023: The Power of Workplace Humor with Michael Kerr

By June 13, 2016Podcasts

 

Michael Kerr headshot and quote “A lot of psychologists believe that a healthy sense of humor is, perhaps, the most powerful stress-buster available to us” from interview in episode 23 of the How to be Awesome At Your Job Podcast with Pete Mockaitis

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Michael Kerr shows us how to see the humor in our daily work frustrations, and the benefits it brings for long-term success.

You’ll learn:

1) The critical link between humor and creativity
2) How to turn a stressful situation into something humorous with the three R’s (reframe, reward, relax)
3) Approaches to building a humor“first-aid” kit

About Michael
Michael is listed as one of Canada’s most in-demand speakers. He is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), best-selling author, and one of only 22 speakers to be inducted into the Canadian Speakers’ Hall of Fame. Building on his experience as a “recovering senior manager,” Michael travels the world researching, writing, and speaking about what makes a great workplace,well…great! He is known as one of North America’s leading authorities on how to create a more positive and inspiring workplace: the kind of workplace that drives phenomenal success.

Items mentioned in the show: 

Michael Kerr Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Michael, thanks so much for being here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Michael Kerr
Well, thank you for having me, Pete. It is awesome to be here.

Pete Mockaitis  
Oh shucks. Well, it’s fun and I know that you’re often travelling all around Canada, the US, and everywhere with your speaking and events and such. Tell me, when you are not in front of large crowds, what do you do for fun and recreation?

Michael Kerr        
When I’m not in front of the masses, I live in one of the most beautiful spots in Canada. In fact, we just got … I just saw this yesterday. We made it to the number one coolest town in Canada. I live in a little place called Canmore, Alberta in the Canadian Rockies, right next to Banff National Park. So right on my doorstep are the Canadian Rockies. We’ve got these spectacular hiking trails. So when I’m not speaking, I am typically out on the trails hiking. In the winter time, cross-country skiing. Mountain biking. Just enjoying the spectacular scenery.

In fact in the next few weeks, my wife and I are going to be heading out looking for grizzly bears. Because this is a prime time to go grizzly bear watching in the Rockies.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow. I imagine you do that from a safe distance, perhaps with binoculars?

Michael Kerr
Yes, we don’t just stroll out looking for … yeah it’s all done from a safe distance, in our cars, where we feel very safe.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh man, my only considerations with the grizzly bears come about when, you’re camping and you’re tired. It’s dinner time and they’re like, “Well you got to get them in the trees, you got to put the food up in the trees so the bears don’t come.” I’m like, “Are there really any bears? We’re tired.” But we always did it. So we practiced bear safety.

Michael Kerr
Excellent, I’m glad to hear it. We should just talk about bear safety, I think. That would just be an awesome, nonsensical diversion.

Pete Mockaitis
I think bear safety’s critical, so we are going to have a redirection. Well, so this is fun and so your specialty is humor in the workplace. So I think we’re going to have a lot of fun with this. Earlier we chatted with Esteban Gast, a comedian, and made for a great conversation. So could you tell us, first and foremost, I imagine that makes for a popular speaker at an association event. Oh yeah let’s get the funny guy. Tell us, what is the nuts and bolts value of humor at work in general? Is it just fun and is fun intrinsically valuable? How should we think about that?

Michael Kerr
One of my main messages is, of course it’s fun and it’s a fun topic. I really do stress that there is a humor advantage, as I called my latest book The Humor Advantage, at an individual, at a team, and at an organizational wide level. There’s a huge humor advantage that pays off in terms of our own success in any job. We know from all sorts of studies at an individual level, that people who have a healthy sense of humor tend to be liked more. We view them as even physically more attractive. We trust them more. They are more creative. It helps people manage their stress effectively.

So there are all these benefits that help us succeed no matter what job we’re doing out there. Just at an individual level. In fact as I write about, more and more business are looking to hire people who have a healthy sense of humor. So it can help us even just get our foot in the door. At a team level we know the teams that laugh together, tend to be more productive, more creative, more innovative. There was an article in Scientific America last year that talked about how team meetings that have high levels of humor, fun, joking, bantering around, tend to be the most effective meetings.

