Scott Friedman: Creating Engaged Cultures (Ep.#6)

Published on
November 12, 2019
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Building Better Managers Podcast Episode #6: Creating Engaged Cultures

We all know how important employee engagement is. Engaged employee are statistically more productive and stay longer, meaning less waste due to turnover.

Yet most organizations struggle to identify simple, practical methods for inspiring and motivating their teams!

BetterManager co-founder Wendy Hanson talks with Scott Friedman about Scott's GPS system - Gratitude, Play & Surprise - and how you can use the principles in your organization right away to create a more dynamic, highly-engaged, productive workforce.

In this episode, you'll learn:

Meet Scott Friedman

  • Speaker, Author, Humorist
  • The importance of celebration

Turning On Your Own GPS System


  • Making sure employees aren't always expecting bad news
  • Post-It Parties
  • Acknowledgement Circles


  • You've got to be able have some fun and enjoy your work!
  • How Zappos uses balloons and much more
  • Wine, Wow & Whine Fridays


  • The problem with celebration & play becoming institutionalized and stale
  • How to keep your celebrations fresh and effective
  • Creating emotional connections with truly original and personal surprises

Downloads & Resources

Scott's books are available on Amazon here.

Subscribe to our podcast on your favorite podcast platform!

Check out our blog articles on Culture here.

About Scott Friedman

Scott Friedman is a Certified Speaking Professional and former President of the National Speakers Association (NSA). An internationally sought after professional speaker, author and motivational humorist, Scott inspires and entertains with engaging, interactive and content-rich programs. Scott’s main areas of expertise are employee innovation & engagement, customer experience, sales motivation and creating a happier, more connected workplace and life.

His international clients include Singapore Airlines, the Singapore Government, Gold Fields of South Africa, Young President’s Organization, Hyatt Asia, OCBC, HSBC and many Fortune 1000 companies.

View the episode transcript

WENDY HANSON: So today we're going to talk about how to cultivate an engaged workforce. How do you really get people happy at work? And I brought on an expert to talk about that. So let me tell you a little bit about Scott.

Wendy: As a motivational humorous, Scott inspires and entertains within an interactive, engaging and content rich programs. His main areas of expertise are employee innovation and engagement, customer experience, sales motivation and just creating a happier workforce, which is what we all want to work in. He's the author of six books and you'll find them all on his website. ScottFriedman.net. Scott is the author of Celebrate Lessons We Learned In The Most Admired Organizations. I love this book, I read through it because it had so many good practical examples and he's going to tell us some stories about that.

Wendy: And also ,I consider Scott a dear friend, and apart from being such a wonderful speaker, he's also is involved in many philanthropic projects. He co-founded Together We Can Change The World, which is focused on anti-trafficking, social business, water, health, education of girls and women in Southeast Asia. He is a man that comes and speaks from his heart and I am so grateful, speaking of gratitude, to have him in my life. So welcome, Scott.

SCOTT FRIEDMAN: Grateful to have you in my life, too. A pleasure to be on the podcast. Thanks, Wendy.

Wendy: Yes. Well, I know, after so many conversations with you, how much wisdom and things that people may not realize that they can do. And what's the message that you have about celebration? What is the celebration message?

Scott: Well, in the book, Celebrate Lessons Learned From The World's Most Admired Organizations, we define celebration as acknowledging all that is good. The good work that you do, the people that you do it with, the people that you do it for. It;'s when your to-do list becomes your done list. It's acknowledging the little and the big milestones along the way. So we did research surveys and interviews in 35 different countries to find out how organizations engage employees, create customer experience, how they create employee experience, the whole employee journey. And we found, we put it into three buckets after the interviews and the surveys, and those came down to gratitude, play and surprise. So basically, gratitude is acknowledging the life that you have and the people that are in your life, being grateful for that. The play is being able to let go of worry, anxiety and pressure and any negative emotions of the past.

Scott: And to live in the state of flow, the state of play or just the state of being, living in the present moment. And then the surprise element is the element of the unexpected. It's creatively catching people doing something right. It's honoring people with what's highest on their joy list, what they want to be honored with in a creative, fun, surprising kind of way. So we talk about turning on your GPS, which is gratitude, play and surprise. So that's really the messages is, how can you create a more happy, healthy culture by turning on your GPS.

