Intro: Duration: (02:26)
Opening music jingle & sound effects
Hello everyone, I'm Jeff Hunt, and this is Human Capital, a GoalSpan podcast. On Human Capital, I interview top business thought leaders to uncover the deeply human aspect of work. One of the most deeply rooted aspects of our humanity at work is our need and desire to play and have fun in what we do. In business all too often, things are overly serious meeting critical deadlines, making our numbers, dealing with competitive threats, and on and on.
I'm excited to talk today about how as leaders we can help not only bring levity into the workplace but also create cultures where innovation and fun can flourish, even in difficult circumstances. My guest today is Jeff Harry, who is the founder of Rediscover Your Play. Jeff helps individuals and companies navigate difficult conversations and address their most challenging issues using play and positive psychology.
Jeff was named as a top 100 HR influencer in 2020, and recently named as one of BambooHR’s top HR influencers to watch. He is an international speaker and has been featured in the New York Times, Mashable, Upworthy, Shondaland, and CNN. Jeff has worked with Google, Microsoft, Southwest Airlines, Adobe, the NFL, Amazon, and Facebook.
Helping their staffs to infuse more play in the day-to-day. Welcome, Jeff.
Hey, thanks so much for having me. I'm excited.
Topic 1. Who or what inspired you to go into business? (01:48)
Jeff, I'm excited to have you on the show today because often in business, as I mentioned, things just get too serious. So hopefully you can help us figure out how to lighten things up a little.
But before we do that, take us back to the beginning of your career. Was there one person or thing that inspired you to go into business, and ultimately end up in this creative space?
Yeah. So, Tom Hanks. Do you remember the movie big? And Tom Hanks is actually from Oakland. This is the crazy part.
Remember the movie big with him, right? He was dancing on a piano and then they offered him a job to play with toys for a living. And I was like, that's a job? I can't believe that it's a job. Oh, that's going to be my job. So in third grade, when I saw it, I started writing toy companies and I did not stop.
All the way through junior high, high school, all the way through my college career until I got into the toy industry. And I don't know if you've ever gotten exactly what you always wanted and then hated it when you got there? Talk about culture, right? Like no toys, no fun. No high-fives. Adults stuck in cubicles being like, what am I doing with my life?
How did I get here? So I remember leaving New York, coming to the San Francisco bay area, Going through my quarter-life crisis. And I bumped into an organization while looking on Craigslist for just a fun job, that was teaching kids engineering with lego. But basically, they were just playing for a living.
There were only seven people there at the time, but they got to play and I was like, oh, I'm going to make this a thing. So with them, we basically grew it into the largest Lego-inspired STEM organization, in the US, in the next 15 years. And we did it all by playing, like no business plan.
Pick cities, we thought were fun. Pick people we thought were fun, made a ton of mistakes, but we were all about just play. Right. And then at some point, as you mentioned earlier around I think 2011 or 2012, we got the attention of Silicon Valley because we were teaching so many of their kids and they were like, do you do team building events?
Of course, we do. And we're like, what's a team-building event? We got to Google that. As Google is asking us to do a team-building event. So then we just made it up as we went along and we ended up running team to like events for like the next nine years. And what I found is that all of these companies, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Southwest, these companies talk about disruption.
They talk about risk-taking. They talk about creating a great culture, but in many ways, I didn't see it, and I realized a lot of it was because they hadn't created psychologically safe workspaces. So I created rediscover your play to address that using positive psychology in play so that we can actually show up to work and be actually ourselves.
Topic 2. Avoid creating a toxic company culture / How to build and maintain healthy and positive company culture? (04:51)
Got it. When you talk about toxic cultures. How do companies end up with a toxic culture? Talk about that and, how can leaders create and maintain healthy company cultures?
So, I heard this before. I don't know who's this from, but it's just like, culture's defined by the worst behavior tolerated.
Okay. So sort of the lowest common denominator.
Lowest common denominator. So if a company wants to know what their culture is like. What is going on right now, who is acting the worst at your company? And why do you tolerate that?
And Jeff, what's, what's their role in the dysfunction? Right. The leader.