Then at a business wide level, there’s a huge advantage that has been shown to pay off in terms of increased morale, increased sales, productivity. Again, more innovation, less stress, reduced employee absenteeism rates, reduced employee turnover rates. So there really is a huge payoff but, to take your note Pete, is it just worth having for intrinsic reasons? Here’s one of my messages too is that all things being equal, even if embracing a greater sense of humor in your workplace, in your own career, doesn’t help you achieve all those goals, what would you rather have? The same level of success and less fun, or the same level of success and at least be enjoying the journey a little bit more.

So it seems like a no-brainer kind of decision to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay yeah, I’m on board. I’m sold. It’s funny I remember … So I worked at a Bane & Company consulting for a while, and that was one of the key messages they even put in their recruiting literature was: “we laugh a lot.” I found that to be true. We did laugh a lot and that’s one of the things I loved about collaborating with those colleagues. So you’re telling me that when you take the ins and outs associated with time, quote unquote wasted with laughing, joking around, screwing around, versus the benefits, the benefits come out way ahead. Even if they didn’t, if it were even, you’d still be on board.

Michael Kerr
Absolutely, yeah. I mean look at it this way too. Who among us is going to, when we’re sitting on the old rocking chair at 103 years old, look back at our work days and think to ourselves, “Man if I did it all over again, I would take myself more seriously. I would work in a more soul-sucking fun-sucking, miserable work environment, and I would spread misery everywhere I go.” I don’t think any of us are going to say that, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Nope, I’m on board. I’m on board. So maybe could you just tease us with a little bit. If you think about those studies, could you maybe reference one number from one study, that will make the hard charger achiever listener go, “Oh wow, I’m convinced.”

Michael Kerr
Let me just give a few numbers around that. For example, a Bell Leadership study found that the two top traits employees wanted from their leaders was a strong work ethic, and a healthy sense of humor. So when we talk about leadership in the workplace, and recognizing that anybody can be a leader and any level in any organization. It has nothing to do with job title or your position, or power. It’s about your ability to influence the people you work with. People want to be led by people who have a healthy sense of humor.

I also quote a study from Hayes & Associates that talks about more funny might just lead to more money. How they found a direct correlation between people who have a healthy sense of humor, and an increased likelihood for those people to either a bonus or to get promoted in their organizations.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, that’s good. That’ll do it. So let’s talk about the phrase, healthy sense of humor, which you’ve used a few times. So is there, I don’t know how you visualize it, maybe a continuum or spectrum. What’s too little, what’s too much? What’s healthy, what’s unhealthy?

Michael Kerr
That’s a huge huge question, and my starting point for this always is to be clear about what we mean when we talk about a sense of humor. So lets start with what I’m not talking about, which is being the office clown, being a stand-up comedian, and telling jokes. Having a healthy sense of humor, in my mind, isn’t about telling jokes and it’s certainly not always even about being funny. It’s about taking those things we have no control over in our work life less seriously. Which is a huge percentage for some people, in their jobs. And it’s about taking ourselves less seriously. It’s about laughing at ourselves in order to do our work more effectively.

Is it not a truism, that the more seriously a person takes themselves, the less seriously everyone else takes that person. Which is kind of ironic, right? Because they’re taking themselves so darn seriously, because they want people to take them seriously, and then nobody takes them seriously. Because they’re so uptight and unwilling to laugh at themselves. So it’s about a sense of balance. It’s about a sense of perspective and proportion in our lives, and it’s about a sense of humanity.

I belong to this association called the International Group for Humor Studies. Frequently they talk about the importance of not just generating humor, but also the other side of the equation, appreciating humor. Even if you’re not what you think of as a naturally humorous person. There is still a very positive benefit of showing that you appreciate humor. That you can find the humor out there in your life, and in your work life, and appreciate it an laugh at the stuff that’s going on around you.