Wendy: Oh, I love that. And these are my favorite subjects.

Wendy: We talk about gratitude all the time at Better Manager because I think people don't realize how important it is to just recognize somebody and say, "I really appreciate this about you." And people get stunned because they're used to hearing bad news, not like what they're grateful for. And when you take the gratitude piece, what are some of the things that companies are doing to show gratitude to their folks?

Scott: Well, one of my favorite examples that came in for the book is the idea of a Post-It party. It's so easy, most of these ideas that I like to share really are very little time or financial investment. Because I think we're all doing more with less. I mean, that's been a common buzzword for how many years, what, 40 decades, four decades. 40 decades, not that long.

Wendy: That's a long time.

Scott: 40 years.

Scott: So in the spirit of low cost and low time investment, the idea of a Post-It party, I think that's a good idea to start out first thing in the morning. So let's say that you wake up before your partner does, you put a little Post-It on the mirror. "Good morning, gorgeous." What a great way to start the day, who knows what that could lead to early in the morning.

Wendy: That's right.

Scott: But at work, you can do it for so many different reasons. But you can celebrate a work anniversary, when you finish a project, if you want to celebrate a team leader or any member of the team. And it's fun to do it as a surprise.

Scott: So let's say they go out to lunch. You say, "Okay, here's a colorful pen and a pad of Post-Its, everybody on the team, as many nice things." key is nice things, "As you can possibly say about the honoree. You got three minutes, go." "Thanks for being so positive. Thanks for laughing at my jokes."

Wendy: And all on different Post-Its so that they're-

Scott: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. "Thanks for covering your mouth when you sneeze." Post. "Thanks for not sharing your political views in the office," post. "Thanks for making me feel smarter than I am," post. "Thanks for bailing me out of jail," post, post, post, post. And then they come back and their workspaces covered in Post-Its and then you'll have the, "That was so nice." And hopefully they'll take those Post-Its down, put them in a feelgood file that they'll have for a rainy day.

Wendy: Yes. Oh, I love that.

Wendy: When we do some group activities with teams in person, we do that, an acknowledgement circle. Where somebody gets to go and everybody goes around and says what they appreciate about that person. And usually, everybody is so like, "I don't really want to do this exercise," because they're thinking inside, "People may not have anything good to say about me." And I have done this exercise for 20 years and it never fails that I get feedback from people that, "Oh, my God, I didn't know how people felt about me." And we scribed them all like your Post-Its to be able to say ... because people are like, "Can I bring this home to my partner? They'd never believe that everybody said these things." They want the Post-It notes. So I love that exercise, yes.

Scott: Then they get home like, "Hey, wait a minute. That's your handwriting. That didn't come from the group."

Wendy: Right, right. "You made this up." Right. What about the P in GPS?

Scott: Play. So play is coming up with rituals that remind you that it's okay to have fun at work. Look at Zappos, they said, "We're not in the business of delivering shoes. We're in the business of delivering happiness." So how can you make work more fun? So all kinds of different rituals, all kinds of different ideas. Some of my favorite, there's an events company in Dubai. And they start off every month, everybody gets six balloons and everybody's balloons are different colors so you know whose balloons are whose of the team. And then anytime something good happens, either on a personal level or career-wise, and they have designated reasons to be able to pop the balloon on the work side. So every time they get a good letter from a sponsor, I'm sorry, from a client, every time they get a new sponsor, every time they make a sale they get to pop a balloon and then talk about what happened.

Scott: And then you have three personal balloons. So the personal balloons are, "My new hair do got 95 likes on Instagram," pop. So what happens is, a lot of times sales incentive contests, it can be de-motivating. Is that a word, de-motivating?

Wendy: Yeah.

Scott: For a lot of team members that can't win a contest. But if it's the first one that pops six balloons, even if you only pop four balloons, you get to share four times something good. So then whoever pops six balloons first, they're awarded movie passes or a t-shirt.

Wendy: Yeah, I love that, yeah, yeah.

Scott: So it starts off with the celebration because you're covered in balloons at the office. And then you get to share in the good things. So that's a company called Rights Selection out of Dubai. I came up with that one and I think it's a great way for everybody to be part of the celebration.