How are you supporting that? A lot of times Simon Sinek speaks a lot about this out. There's the brilliant jerk, right? It's the person that's so mean, super toxic, but they bring in a lot of revenue. So you're like, oh, I can't touch that person. But he was saying how the Navy seals will never take the brilliant jerk regardless of how strong they are.
How smart, how athletic, all of the things that they need as a Navy seal because it destroys the team. So you have to ask yourself as the leader, is my brilliant jerk worth it? For everyone else that is going to leave because of it. If my brilliant jerk brings in $2 million of revenue, but it got five of my staff to quit, which costs us like three or 4 million over the next five years.
That's where you have to ask yourself, what am I doing? Why are we doing this? And to know who the toxic person is, most of the time, the whole company already knows, or at least the whole team. And you simply can just say, ask anybody, like, who's the most toxic person here? Who is doing the least amount of work?
And you get frustrated with the most. Everybody knows, everyone knows who the person is. Right? The a-hole like everybody knows.
Not a lot of thinking has to take place in order to, to figure out who that person is.
But if you're not willing to set boundaries, and you're not willing to change a person's behavior in such a way, you're going to have people leave, which is totally fine at this point because they have so many more options.
And I was saying this before, I'm writing an article about this right now. You know what CEOs and top executives must understand as that we are about to, and we're partly in the midst of it going to see the greatest migration of people out of the corporate world. If companies don't change how they treat their employees.
If they're showing up with empathy, understanding, and recognition of paying people more, providing them family leaves, all of the amenities that they realize they deserve while they were in lockdown, Ooh. Your company is going to become obsolete like a blockbuster.
So it sounds like toxic cultures are really created by tolerating that sort of lowest common denominator behavior, letting people stay.
And also not allowing people to sort of being themselves or authentic in the workplace. Does it also sort of come into that space as well?
And I challenged the idea of like authenticity. I think a lot of companies are like, be whoever you want to be show up as your full self. And then you show up as your full self and they're like.
Don't do all that though, take down that BLM message. No, you can't have those conversations. That's what happened to BaseCamp. The CEO of BaseCamp was like no more political discussions or societal issues. We're not going to have that discussion here. 30% of the staff left, many staff that had been there for like seven years, 10 years.
Leaders have to recognize that their actions speak louder than their words. And people watched your actions during the pandemic. And you have to ask your staff now, was trust built during this pandemic with me and the company? or was trust lost? Because a lot of people lost trust in their companies because some of them got furlough.
And then all of a sudden we're like, hey, come back and work as hard as you were before. Others weren't kept in the loop on what was going on financially. So you didn't know what was going on and had no connection. And then other people had leaders tell them, hey you got to stay and you got to work really hard.
And at the meantime, that leader was looking for other jobs and then eventually left.
Wow, that's incredible. And it's like every one of those aspects you just described. Is a reduction of trust. Trust in the company, trust in the relationships that not communicating, there are all sorts of problems that, that ultimately degrade trust.
And then people end up leaving right?
And it takes months if not years to build trust, but it takes a moment to break it.
Topic 3. The brilliant jerk (09:55)
Yeah, absolutely. So I want to shift for a second because you talked about the sort of toxic performer. What was the word you just used a minute ago? The brilliant jerk.
Okay. I want to talk about the brilliant jerk for a second, because GoalSpan, my company is in the performance management space. So one of the aspects of our tool is performance reviews. And I want to talk for a minute about problems associated with using numerical ratings in the review process because you can have the brilliant jerk who knocks the ball out of the park every quarter.
And, and maybe that's a five out of five on your scale, but nobody can get along with them. So that's a one, is he really a 2.5? Is he a three? Do you have any thoughts on that?
I see I'm going to go down a route that may not be popular, but I'm going to say it anyway.
Right. So, I was at this whiteness at work webinar with Deseret Ottaway who was hosting it. She was co-hosting with other people and she brought up the idea. Back in 1800, when there was, slave plantations, a lot of these slave plantations were like thousands of people.
So to manage that they needed management. They needed a lot of overseers and a lot of middle management measures. And then how did they measure production? How do they measure if a plantation was doing well? How many bushels of cotton was picked in a certain period of time? And they never asked the overseers how it got done.
They just were like, it's got to get done and you have to hit this mark. You have to hit this target. And then once you hit this target, you're given a higher target, another higher target. What's crazy is those same metrics are the way he's in which we measure productivity now, a lot of the stuff that we're doing is the exact same thing that was done in the 1800s.
