This is a big week for KaBOOM!. The whole team of Boomers -- what we call ourselves -- is gathering for our annual retreat, otherwise known as Play Academy. We put a lot of effort into our time together making sure it is both meaningful and fun, because it sets the tone for the rest of our year. In addition to sessions that are geared toward helping us achieve our vision of a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America, we also have silly activities like costume karaoke. Both are equally important.
For us, instilling a sense of play into the organization helps energize Boomers and keeps us focused on our mission. If we don't play ourselves, how can we expect to motivate others to do the same? That's why we play year-round, not just at Play Academy.
The first things to greet the Washington staff when they walk through the door each morning are a slide and a tire swing. Between our three offices, we also have Imagination Playground blocks, a foosball table, a ping pong table, kazoos and an abundance of arts and crafts materials. We all know children need to play -- that doesn't mean adults can't play, too!
Each month, two Boomers in each office are designated as Culture Captains. The Culture Captains are charged with planning a fun team-building activity that everyone can participate in. Past events have included musical chairs, pumpkin carving, scavenger hunts and costume contests. These events spur imagination and creativity that extend into how we execute our daily job responsibilities.
Every day our kitchen is filled with peanut butter and jelly, cereal and milk, because nothing takes you back to your childhood like a good 'ol PB & J. We take it a step further by having a monthly Boomer lunch -- sometimes it's PB & J, other times it's cold cuts or Mexican food -- where we all enjoy a meal together. This is a practice that helps build an environment ripe for effective communication, cooperation and collaboration.
Some may question this deliberate organizational culture of fun. However, Boomers report returning from Play Academy feeling refreshed, invigorated and more productive - just as kids feel after recess, research suggests. They also say that our regular playtime in the office helps to deepen their sense of connection to their coworkers and increases workplace cohesion by flattening hierarchies. Largely because of our playful culture, The NonProfit Times named KaBOOM! one of the top 50 nonprofits to work for in the United States for two consecutive years.
We're not the only ones who recognize that a little play belongs in the workplace. Keen created a terrific instant recess kit to help companies facilitate fun and energizing break time. I highly recommend it.
Another part of the KaBOOM! culture is service. Instead of a holiday party we organize community volunteer projects across all of our offices, taking time to give back. This practice came out of specific feedback from our Boomer capacity survey.
The fundamental purpose of the KaBOOM! culture is to make Boomers understand we are part of something special, something larger than ourselves. That helps us achieve our mission. And it all starts with the hiring process. We screen Boomers to make sure that they are prepared to have some serious fun -- equal emphasis on the serious. We hire for values, motivation and cultural fit, recognizing their worth then reinforcing these values by being intentional about our culture. That intention doesn't mean we lack spontaneity or can't appreciate serendipitous moments. We work hard, making our culture of play and whimsy that much more important.
According to The Brand Ascension Group, an organization's culture, or its unique values, behaviors and actions connected with its brand, is critical to its performance. In this white paper, they make the case that "organizations that consistently deliver on-brand (i.e., what you promise to deliver at every internal and external touch point) share the following characteristics:
• Employees who have clear sense of purpose and passion for what the brand stands for
• Employees who are inspired and motivated to deliver on what the brand is best at
• Employees who consciously and collectively create a winning strategy (through behaviors, internal practices, systems and processes) to produce great performance results"
Our culture of play didn't manifest itself overnight. As the CEO I encourage and participate in play activities, as does all level of management, and all Boomers are able to help direct what these activities are. It takes a conscious effort and continuous nurturing -- even here, in an organization that's all about play!
I have had the opportunity to work with Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, whose corporate culture is often held up as the gold standard. In his book, Delivering Happiness, and the ensuing movement, Hsieh shows that corporate culture is a powerful tool in determining success. At KaBOOM!, we continue to work every day to create something similar. But it's worth it because not only are we happier, we produce better results.
Follow Darell Hammond on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kaboom