So when it comes to this notion of healthy humor in the workplace, of course that’s what we have to stress. That ideally the humor is positive, it’s supportive of each other. It’s not that put down kind of humor. It’s not the humor that a bully might use on us, obviously. It’s not racist, sexist kind of humor. It’s not the humor we would experience at a night club. We have to recognize you’re at work, we have to be professional. It’s just about being more human and just tapping into those moments of levity that happen day in and day out.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. So it’s a matter of, when something happens outside your control and maybe it’s not what you wanted, it maybe puts you behind schedule, you find the laugh. The fun, humor inside that. Could you give us just a couple examples to make that come to life?

Michael Kerr
Yeah, there’s several ways to do that. In fact one of the very simple formulas that I use, is to remind people of three simple R’s of tapping into their sense of humor. So the first one being reframe, and reminding yourself that stress is in the eye of the beholder. So we know it’s not the stuff that happens to us, that causes us stress. It’s the interpretation of the stuff that is the sole source of stress in our lives. It is what the voice, or voices I think I have 12 in my head, are saying to us that causes us stress.

Well humor is also in the eye of the beholder. Humor is nothing more than how we see the world. It’s practicing looking at the world, looking at our experiences, the things that happened to us in a little bit of a different way. So my first R is reframe. Practice playing with that voice in your head, to just look at the situation in a different way. Imagine you’re in the center of a sitcom and the people you work with are sitcom characters. Have a funny mantra that you go to. A funny song. Something to just help you look at it in a different way.

Do the old, “You know, this could be worse.” Then exaggerate so much, how it could be worse, that you can’t help but laugh. Because it gives you that healthy perspective. It takes a little practice to do that, but reframing is incredibly powerful. In fact a lot of psychologists believe that a healthy sense of humor is, perhaps, the most powerful stress buster available to us. Because of its power to reframe the situations that happen to us.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s so fun. So when you talk about a song or a mantra, it’s funny. I guess I never have shared this with anybody before and so I’ll share it with thousands at once. When something happens to me that I don’t like. I think it’s stupid, it’s bogus, it’s broken, it shouldn’t be occurring. I guess my song or mantra is, almost like a radio jingle where they say the letters of the show. It sounds like, “W-T-F, Chicago.” You know like this is a program I’m on an something absurd is happening, and I guess that really does. It lightens the mood.

It changes things from, “I’m not getting my way and I don’t like this!” To, “Well, okay. Now what?”

Michael Kerr
Yeah, that’s brilliant right? It’s so simple and it sounds silly, but if it works for you … and here’s the thing we have to remember. When we’re managing our own stress at work, ultimately all that we can deal with is our own reaction to things. How we see things, how we cope with things ourselves. So first and foremost, it’s about finding a way to give ourselves a laugh, in that humorous perspective. When something’s driving us nuts, you know? You trip and fall at work, you have the choice. You can be embarrassed, you can kick the darn floor, or you can leap up to your feet and you can ask the people who saw you fall to the ground, for a standing ovation. Or you can yell out, “Wow a 9.2 from the Romanian judge. I’m going to the Olympics, baby.”

Just doing something silly like that can give you that perspective. So two other R’s that I mentioned Pete, to help us out in stressful situations. Second R is reward, and that’s tying a fun reward to something that bugs you or stresses you out. It’s been shown, for example, with search and rescue dogs that are dealing with huge disaster where all the dogs are doing is finding dead bodies, that the dogs will get so demoralized they’ll quite working. So what they figured out to do is, they reward the dogs for their stress. By burying a live member of the search and rescue team in the avalanche, in the rumble.

Which sounds so crazy, right? But it works, the dog keeps finding live people and they feel good about their job. So call me crazy, but I’m thinking, “Hey, if it works with dogs, maybe it works with people.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow, I did not … I bet people who aren’t paying attention now made it go right passed them. Oh mercy.