The productivity of your middle manager doesn't question. How you're treating your employees. It doesn't question, what shady things you're doing to motivate people. It's just like, did you get the work done? Did you not get the work done? And as long as we don't incorporate it into performance management. Ability to work as a team, emotional intelligence, empathy, understanding your willingness to take over other people's work to get there, things like that.
If you're not measuring that, then you're just kind of measuring people as if they're robots or slaves. So then the brilliant job. Does really well, because, from that standpoint, they're crushing it. They're bringing in all the stuff. Who cares what they're doing to other staff who cares about what even they're doing? ´ Maybe they're turning off certain clients that don't want to work with them. And think about it. A lot of times a brilliant jerk has just a couple of clients that bring in a ton of the revenue and they lean on that and they sit on it. So they're not good for you in the long run.
They're good for the manager because it makes the manager look good in a quarterly profit.
It's almost like there's this traditional performance review. Like you're saying that goes all the way back to the 1800s and it measures people as producers rather than people.
If you think about that process, it's a backward-focused, punitive kind of anxiety-producing conversation, only focused on productivity. And what you're describing Jeff is this engaged relationship. That's team-oriented, where people have empathy and compassion and they care for each other.
And they do care about doing quality work and producing work. But the conversation is more productive and meaningful and creative and innovative and forward-focused. It's more of a coaching session.
Right. And they're thinking about the long term, it's the whole Simon Sinek thing of are you playing the infinite game or the finite game? In the finite game, I need to hit the quarterly results so I can get my bonus at the end of the year.
The infinite game is I want my staff to stay here for as long as possible. Because think of it now. I'd be fascinated with your listeners to think of this as like, what is your reward when you get your work? It's just more work. It's just higher standards. That's it?
You get like a small bonus, but for the amount of work you put in is it worth it? That's what you have to ask yourself.
And it's still true today that people are willing to accept lower pay for more meaningful work. Statistically.
Yeah, exactly. And especially after the great reassessment that we're going through, where it's just like, well, why do I want to give up my mental health?
Like I recently spoke about this. Naomi Osaka perfectly represents how the gen Z generation is acting. She is like my mental health is really important. The French open is like, well then if you're not going to do press things, then you're not going to be allowed to play. And then she walked away from $3 to $5 million dollars.
Not even if she didn't win, she gets that in endorsements and she was willing to walk away because she's prioritizing her mental health over money. I think a lot of companies, especially if you're a leader that's in the boomer generation or the gen X generation, you've got to realize gen Z’ers are prioritizing their mental health over your profits.
They will leave a company like that and they have so many more options now. So you have to really adapt how you're going to do because there's a, there's a whole new labor movement being driven by Gen Z-ers. That's inspiring millennials and gen X-ers and even some boomers to just be like, yeah, I don't need to tolerate that from my company anymore.
Why would I sacrifice my mental health over a few more funds?
Topic 4. What does play in the workplace look like? And why is it important? (16:12)
No doubt. Let's talk more about play in the workplace. Tell me why it's so important, especially now. And what does play look like in the workplace?
So I define play as any joyful act where you forget about time, right?
Where there is no purpose, there is no result. Where you don't have anxiety about the future. You don't have regrets about the past. You were fully in the moment. You're fully inflowed. So, what does play look like in the workplace? Is when your staff is inflow. So when I talk to people about like, Hey, how do you get your staff to play more?
First off you can't force fun. I hate forced fun. Like, Hey everyone, let's do escape from the room. And then one hour later everyone is gonna be happy.
Did we ever do that as kids? No, we didn’t.
Yeah, we didn't. Kathy's not going to like Chad after you do escape from the room. It's just not.
So you can't force it fun when the psychological safety isn't there. So part of building the psychological safety and getting your staff into flow would be, if I was a leader right now, I would reach out to my staff and I'd be like, what is the work that you love to do most? What is the work where you forget about time?
What is the work that makes you come most of your life? What's the work that makes it worth it for you to be here? That if you weren't getting paid to do this work, you would still do this work. And then once you find out, oh, it's you, you love talking to clients. What percentage of time do you do right now talking to clients?