Wendy: Yeah. I had the opportunity to go to Zappos. I took a course there for a couple of weeks.

Scott: Oh, nice.

Wendy: What an environment. And I think they still do this, you could get a free tour of Zappos if you're in Vegas and you'll see the playful atmosphere. Everything is is like a jungle and there are signs that have everybody's name and if you're new in a company, because we know like the first four hours someone's in a company being onboarded are their most important hours, your first four and the four when you leave is what you're going to take with you. And they get a big sign up if it's a new person. So everybody goes over and says hello and you put your goals written on the walls in the hallway. So that playfulness is what retains people. That's what gets people to say, "God, I want to stay here."

Scott: Yeah. And another one that, one of my favorite ones, and we do it here at Friedman and Associates, is the idea of a wine, wow, and whine Friday. So it starts on a 3: 00 on a Friday afternoon. That's a good time to have beverage of choice to celebrate the week. So it starts off with a wine, beverage of choice. Here it's either beer or wine most of the time. We don't overindulge, just one.

Wendy: To celebrate.

Scott: Unless it's a really good week then we'll-

Wendy: You might have two.

Scott: Then the wow is let's share something good to happen. Let's brag a little bit, what are we proud of. So that we just acknowledge work well done over the week. And then the wine, so the first wine is W-I-N-E. The last wine in wine, wow, whine is what didn't work so well. And what did we learn from it? And it's a great opportunity to clear the air if there's something going on with the team that just needs to talk about, then we have a place to do it. And it's a great way to, before on a Friday when you're drinking, to clear the air or just say, "Hey, this is what we learned and here's the different choice that I would make."

Wendy: Yeah, yeah. I love that. Those kinds of rituals are so important for every team to have.

Scott: One of my favorite parts of the book is about celebrating mistakes. Because so many organizations, they say that they empower employees to make decisions and take ownership until they do. And then there's some issues sometimes.

Scott: So there's a sales organization in here in the U.S. that they start off every sales meeting, once a week, with a sales manager who will put a $50 bill on the conference table. And she will share a mistake that she has made since the last time they met, the Friday before. I'm sorry, the Monday before. And the lesson that she has learned for that mistake. Then everybody will take turns talking about a mistake that they have made, all the agents, the lesson that they have learned. And whoever made the biggest mistake, learned the greatest lesson, they will be rewarded $50. If you win three times in a row, you're fired. No, I'm just kidding.

Wendy: No, no, no, no. But that's awesome, and I love that the leader models that. And if we don't make mistakes, we're not taking any risks. You know, we're just playing way too safe. Oh, I love that. Yeah.

Scott: And intelligent risks is what you're encouraging and then what did you learn from it. So, right, you just created a culture that you're not afraid to step out and create something new.

Wendy: Yeah. Yeah. I think it's so important for managers to have these kinds of rituals. A lot of companies, I'm in the Bay area, so a lot of them have that fun on Friday. They don't always call it wine, wow and whine, but they have get-togethers on Fridays. But it's great to put some content in there, close off the week, celebrate. And then for teams, every day, to check in with each other. Just do a stand up for five minutes and do something like this. That's great. That's great. And GPS, we got the surprise.

Scott: So surprise, the reason that celebration and engagement becomes an issue in organizations is because the celebration becomes institutionalized. It becomes stale. "This is the way we've been celebrating birthdays for 50 years around here. First Tuesday of October, we sing happy birthday to all the October babies and then we serve the same sheet cake we served the week before, then we get back to work." Get a heart attack on your birthday. How do we make it more fun? How do we creatively catch people doing something right? One of the companies that wins the prize for surprise is from Singapore. The Royal Plaza on Scotts. They do such a great job of surprising their employees and their customers. But one of my favorite examples of how they surprised an employee was it was a five year anniversary for one of their team members.

Scott: And as they got into a little sermon, they go, "Oh, I forgot the little gift. Can you go back into my office?" And the director of marketing and branding said, "And grab the gift." So she came back with the young ladies parents, they were from Eastern Malaysia. This is Singapore, so just a simple flight on Air Asia, not a lot of money. And they put them up at the hotel for the weekend and they celebrated the young lady. So it was a wonderful way to show that you care.