Michael Kerr
It works with people in all sorts of ways. For example, here’s just some simple examples. One client who had their office right next to the train tracks, and every time a train would go by the building would shake and it was noisy. It was just one of those little pet peeves. Not a huge deal, right? They decided to reward their stress, by putting this bin of everybody’s favorite chocolates in the middle of the office. They way it worked was, you could only get a chocolate when the train went by.

So they attached a reward to something that was stressing them out. I’ve seen people do this in all sorts of different creative ways. I worked in one place where we had the official bonehead play of the month award, and you would actually where this bonehead prop on your head. The way it work was you had to nominate yourself, because it doesn’t build the old team spirit to start nominating each other. So you had to nominate yourself and say, “You know what, guys? I did something so embarrassing, so stupid, I feel like a bit of a bonehead.” Because we’re going to laugh at ourselves. It’s not a question of if we’re going to do a bonehead thing, it’s when’s the next time.

So we had this little ceremony, everyone who nominated themselves would have to come forward and explain why they deserve the reward, for having done the most bonehead thing. That served two purposes, because not only did you get a reward for having done something that cause you a bit of stress. It also created that environment, where people were willing to open up about their mistakes, and admit them, so we all learn from them. So it was fabulous. Then the third R is just remembering the power of humor to help us relax and re-energize ourselves.

In fact, human and laughter is a triple threat. This is why it’s so effective, and we shouldn’t dismiss it as something trivial. It changes our thinking when we tap into our sense of humor. So there’s a cognitive response. Physically it changes us when we laugh, and we know from all these fabulous studies that laughter massages our muscles where we pick up a lot of tension. It increases the oxygen going to the brain, and oxygen going to the brain at work’s peak, highly recommended. It increases pain killing chemicals, reduces stress inducing chemicals like cortisol. It increases flow of blood in our bodies.

A Simon Fraser University study found that laughter works faster to relax our bodies, than either Valium or vodka. You’ve got to like this one, one study suggests that 20 or 30 seconds of good, hearty belly laughter is the same physical workout as about two minutes of a rowing machine. So now, I just go down to my local gym, and laugh at the people working out.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh that is good.

Michael Kerr
It’s good for us physically, right? Then the third benefit, it’s a triple threat. So changes our thinking, helps us relax physically, and it shifts us emotionally. So it really is a powerful tool if we start practicing it in the face of stress. Again, in terms of relaxing, sometimes it’s as simple as doing something. Like putting on a goofy prop, phoning up your boss when you’re overwhelmed and saying, “Hey, yeah, it’s me. Sorry I’m too busy to talk right now.” And then hanging up.

I did that for years in one place worked, just to give myself a laugh and relax. So there’s just all sorts of simple ways, that people can tap into their sense of humor.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh I like that so much, and that is my own experience as well. Sometimes I’m having the day where everything’s kind of funny. You know you laugh it off and it’s amusing, and you see the humor in things. Other days, they’re not so much the case. Everything is a travesty when it pops up, and it’s not according to plan and it’s putting me behind schedule and all this stuff. So I’d love to hear some thoughts there. You gave a few great, kind of quick tips. Calling up your boss, saying I’m too busy to talk right now. What are some other kind of quick ways to, this might be asking too much but let’s see what we can do, laughing on demand.

I think that, I like the XKCD comics. That’s one thing I’ll do, it’s like, “It’s time for more laughter. I’m going to go here.” And that does it for me. What are some other ways to get laughing quick?

Michael Kerr
Get laughing quick in a serious emergency.

Pete Mockaitis  
Yes.

Michael Kerr
One thing you can do, it sounds again kind of silly and trivial, but I have met people who’ve done this and teams who’ve done this, and I’ve suggested this to clients all over the world, is create a humor first-aid kit. If there’s a serious emergency, you’ve got this humor first-aid kit stockpiled with things that you know is going to work for you at an individual level. At a team level you can do this, where everybody contributes stuff. So it could be funny things that you read on your coffee break or your lunch hour, that will help give you that distance you need. Help you forget about work for a little bit while. It could be some fun prop, some funny costume part, some funny noise makers, whatever it is.

