Ep81: Business Karaoke

26 minutes

A night of karaoke might not seem like the most logical place for an epiphany about company culture. But that’s the beautiful thing about using stories to talk about business – you never know from where the lesson will come.

Why is that important for business? 

 To get everyone to participate in karaoke, you very well might have to build that expectation into the party – an “everyone must sing” rule. Otherwise, you will get a Ringer Circus, where instead of a fun night, you have a series of performances by people already confident in their singing. But if you make it safe and important for everyone to participate, it becomes fun for everyone. The same can be true about the culture you create in business. Yes, it’s important to reward and highlight people who do a good job – to elevate talent – but if you only focus on the people who are naturally good at things, who naturally raise their hand, you will miss a whole other layer of energy, talent and fun that won’t show up otherwise. 

 A culture that prizes and values - and even insists upon the addition of - every single voice is one that is enriched by each voice, not just those that are inclined to come forward immediately. This is a wonderful thing to build a culture around. What you need to consider, though, are the people who don’t show up to the party because of the “everyone must sing” rule. The rule may very well enrich the experience of everyone at the party and brings out hidden facets of the people who attend. But it is also true that the presence of the rule comes with the cost of keeping out people who would come if they didn’t have to participate. This is absolutely fine, as long as you have evaluated the unintended consequence. After all, a well-defined culture accepts that some people will say “this isn’t for me”. The tricky part is deciding what issue you are going to draw a bright line around; what issue makes the cost of exclusion worth it.

Of course, if you are not careful, you can build “Participation Trophy” culture. Creating space for everyone to participate doesn’t preclude celebrating success and giving feedback. But there is something magical that happens when you find this weird mix of forcing people to be vulnerable in a relentlessly supportive environment. 

Identifying the biggest fear or obstacle to participation and creating a culture that eliminates that fear can yield some hidden treasures. If you create a space where it’s okay to fail or not be perfect, then someone can speak up and give the germ of a potentially incredible idea.

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