Scott: The more emotion we can create, the more connection there is, the deeper the engagement. I love to share examples of my favorite thing to do is to go onto Facebook and look through the photos and find a photo that I love of a time, an emotional time, like a wedding or a birthday, a special birthday. Right click, send it to Vista Print or Shutterfly, put it on a coffee mug or a t-shirt. Coffee mugs are fun and then you can hide them. I was speaking in Sri Lanka and that's when I first got the ... I started doing it a bunch at that time after what they did for me. They'd gone to my website, found out about Together We Can Change The World, that you had mentioned. They took a photo that was me and eight kids, these kids were from Myanmar and were rescued, basically. And we're living in Wiang Pa Pao, Thailand halfway between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in a home that Together We Can Change The World had built.

Scott: And there was the photo on my bedside table in Sri Lanka in a frame. And I'm looking, and at first I'm like, "Wait, that almost looks like me. That's me." And I'm like, "Oh, no, anything that goes wrong at the hotel, it doesn't even matter, I have the photo. No running water, who cares? I got the photo."

Wendy: Those kind of neat surprises are just-

Scott: And they're so easy to do. The Royal Plaza on Scotts, when you get an email confirmation, there's little boxes. It says, "Are you celebrating something special or is there something we can do for you?" So for birthdays and anniversaries, they'll go on to Facebook, find your relatives. So they'll find a picture, if it's a 50th anniversary, they'll creatively put it on something, on a t-shirt or a plate. And then when you check into your room, there's your, from 50 years ago, staring at you. You know what I mean?

Wendy: Right.

Scott: What a wonderful way to create connection and show that we care. I remember talking to Odette Huang, whose the director of branding for the hotel. And I go, "Who has time for this kind of craziness? We're busy, how to do it." She goes, "It's funny," she goes, "Our marketing department, once you get in the habit of doing it, we get into a meeting, we go, okay, a guy wants tigers in this room. Come on, let's come up with an idea. What does that mean?" Okay, well-

Wendy: That's so fun for the meeting planning and the hotel to, "Oh, what can we do?" Like it makes every day a new adventure.

Scott: Yeah, exactly. And they would do it for the employees, same thing. And then for the customers, the guests of the hotel.

Wendy: Right. And look at what happens. How many times have you told that kind of story about this hotel? And you say, "Boy, it's a lot of work to do this, but look at the mileage." And they couldn't do such a good job if it didn't come from their heart, but they also get a lot of mileage out of it. It's a wonderful thing.

Scott: Exactly.

Wendy: Yeah.

Scott: Yeah.

Wendy: Oh.

Scott: That's a big piece of it, is just taking the a few moments of showing that you care. And the reason people leave organizations is because they feel like they don't have a voice or they're not listened to or their manager doesn't care. And it doesn't take that long. I love what PepsiCo, I'm not sure if they do it anymore, but in the Asian African region, their performance appraisal was partly based on the question, what is one thing I can do, as your manager, to help create your work life balance?

Scott: Yeah, they would have to know their employees well enough to say, "Okay, what is it? Let's have a discussion. How can I make your life better?" And then if they didn't do it, they were dinged when it came to their performance appraisal. So it's just showing you care. It it doesn't take a lot of time, but it just changes the mindset because all of a sudden you can't be so self absorbed anymore. You have to start thinking of your team.

Wendy: Right. And I love what you point out that it's the personalization of it. Because what's going to make me happy may not make someone else happy. But if you know that this is something that is really that kind of, "I feel special because of this," and, "My manager did that." And I love that question. That's a fabulous question. "What could I do?"

Scott: I think back to Leif Johansen, in 1997 he took over as CEO of the Volvo group. And at the time, the official language for the global Volvo group was English. And he changed the official language. What do you think he changed it to?

Wendy: Swedish?

Scott: Good answer. Want to try again? It's a trick question.

Wendy: Okay. well, my great grandfather was Johansen. So I thought it might be Swedish, but go ahead.

Scott: Then people would have to learn Swedish, then they'd be in trouble.

Wendy: Right. They would.