We used to have these multi-function noise makers that we would use in or meetings, for all sorts of different reasons. They had the Twilight Zone noise, and all these goofy different noises, you know? It’s simple, but it can help. So create a humor first-aid kit is one helpful tip. Another thing I encourage people to do. If you want to grow your sense of humor, and this has been shown from studies, to be the most effective way to grow your sense of humor. That is just simply, start a humor file or start a humor book, where you collect the unintentionally funny stuff in the world in your work place. The stuff, in other words, that’s not supposed to be funny until you look at it in a little bit of a different way.

For example, those poorly written newspaper headlines like, kids make nutritious snacks. Signs that say, “eat here and get gas”. At a gas station and restaurant near where I live, they have that sign. When I was in one job as a manager, I started a humor file and I’d collect the things. Like the time this woman phoned me up doing a survey from our head office. She said, “Mr. Kerr, I need to know the number of people in your department, broken down by sex.” That’s the kind of stuff that would go into my accidentally funny file.

If you do that, it’s call selective perception. It’s just like when you go to buy a new car, and you start seeing that car everywhere. Well same thing, if you give yourself a goal of finding more funny, more humor in your life, you will start to see it everywhere. As you’re scanning newspapers, magazines, as you’re listening to people, as you’re just looking at stuff in a different way, you’ll find it everywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh that’s so good, and I am going to absolutely do that. It’s so funny, I’ve started that a little bit. I used to be very diligent about this, every time I heard a name that I thought was hilarious, I said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. I need to add this to my list of funny names.” And then I would list it to it. The winner right now, belongs to Pena Poonjesticals.

Michael Kerr
Then you’re always on the lookout for it, right? I have a friend, who for years, has collected people’s names who match their profession. It’s the same kind of idea, he’s always on the lookout. Sometimes it’s pretty … it’s kind of loose, you have to be a little creative, but you go, “Oh my goodness that name matches your job perfectly.” He’s got like, 700 names now.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh that’s so good. That’s so good. It’s funny, as we’re imaging these approaches and tactics, I think I’m imagining a workplace in which one segment thinks, “Oh this is fantastic. I love it.” And the other half is like, “This is very unprofessional.” Or a waste or whatnot. I’m sure you see that a lot as you’re doing workshops with different kinds of teams and folks. How do you get the slow adopters on board?

Michael Kerr
Well, a few ways, and you’re right. That is absolutely the case. You have to, first of all, try and understand what their reasons are for fearing it. For some people it’s simply the fact that they might be introverts. They’re worried that what you’re talking about is going to be things that will put them on the spot, or make them feel uncomfortable. So that’s one of the things I stress, “Look 30 to 50% of the population are introverts.” So I’m not talking about being like me when I’m on stage. Which is this wild and crazy, enthusiastic kind of guy. It’s about being yourself, first and foremost.

Being your authentic self, so you need to do what works for you. There’s also the simple things that introverts can do to, to grow their sense of humor and share their sense of humor. There’s no correlation, you can have just as good a sense of humor as an introvert, as you would with an extrovert. So it’s partly laying those fears to rest. Of course the biggest fear, I think, is what you said. That this is not professional and we’re here to work. So one of the things I stress, over and over, is the success stories from companies around the world, that do this successfully. That show the real financial bottom line results of focusing on your encounter.

I stress that if you just do some of this goofy stuff, then you do run the risk of it being window dressing. Of people being cynical and rolling their eyes and thinking that it’s just a band-aid solution to more serious problems. So one of the things I really, really stress is that a humorous attitude and a sense of humor and fun at work, is both a driver of a successful culture, but more importantly I think, it reflects a successful culture. So when you do all those things you need to do in your culture anyways, like building a culture of trust and respect and openness. Treating people like adults and living the value of open and honest communication. Living your values out loud. Then it becomes easy for everyone to have a good attitude and bring a sense of humor along for the ride.

