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INTERVIEW WITH GREG TAMBLYN FOR HRM SINGAPORE MAGAZINE

In your experience what are the main areas organisations need to focus on to improve their desirability as employers to employees?
Number 1 is relationships. It always comes back to relationships. In the U.S., the number one measure of job satisfaction is your relationship with your boss. The best managers and leaders are servant leaders.

Another very important piece of the puzzle is making sure people are put in positions where their gifts and strengths are utilized. That may take some patience and learning on the part of managers, but it pays huge dividends in allowing people to access their giftedness and feel they're contributing to the good of the organization.

In addition, having an enjoyable place to work goes a long way toward keeping people engaged and productive.

All of these things create employee loyalty. If employees love where they work, the customers feel it. That helps create customer loyalty.

How can employers effectively achieve these changes?
Obviously, you have to have the temperament to take a personal interest in the lives and well-being of your people. You can't fake it. So genuine caring and communication skills are premium.

Chip Conley runs the largest boutique hotel chain in the United States, Joie de Vivre Hospitality. One of the innovative things they do is when someone does something worthy of notice, even a little thing, they make sure that the employee gets a verbal appreciation from a manager outside their own department. This not only ramps up the feeling of appreciation, but breaks down the silo walls because people become aware of the good work done by people in other departments. Chip also holds day-long retreats for every kind of employee. His turnover is about one quarter of the hotel industry, even in housekeeping.

What are the most common recommendations you make to organisations trying to improve their employer-employee relations? What role does "fun at work" play in all this?
We have a saying here in the states: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!" New studies have shown that humans have a maximum efficiency work cycle of 90 minutes. After that, we need a short break, but a total break, fully engaged in something else for 15 minutes or so. So you could have a snack, do some light exercise, listen to music, tell a few jokes, whatever, so long as it's a different part of the brain than your work. After that, we can focus again completely for 90 minutes, and so on through the day. People who work in this rhythm are much more efficient, energized, and productive.

There are a million little ways to have fun at work, and some big ones. I already mentioned staff retreats, where everybody gets a day of fun, games, gentle learning, and team building. (These should be on the company's time.) I actually get hired to do a lot of these, because I have a lot of fun material that shows people what works and doesn't work in life and in relationships. These retreats are rewarding for me because I get to experience how much people enjoy and appreciate having some fun, getting out of their routines, and learning all at the same time.

One very successful CEO I know believes in putting his people in beautiful environments, with artwork, flowers, and good food. Another CEO believes his company does so well because he makes every effort to make it feel like a family. Another company, Southwest Airlines, is by far the most successful airline in the US, and the only one to consistently make money in the last 10 years. Their whole company philosophy is based on fun. They have almost unmatched employee and customer loyalty because of it. I could go on and on.

Please share your biggest human capital challenge within an organisation and what specific measures were taken and the outcome?
The most interesting was Sikorsky Helicopter. This is an enormous company that makes every shape and size of helicopter for all kinds of purposes, and sells them all over the world. About 10 years ago they wanted to switch to a "rotating teams" concept that would have people moving to different projects when needed. Most of the engineering directors were not thrilled about this, because they saw it as losing control of their turf and their people.

So the HR department decided to have a social event with all these directors and their spouses, and they invited me. We had a cocktail hour, dinner, and then I entertained them for an hour (with some of the same material I'll be doing for HR Summit). Then we had a surprise for them. At the end of my presentation, the Managing Director got up and played his guitar along with me, and we led them in a famous John Denver song that they all sang with us.

The idea was to get them all in a room together, having fun, and see that the head man was a good guy with a sense of humor and they could trust him. He was not afraid to get up in front of them and demonstrate his admittedly modest musical skills. In other words, he was not afraid to be human! The engineering directors loved it and the process of dissolving their resistance had begun.

What is the biggest obstacle HR often face when trying to implement such changes?
It's never just any one thing, but here's almost always fear involved. There could be a presumed loss of power, having to get new training, feeling a loss of competence doing something new, and just good old inertia. People get comfortable. Most of us don't like to get pushed outside our comfort zone unless it's our own idea.

How do you overcome these?
We come right back to the relationship with the boss. I think the best approach is for leaders and managers to take a very personal, patient interest in explaining, to each person individually if necessary, the changes, why they're necessary, what will be expected, and what are the benefits.

It's like a sports team. If a new coach comes in with a different style of play, he/she will be much more effective in selling that to the players if the coach develops relationships with the players first. It's pretty simple. Think about your best teachers in school. The ones you knew cared about you as a person and a student, you were more willing to work hard for. If employees know that managers truly care about them as people, their motivation is much greater, and change becomes easier.

What inspires you to do what you do?
Ever since I discovered Tony Bennett and Elvis as a kid, I wanted to be a singer and songwriter. The older I got the more interested I became in wellness, living effectively, human relationships, how life works. Since I was learning about all these ideas, they started coming through in my songs, many of which were funny. People would hear them and ask me to present at their companies, their associations, their hospital, their conference, whatever. So I stumbled into a niche where I could use all my interests and feel I was doing something helpful. Basically I feel lucky because I never really planned it, but I can also see how it was a natural progression.

What can attendees at HR Summit 08 Singapore look forward to learning from your presentation?
Hey--you've pretty much covered my whole presentation with your questions! Okay, seriously, we'll have some fun with some of the things in this interview, and we'll also have some fun with attitudes, expectations, and cultural influences that don't work.

What has been your greatest presentation to date and why?

There are many that stand out, but one that was really different was in prison. (I was a visitor, not a resident!) A counselor friend who worked with convicted drug felons asked me to come sing some songs and talk to them. I had no idea what to expect, or if any of them would even get my material. Plus it was in a prison! So I was a little nervous. But it went over great, they seemed to really get it, and I had some fascinating conversations with many of them afterward.

On the flipside, what has your most embarrassing moment to date on stage?
That would take waaaaay too long to tell. You'll have to buy me a coffee in Singapore to get it out of me.


Tamblynís music can be heard, and ordered, online at www.gregtamblyn.com.

© 2007 Greg Tamblyn

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