You only talked to them 20% of the time? How can we turn that from 20% to like 30%? That's an extra five hours, not even that much. By doing that, you are communicating with your staff. I see you, and I understand you, and I care about you and I want you to do the work that actually you enjoy doing, and I'll figure out how the other work can get done because I want you to do this because frankly, you'll not only will you be in flow and be happier, but you'll probably bring in more revenue because when you are in flow, you’re 500% more productive.
You're five times more productive when you're inflow. So that'd be one of the first ways in which you can build some trust and rapport the second way in which you can build trust. And psychological safety is asking yourself as a leader. Do you know your staff's languages of appreciation? Do you know how your staff likes to receive it?
What are you talking about? Well, do they like to receive gifts? That's a bonus. If you take the same bonus at the end of the year and you spread it out throughout the entire year, giving it each time they do something really well. Higher productivity. Is it an act of service? Can you take over some of their work so they can go home and hang out with their family?
Is it quality time? Can you once a month have lunch with them or talk to them over zoom and be like, how're things go and just like take the time to talk to them? Or is it words of affirmation? I did this at my last job. Not only are you giving praise to your staff within the department, but you're giving praise outside of the department so that if they ever want to transfer, they can. I remember doing that for one of my staff members and then vouching for them when they've got their dream job at another company.
That person went to that dream job in another company and came back, came back to us. Because it got more words of affirmation and more connection with us? Than at his supposed dream job, which was toxic. So we have to realize that our level of communication and that we're not only connecting to our staff when we need something really matters.
So it's really about if I understand you correctly, creating a relationship, and knowing people well enough to customize your approach with every individual.
Yeah. It's not ping pong tables. It's not hanging. I mean, happy hour is great and everything. But if you haven't built the psychological safety first, the play will take care of itself.
The play will come in whatever form it's supposed to come. It's different for each company. But you have to build a relationship within your team. Even if your company's toxic, you can build the relationship with your team to be like, I got your back. And here are the actions that prove that I have your back.
Not just words because I just made a video about this on Tik Tok. There are so many companies and leaders that go, I hear your concerns, and then they don't do anything. Goes into a black hole and you never hear about it again. And then someone else brings it up. Stop telling them you hear your concerns and actually take some action on them.
It’s like conducting the annual employee engagement or experience survey and then doing nothing with the results.
Exactly! There are so many surveys like that. And also think about the amount of work. Here's another thing you could do to actually create not just safety, but then really gain a ton of respect.
Stop having a lot of bad meetings, stop having so many meetings, look at your meetings, and be like, why are we having meetings? We don't really need it. And if we have it, why does it have to be an hour-long? It could be 10 minutes. It could be 17 minutes. Just do the meeting. Don't waste people's time, right?
How much time is wasted? And also look at the work that they're doing. How many reports are they making up to prove the work that they're doing? And how much actual work are you allowing them to do, especially the work that makes them come most to live?
Topic 5. Is perfection the enemy of productivity? (21:49)
Definitely. Now talk for a minute about perfection. How does perfection come in and how has it related to playing?
I see play as the opposite of perfection. And perfection is rooted in shame and ego and fear of making a mistake. Fear of failure. That's perfection. Right? Well, what is play? Play is rooted in experimentation, curiosity. I had a former colleague who used to work for NASA on the Mars Rover.
Her main job was to get the Rover to fail in 42,000 in different ways for like a year before they sent it to Mars, which is 150 million miles away. So that if there was any problem that happened on Mars, it already failed here. And I think a lot of companies talk about how they're all about taking the risk.
But then they shut people down as soon as there's a failure. And you really have to ask yourself, am I creating a space for my staff to actually think, oh I even hate this term think outside the box. Anyone that uses the term thinks outside of the box, lives in the box.
And then they have brainstorming sessions in a no box room around a box table. And they're like, you have an hour. Give me your best ideas. You have not facilitated a place where people can be creative. So we have to ask ourselves, what are we doing to actually cultivate that creativity and also allow our staff to fail instead of creating a space where everyone has to pretend to be perfect when nobody is perfect.
Embrace failure, basically.
And realize that actually, the companies that failed the most in 2020, or were willing to fail the most into it were the most successful.
You have to throw a lot of darts to hit a bullseye, right?