So it becomes the end result of success in any business, and the end result of building a positive culture.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh absolutely, I agree with that and I think that was the case at Bane. At Bane we laugh a lot, it was a statement and a truth. Not just because we created humor files, although I’m absolutely going to do this in ever note. So thank you for that. Just because we did have those other elements in play, and so it was able to flourish in that kind of a way. So that’s wonderful. So I guess … oh boy I’ve got so many things I wanted to tap into.

Michael Kerr|
Pete, just jumping on that point too, when I give examples of all these organizations that are doing it. One of the things I stress is that these are still high expectation organizations. They still … they hold employees accountable. We’re not talking about creating a fun house here at work and saying, “You know people can just skateboard down the hallways and bring whoopee cushions to the next board meeting.” Of course people are there to work first and foremost, and produce and get results, but here’s the interesting thing. Some of the most fun, high energy organizations, also happen to be those that have high expectations for their employees.

They hold their employees and their teams and their leadership accountable. There’s a company in Winnipeg, Manitoba called Argus Industries and they have this wonderful mantra that is simply this, “Look, work is hard enough as it is without making it any harder. So let’s work really hard, let’s set high goals for ourselves, but hey let’s have a little bit of fun along the way. Maybe if we do have a little bit of fun along the way, we’ll be even more successful at achieving those goals.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. So to be more successful at achieving the goals, I’d love to hear your … you’ve got a great little tidbit about, ha ha leads to aha, the connection between laughter and creativity. Could you speak a bit about that?

Michael Kerr
There’s a huge correlation between humor and creativity. I think they both feed off of each other. They’re both about looking at the world, but in different ways. Looking at our challenges, our issues, but sort of off to the side, a little askewed. There’s all sorts of studies that show, when groups do nothing more, for example, than watch a comedian on video. Then they sit down to brainstorm. The groups who watch comedians, tend to come up with more ideas and more novel ideas than the groups that don’t.

There’s all sorts of reasons for this. When we tap into our sense of humor as a team and I do full day workshops on creativity and innovation. We talk about how groups will sometimes play theater improv games, or do something really goofy before they sit down to brainstorm in a high energy way. The benefits of doing that are so numerous. It helps relax everyone, it levels the playing field. It levels the hierarchy so it doesn’t feel like you’re with your boss and your employees. You’re just a bunch of kids playing around. It helps shift you over to more right side of your brain. It helps you see things in a different way. It opens up communications, and it lower your inhibitions.

This is a big one, I think. Lowers your inhibitions, so that you are that much more willingly, hopefully, to throw out a truly wild, outrageous idea. That maybe you would have hold back on if you hadn’t been put into that positive, playful mind frame.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh I like that so much. Thinking about creativity, I’m now thinking back to my experiences, facilitating brainstorming sessions and there was a little bit of lull and a previous guest,  EstebanGast, talked about this as well in the creative process. There is a bit of a lull, and then folks just like, “Oh what the heck.” They can just open up. They have less inhibition and just go ahead and put it out there. It’s great to see. Also, semi-related to that point, could you speak a bit about your philosophy you speak often about, with regard to going the extra inch, as opposed to going the extra mile. How’s that tie in with this?

Michael Kerr
Right, yeah. I talk about, in two different ways I talk about, if we’re going to build a great culture at work, then we have to remember that I think that starts by putting service first. Building what I call a service first culture is one of our top values. Recognizing that some of our most important customers are right next to us. They’re sitting right there. Our teammates, our boss, our employees. Whoever they may be. I mean one of my definitions of great teamwork is, well, it’s about remembering your teammates are also you’re customers. I need to provide good customer service to the rest of my teammates.

One of the definitions of leadership is providing good service to your employees. So it’s creating that service mindset internally, in your culture to build a better culture. Also, of course, recognizing that everybody is in the service business and so we all have customers out there. It’s the only reason any of us exist in business. So we have to be focused on providing exceptional service to our customers. One of the simple ways we do that, one of the things I say to my groups is, “Stop providing good customer service. Just stop it, because we all expect good customer service when we go out there in the world. So if all you’re doing it providing good customer service, all you’re doing is meeting expectations.”

