and not offices. Well I guess that’s about to change. The walls are coming back to an office near you. Will they be reinforced with asbestos or lead? And for the lazy folks; you’ll now have reason to instant message a co-worker about what time to meet for lunch – as his or her workstation will be an additional five steps away.

Fewer Meetings – Now as for meetings, I’m sure this one will be the most popular. Maybe this Swine Flu /. H1N1 thing has a benefit after all. We can stop holding pointless meetings. We can stop holding meetings about which meetings to schedule. We can start getting back to work and producing results by being creative and not being swayed or coerced into the popular decision. Holding fewer meetings? I’m in favor of that. And when you do get together for meetings I’ll bet they’ll be productive, eye-opening, and fun!

To me the only thing that all this Social Stuff is doing is making people Socially Retarded; which clearly is a term that we should not be using any longer. Heck, states such as my own have begun to remove the word retarded from their vocabulary – the Department of Mental Retardation recently became the Department of Developmental Services – and it was long overdue!

Socialism, Social Media and now Social Distancing are clearly further removing human contact from our world. I don’t know about you, but I think we’re becoming a world that is Socially Lost.

See you soon. I’m off to update my Facebook status

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What DID you want to be when you grew up?

Yep, you read it right. It says what did you want to be? I went through a period where I wanted to be an undertaker. Then I had wanted to be a photographer for erotic magazines. Hey, no judging; I was young and hormonal. What did you want to be?

Back then we dreamed of being astronauts, firefighters, teachers, and doctors. We would go out in the neighborhood and play astronaut, firefighter, teacher or doctor? I even played undertaker. My friend Billy liked playing dead. Go figure.

But I wonder what kids play today? Are they playing Social Media Expert? Or Brand Manager? Do you think kids of today play Chief Executive Officer, Relocation Specialist, or Enterprise Communications Director?

I don’t know what they’re playing but I’m sure of one thing……………the majority of you reading this never imagined you’d be doing the work you’re doing today. How does one get from Undertaker to Motivational Speaker?

Did you ever stop and think when your dream ended, got railroaded or just pushed aside for something better? What was that turning point? That revelation? Or did we just outgrow it? I remember a while back speaking to a Funeral Director’s Association and thinking to myself……I was supposed to be hanging with you. I guess I just got to hang with them in a different position. At least it was an upright one.

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But I am curious…….what DID you want to be when you grew up. Feel free to click here and leave your answer   download Last Exit to Brooklyn Broken buy

VIA the truth we learn a lot

So Starbucks unveiled their new instant coffee this past week  – VIA. Did you go for your free sample? Hurry; today is the last day.

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Saturday morning I took their taste test. I chose VIA over the brewed. I asked the Barista if the brewed was their Pike Place blend which is just plain nasty! She replied yes.

I told her I remember a time when all Starbucks brewed mild and bold options all day long; now they seem to only brew bold – aka nasty Pike Place. I suggested that maybe it is a secret plot to get me to buy more expensive drinks – which by the way is working.

Her response was “I hope not.”

Sunday morning I walk into a different Starbucks. Same test. Same choice. I took it again. Again, I picked the instant as tasting better. I offered my same remark about the secret plot.

This time I got “I think you’re right. Pike Place is gross. I wish we would stop selling it.”

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Monday morning; back to first Starbucks. I share my Sunday experience with the woman who served me on Saturday. To which she responds “Okay, if you promise not to tell on me I think Pike Place is gross too and maybe it is a plot.”

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Well Starbucks, VIA has offered us the truth. Pike Place needs to go ——— before your customers go elsewhere.

But more importantly I love employees who don’t feel obligated to tow the company line; who are willing to share their true and honest thoughts. Because in the end………….that is how you’ll keep me as a customer.

Now what am I going to do with these two coupons for free cups of brewed nasty Pike Place?