When your company is so fixated on results, it actually can destroy the culture of the organization because then you're not about enjoying the process, which will get you more results. You're too focused on the results.
It's almost like businesses need to, or organizations need to have focus more on the clear and compelling vision and the values associated with it.
Absolutely because when you're able to just provide the playground, as you said, the vision, this is what I want us to do, but I am open to you accomplishing your goal however you want to get there.
That's when you give them a playground to actually operate. And if you need examples of this, look at Google's 20% program. I don't know why they got rid of it, but at one point they had Google's 20% program was we're going to give you 20% of your time to do whatever you want.
As long as it pushes the values of Google, as long as it accomplishes these certain goals, what came from Google's 20% program? G-mail, Google meet, Google earth. So many of the foundational things that now Google is built on is based on that. So when you allow for your staff to play, to follow their curiosity, they might innovate and create something that will not only keep your company alive but actually make it thrive in this really competitive environment.
And so you're talking, it seems like about removing structure and boundaries and all this bureaucracy and letting people flourish using flow in a way that works best for them. And does that also extend to the eight-hour workday or like the schedule that people have?
Yeah. I mean it does. I mean, something that a lot of people are looking at now is like, why I'm very productive at home.
There are studies now that are coming out. I think was it Microsoft that did this last year or the year before? More people were productive in a four-day workweek than a five-day workweek. And we have to really ask ourselves, where does the eight-hour Workday come from?
It was designed I believe in 1817 by Robert Owen, a labor activist/owner, and then it was not actually implemented in the US until Henry Ford implemented it in 1925 because. And this isn't a very similar time, just like now, right. He couldn't get workers to come back to his assembly line because they were dying on the job working 12 to 15 hours a day.
So it probably requires companies to really do a better job defining those roles and what sort of contribution they're looking for, right. From people. And then they can free them up to do it in their own way.
Yeah. And just don't waste your staff's time. And in order to do that, just ask them, what's the biggest waste of time that you currently do.
Great. Let's cross that out. Okay. What's the next biggest waste of time. And the more you can do that and more put them in their zone of genius, their flow. The more you’re going to get out of them, the happier they will be in the happier you will be. And then guess what? It also will help your bottom line. You'll make more money. Oh, what an amazing idea.
Topic 6. Lighting Round Questions (27:19)
Okay. We're going to shift into some lightning-round questions. I'm going to throw these out and you just give me top of mind answers. They're pretty easy. The first one is what are you most grateful for?
I'm most grateful for two things. I'm most grateful that I'm alive.
I mean, in context, 600,000 people died in the US you know, over 4 million people have passed away. Just the fact that I'm around is really amazing. And then I'm also really grateful that I'm doing this work. I love this work and, when I talk all the time with my clients is. My whole goal is to help people do the work that they love to do most.
My friend, Steven Warley says this all the time, don't you want to just get paid to be you? And I'm like, yeah, everyone wants that. I want to be paid to be me. So that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to help people get paid to be themselves.
What's the most difficult leadership lesson you've learned over your career.
How to set boundaries. How to set boundaries consistently not set at once, but consistently. And that's why I talk about navigating difficult conversations because it's hard to have a difficult conversation. It's scary. You might get fired. You might put yourself in a situation where you feel unsafe.
It's a scary situation. And also that conversation still needs to be had. So we have to figure out ways. That's why I have people practice all the time with me of like, all right, we're going to have that hard conversation. What does that look like? How does it feel if this person says this? How will you feel about this?
I say this a lot. When you watch football, for example, they practice all week for a three-hour game. When you go to work, you get no practice, you're thrown into a leadership position or a management position with no training, or like maybe, a week of training. And you're like, what?
This is crazy. So then we need more practice. We need more practice on how to have a hard conversation, how to connect with the work that makes you come alive. You got to get that practice.
Who is one person you would interview if you could living or not?
I don’t know, probably Malcolm X, in my opinion, Malcolm X. I think especially a lot of people don't know this, but near the end of his career, a lot of people thought like he's just pro-black.
And actually, at the end of his life, he was like, I'm willing to work with anybody. As long as we're working on addressing anti-racism. So, this idea of like reaching out across, and like we said earlier, having difficult conversations with people that you don't agree with, I recently had a conversation with a Trump supporter and, I'm on the left-leaning side.