That’s not going to wow anybody. That’s not going to get you, at an individual level or a company level, known for your service. Unless you do something that exceeds those expectations, of good customer service. So, one of the goals I challenge people with is just look for opportunities to go the extra inch. Because it really is the simple little things that will make a difference in someone’s life. It’s the little things that bug us, the little things that somebody doesn’t do or doesn’t anticipate, or just forgets to do, that will annoy us. It’s the little things, the little moments, that will make a difference.

So again, humor ties into this in that, if we just bring our natural sense of humor along for the ride, that is one of the simplest starting points we can do to provide service at an extra inch, and a little bit different. There’s so many simple ways we can do this. We all know that when we’re interacting with anybody, it doesn’t matter where we are, a person who has a great sense of humor, we are going to remember that person. We are going to like that person. Doing just simple little things to stand out.

I, I don’t know maybe about a year and a half ago, I phoned Shutterfly. The online photo, web sharing site and I got the usual automated voice mail response. At the end, this is what they call a very creative humorous go the extra inch thing that they did, at the end of the automated response, my options was this, “If you would like to hear these options again, but in pirate, please press nine.” I laughed out loud, I thought, “That’s awesome. Who would not want to hear these in pirate.”

So I pressed the button and there’s a pirate, “Arr Matey, if you think your package has been lost at high sea, press number two.” I mean that’s brilliant. I got off the phone smiling, liking this company even more, telling everybody about it. It’s a simple little, go the extra inch little idea. We’ve got to encourage those, we’ve got to reward those, we’ve got to challenge people to consistently come up with just little extra inch things that they can do. Again, it starts by just bringing out sense of humor along for the ride.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. As I’m thinking about when you’re providing great customer service to your fellow teammates, your employees, and going the extra inch. I guess there are a lot of little things that come to mind. Primarily, I think, just kind of bringing your brain with you. I terms of you notice something, you don’t just highlight that you notice something, you also say, “And I’d be happy to do this.” In response to it and just be proactive about those sorts of things. What are some other kind of quick wins or simple opportunities, that come up all the time for people to go the extra inch with their teammates?

Michael Kerr
I think one of the things, and you sort of touched on that there, but one of the big things for me is just anticipating somebody’s needs. If we just give a little bit of thought, whether we’re sending an e-mail to someone or leaving a voice mail message, just anticipating, Okay, what questions might they have? What’s going to make this easier for them? What extra might they need, that’s going to help them out. I was reminded, a couple year ago, when I got my first Siri on my iPhone. We were at an airport, and I was reminded of how cool it is to anticipate people’s needs. I’m sitting at the airport lounge, a little bit bored, so I whip out Siri. She was still new to me at that time, and I asked Siri, “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” And she said, “It depends whether it’s an American groundhog, or a European groundhog.” Then she went on with like 15 different answers for this, and I thoughtwhat a cool example of a company anticipating future needs.

They actually, years ago, anticipated that some goofball like me and other people were going to ask these stupid, inane questions. So that’s the kind of mindset we need to bring to our job. If we really want to be known in our job, in any workplace, as a team player.Somebody who is invested in our company. Somebody who is there and we know the old saying, right? There’s a difference between showing up at work and showing up to work. I think one of the simplest things we can do is just start anticipating people’s needs more and more. Just trying to think one step ahead of them.

So that’s another thing that I think we need to do. That’s very simple if we just start putting it into practice.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful, thank you. Well is there anything else you want to make sure you get out there before we shift gears into the fast faves segment?

Michael Kerr
No, just, I do want to stress again that at the heart of this, we’re just talking about being more authentic, more genuine, more human. We know again, from so many studies, that that is one of the keys to success in any workplace is when we just bring our best selves to work, day in and day out. It’s also one of the keys to a great culture. When I interview or survey employees about what makes them happy at work, and why they like this place to work more than any other place. One of the top answers I get is, “You know, at this place I’m finally allowed to be myself. I just feel like I can be me, without any of that fake stuff of pretending I’m somebody else. That’s why I feel so engaged and so happy.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s lovely, thank you. Okay, shifting gears here a bit, can you share with us a favorite quote?

