Creating Corporate Culture Through Comedy?
posted by Michelle Harner
As I was preparing to fly home from a conference yesterday, I was watching msnbc’s Your Business, which was profiling a small business that uses comedy to create a positive corporate culture. The company, Peppercom (a public relations firm), employs a comedy coach to work with its employees not so much to help employees tell good jokes but to build confidence and communication skills. Although this approach may not work for every business, Peppercom apparently has landed several large accounts based on its approach to business and the personality of the firm and its employees. (For an example of using comedy to discuss corporate ethics with employees, see here.)
I have to admit that I initially thought the msnbc segment was entertaining but not really applicable to the larger business community. I then boarded my Southwest Airlines’ flight and, along with the other passengers, was serenaded by one of the flight attendants who actually got most of the people on the flight to join her in the chorus of “Rolling Down the Runway” (adapted from John Fogerty’s “Proud Mary”). This experience made me reflect further on the importance of corporate culture to the overall productivity of a firm (see here and here) and the tools available to cultivate that culture.
I have previously written about corporate culture and “tone at the top” in the context of enterprise risk management (see here and here), but certainly the benefits of a positive corporate culture do not end there. Employing a workforce that enjoys coming to work, is comfortable communicating throughout the firm and portrays that positive image to the outside world potentially holds real value. (For interesting discussions of corporate culture at AIG and Lehman Brothers prior to the crisis, see here, here, here and here.) I think the challenge in this broader context, as in the enterprise risk management context, is finding the right people to foster that culture. Policymakers can impose incentives and perhaps even a process designed to promote a positive, ethical and risk aware culture at any given company, but those regulations only go so far. The people leading the company must be committed to the endeavor and the implementation of that culture—checking the box or adopting an ethical code or employee handbook is not enough.
This notion of good corporate governance being tied to the individuals serving on boards of directors and management teams was one of the issues explored during the conference I was attending. That conference, hosted by the Adolf A. Berle, Jr. Center on Corporations, Law and Society at the Seattle University School of Law, was a wonderful collection of corporate scholars from various disciplines discussing the issues we continue to face in corporate governance generally and how Adolf Berle’s work informs that discussion. I am not sure we uncovered any definitive answers, but I certainly am encouraged by the discourse and energized to continue the pursuit.