It was a three-hour conversation where we were just trying to find, understanding one place to be like, okay, where can we find some respect for one another? We may not agree at the end of this, but at least let's figure out how we can see each other as human beings and not as just like somebody that's against me.
And so much of that comes from developing personal relationships with people, right. We've been good at exploding and destroying personal relationships with people that we don't agree with.
And the more we actually understand ourselves. The more we are able to then have those hard conversations, because then we don't think that person is attacking me, but they're going through their own stuff. Right. And it's really not about you.
Exactly. Do you have a top book recommendation for our listeners? Any books you've read recently?
I have two, I always reference Gay Hendricks book, the big leap, where he talks about the zone of genius, how to get in your zone of genius. But he also talks about self-sabotage, which is fascinating how you get to a certain level of happiness and then you sabotage it because you don't believe you deserve that.
That's a fascinating book. And then my friend, Eric Bailey wrote this book called the cure for stupidity. This is a really fascinating book that basically challenges you to be like if you're going to have a conversation with someone you either choose to be right or choose to understand and do both. And a lot of times, if you try to do both and that it failed miserably, it was just like, what am I trying to do?
And you should ask yourself as a leader. What am I trying to do right now? Am I trying to be right? Or am I trying to understand?
Okay. What's the best piece of advice you've ever received.
There are a few, but I think I'll go with Elizabeth Gilbert's quote of "Personal transformation doesn't happen until you get tired of your own BS".
What BS story are you telling yourself? What old story is each of us telling ourselves that is preventing us from doing what's possible? I was working with a client the other day that was like, I've been at a job for 30 years. I want to do something different, but I don't think I could leave this company.
Well, what is the BS story you're telling yourself? That I can't leave. That I'm not skilled. It was just like, wait a minute. I have 30 years, of experience. I actually have a pool of knowledge that most people that are in my field don't have. So I'm actually valuable out in the workplace.
So we have to be challenging ourselves. What is that BS old story? And are we willing to stop telling that story? And then if we are, what new story are we willing to share?
What is the single most important takeaway? You'd like our human capital listeners to get today from this episode?
I'll do this one. So, do you remember Goodwill hunting? Remember at the end of the movie, when they're at the construction site? For anyone that hasn't seen it, basically, Matt, Damon's a genius, Ben Affleck is his best friend. He's not a genius and Matt can have any job he wants anywhere in the world.
Because he's like a thought leader. So Ben turns them, they're working in construction and Ben is just like, are you going to take one of these high-paying jobs? And Matt's like, I'm not, I’m going to work construction and we're going to hang out together.
We're going to raise our kids next to each other, take him to fully field, watch him play baseball, that's just what we're going to do. And his best friend turns to him and says, if I see you here in 20 years, I'm going to kill you. I'm literally going to kill you. And Mat is like, whoa, whoa, what, what?
I owe it to myself. And he's like, no, no, no. Forget that you don't owe it to yourself. You owe it to me because I'm going to be here in 20 years. And I'm okay with that, but you are sitting on a winning lottery ticket and you're too scared to cash it in. And I truly believe there's with the bottom of my heart, that every one of your listeners is sitting on this winning lottery ticket.
This thing that makes them come most alive. And the thing is they're not cashing it in for themselves. This is not about. This is about this idea that there's someone waiting for you to do your thing so they could do their thing, right? There's some person you mentor it's, you could be your kids, it could be your friends.
It could be someone that's watching you that you don't have any relationship with, but they're waiting for you to cash in on your winning lottery ticket and do the work that makes you come most alive because that will free them up to do their thing. So if at the end of your life, you want to be like, I want to change the world.
Do the thing that makes you come most alive, on your winning lottery ticket and show up fully because not only are you doing that, but you're giving permission for others to do the same.
Cash in that winning lottery ticket. I love it. Jeff, thank you so much for coming to the show today. This has been a great conversation.
Thanks so much for having me. This has been awesome.
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Thanks for listening to the show this week. We release a new episode of Human Capital every other Tuesday. I would love to know what you thought of this episode, so please email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Human Capital is produced by GoalSpan, a performance management technology and consulting company. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and please share this podcast with your colleagues, team, or friends, thanks for being human kind.