Michael Kerr
A favorite quote. This is the fast round, right? I’m stalling for time. A favorite quote. Lily Tomlin, “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. How about a favorite study? Something that you … a piece of research you reference again and again. Maybe you’ve already cited it.

Michael Kerr
A favorite study. There are so many that I reference. I like the really goofball, weird, offbeat studies. One study that I do like, just because it’s a little bit offbeat, I reference a couple of studies in my book from dogs. From what again we’ve learned from dogs, where they looked at stress hormones in dogs in Europe. One set of dogs were police dogs, and one set of dogs were border patrol dogs. They measured their stress hormones, after the dogs played. What they found was rather interesting, and it ties into all this in a really cool way. Because they … and I can’t remember which was which, without looking it up, but one set of the dogs, their stress hormones actually rose.

The other set, their stress hormones dropped substantially, after playing. Which is what we would expect. When you play you’re supposed to be more relaxed, your stress should go down, and the reason for that difference is with one group of dogs, they were ordered to play. So they more or less were commanded to play, whereas the other set, they were invited to play. I just think that’s awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
That is good, that is good. How about a favorite book?

Michael Kerr
One of my favorite novels, which I just read recently, is called Fifteen Dogs. It’s this weird, quirky book. Very bizarre, but very quirky. It won the Giller Prize here in Canada. It’s about these Roman gods who make a bet with each other, and they end up giving 15 dogs human intelligence. Then watch the story unfold.

Pete Mockaitis
That is fascinating.

Michael Kerr
It’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite personal practice of yours, that you have found really boosts your effectiveness?

Michael Kerr
Focus time, I would say, is one of the things I try to commit to. I know when my brain is at its sharpest, and I know that’s in the morning between 9:00 and 11:00. So I tend to block off those two hours, and shut down technology, and I use those two hours to produce, to focus, to write. To do high value, high thinking, kind of activities.

Pete Mockaitis
That explains why you’re nailing it right now, so well.

Michael Kerr
Exactly. Except for the fast round.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite nugget that you share? That when you convey it, audience members they nod their head, they take notes, they re-tweet, in your book they kindle highlight it. What’s a quote or two that you have?

Michael Kerr
More and more I talk about meetings and the importance of meetings. This tends to get re-tweeted and shared a lot, because I think meetings are a sore spot for a lot of people at work. So one of the things I say, is if people are dreading going to meeting in your workplace, you’re doing them wrong. Meetings should both help create the kind of culture you want to build in your organization, and they should also reflect your culture.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. What would be the best way to get in touch with you, if folks want to learn more?

Michael Kerr
Folks can drop by my website 24/7 believe it or not. Isn’t that amazing technology? Triple W dot Mike Kerr dot com get’s you there, or humor at work gets you there. There’s all sorts of articles and resources. I would invite people to sign up for my weekly raved about inspiring workplaces, humor at work,  If they do signup, they get a free download bonus of 50 plus ways to add fun to their meetings.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, lovely, thank you. Would you have a final challenge, or call to action for those seeking to become more awesome at their jobs?

Michael Kerr
Yes, remember that life is too important to take too seriously. As somebody once said, we are not getting out of life alive. So remember to enjoy the journey. Remember that we know from, again, so much research that happiness and a positive attitude, are the key drivers of success. We tend to sometimes think the other way around. We wait for things to happen in our life and think, “Well, I’ll be happy once that happens.” So remember to enjoy the journey. Laugh at yourselves more, find the funny, and don’t take life too seriously because you’re not getting out of it alive.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s lovely, thank you. Michael, it’s been so much fun having you. I wish you much luck, and fantastic, warm, friendly audiences, and many laughs along the way.

Michael Kerr    
Thank you, Pete. You as well.

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The Gold Nugget

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