“People don’t quit companies; they quit people.” This old saying is as true today as it was when a caveman first carved a crude caricature of it on the corporate cave wall. When you create an environment that treats people positively, you increase your odds of retaining great talent.
What’s the best way to create this environment? Improv—which is grounded in respectful communication, emotional intelligence, mindfulness, personal connection and a shared purpose—can play a critical role in creating a workplace that engages and retains great employees.
Here are five ways to create an improvisational workplace that will engage and retain employees.
Improv is a communication-based art form, and its key tenet is “Yes, and….” A great technique for engagement, “Yes, and…” forces the brain to slow down, be present and in the moment, and postpone judgment so that there is openness to accepting new ideas and to the perspectives of other people. If your office regularly uses “Yes, and…,” employees won’t be afraid to share unconventional ideas, take risks and communicate freely. Cling to “Yes, and” to turn common buzzwords like “trust” and “support” into actionable realities.
Build relationships and increase emotional intelligence.
Prioritizing “soft skills” may not seem important when things are easy and financial reports show profits. But when you’re in crisis mode, and the excrement’s hitting the oscillator, you’re going to need a team that has already built strong relationships and can leverage every participant’s assets.
How do you foster this dynamic, whether you’re brainstorming in search of the next killer idea or trying to solve a persistent problem? Make everyone accountable and happy to contribute. Set the rule that—for a specific period of time (i.e., 10 minutes)—every idea brought to the table will be unconditionally accepted as an idea worth exploration. It is the team’s job to make sure that everyone in the meeting is engaged and participating fully.
Practice and encourage mindful leadership.
The most effective and inspiring leaders practice mindfulness by making sure they’re fully present and engaged with their teams. This is a key tenet of improv, which requires full presence and intense listening. In everyday communication, most of us think about what we’re going to say next rather than focusing on the moment and reacting to what the other person actually says. Instead of directing that energy inward, to your thoughts, try directing it outward by listening with your whole body and engaging the person talking with you. Teach leaders this technique to become more attuned to their employees’ perspectives, wants, needs and aspirations.
At our core, humans have an innate desire to be understood, to believe that somebody “gets” us. It’s what drives connection between people and motivates all great relationships. They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Eye contact—an important technique of improvisation—shows engagement and pulls others into your world as much as you endeavor to join theirs. This type of nonverbal communication from people at all levels of the company demonstrates personal connection and conveys to employees that they have value in the workplace. Help employees develop empathetic connections by encouraging engagement through eye contact.
Create shared purpose.
Most people strive to work in a culture that serves a greater purpose. In fact, millennials generally prioritize personal fulfillment and individual sense of purpose over payment when they are evaluating a workplace. In improv, the focus is on supporting every member of the team. In doing so, the consciousness of the collective is greater than that of any individual in it.
Create a code of conduct in your company that clearly dictates that every person’s success is the common goal. Deploying these directions at work fosters a greater sense of purpose for everyone in the organization and strengthens the loyalty and motivation that will keep them there.
Bob Kulhan is president, CEO and founder of Business Improv, an innovative consultancy that specializes in experiential learning and serves an international roster of blue-chip firms. He is the author of “GETTING TO “YES, AND”: The Art of Business Improv” (Stanford Business Books, January 24, 2017) and an adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School. A performer who has trained with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, Kulhan is a former core faculty member in Chicago’s famed Second City, a member of the resident company at the iO Theater and a co-founder of the critically acclaimed Baby Wants Candy improv troupe.