Scott: But they actually changed it to bad English. See, what we found was that the reason people don't speak up in an organization is not so much cultural, which does play a part, but more of a language issue. And as we become more of a diverse global workforce, the reason people don't speak up is because they feel foolish if they don't think they have command of the English language, which most of global business is conducted in English. And so why do people leave companies or why do they feel like they're not heard? Because they don't have a voice. So that was just a way to give them a voice. Of course, if you speak bad English then what happens? Your English gets better over time, right?

Wendy: Right. That's your practice.

Scott: Right.

Wendy: Yeah.

Scott: Hopefully you're corrected on your bad English in a nice way.

Wendy: In a nice way, yes.

Scott: I mean, the key is giving people a voice in our organization so that they feel part of a team, that the inclusivity is so important if people want to feel like they belong, sense of belonging to that team.

Wendy: Right. And what we coach folks, we always see this, that retention factor of, "If I get a better job offer for a little more money, but I know my manager has my back and they care about me and this company does some cool things, I'm going to think twice." Because I've had many conversations with people like that, that they're like, "I don't know what I'm going to get over there besides a little bit more money. So I think I'm going to stay." And practicing any of these types of things are just so ... they're not just nice, they're important.

Wendy: They're so important that we have a happy work life and we go home as happier people. And then we have a happier family because we're in a better mood. We're not going home sick and crabbing at the dinner table every night.

Scott: Yeah. And if you look at the research, it backs that up. I mean, Hey Group did a recent survey that engaged employees outperformed their disengaged employees 54% in employee retention, over 80% in customer satisfaction and 400% in revenue growth. So it pays to be engaged. I mean, makes sense. And that's on the top of most managers hit-list, is how can we engage our employees? Because that's how you win the war on talent today. Because we're looking at a global workforce and we're trying to keep, to attract and keep the best employees that they need to be engaged. And turning on your GPS will keep them engaged.

Wendy: GPS will keep them engaged. Cool. Oh, well I love that companies bring you in all over the world to be able to talk about this, that they get the list kind of culture-

Scott: I love that, too.

Wendy: You like that top. That this kind of culture is, really, it's about good business and happiness in the workplace and gratitude. Gratitude is so important.

Wendy: I went to a workshop last year. The whole day was about gratitude. And it was like I loved being surrounded by 300 people who would get together to talk about gratitude at work. And we know that a lot of companies are doing this now, so kudos to you. Keep spreading that word.

Scott: I'm a firm believer that the gratitude is the single most important characteristic that will determine your longterm wellbeing. The quickest way to get rid of any negative emotion is to practice gratitude. So anytime you're upset about something or you find yourself cursing the TV or whatever, whatever, with this political divide we find ourselves in, just spend a couple minutes of, "Okay, let's just take a deep breath and what is it I'm grateful for?"

Wendy: Yeah.

Scott: What's the gift in this situation? If there was a gift, what would it be?

Wendy: What would it be? Yeah, great question to ask. Great coaching question. You're a good coach there, Scott.

Scott: Thanks. I may start my new career.

Wendy: Yeah, yeah. Well, you are, you are a coach of many people and to keep people feeling uplifted and moving in that right direction. And if people want to learn more about you and get their books, how can they access that?

Scott: I think maybe just come by the house for coffee.

Wendy: I think that'd be wonderful. He's in Colorado, so if anybody would, yes,

Scott: ScottFriedman.net. S-C-O-T-T. F-R-I-E-D-M-A-N. Dot net. Be a good place to find out more about me and my books.

Wendy: Right. And @Scottcelebrates, his Twitter handle. If you have any good stories, you could share them. What does your company do? Yeah, maybe you'll end up in his next book.

Scott: You got it. Love it.

Wendy: Yeah, good. All right, well thank you so much, Scott. This was so great and I hope it gave people some good ideas. It gave me some good ideas. I never thought of putting pictures on mugs for people. That's a great idea.

Scott: Yeah, and then you sneak into their house and you hide them in their mug section at the very back. And then one day they'll go, five years later, they'll call you and they'll go, "When did you out that there?"

Wendy: See, only you could get away with that kind of thing. Yes. Somebody else might leave it on their desk.

Scott: Oh, no.

Wendy: Well, that doesn't do the S surprise piece as well. I have to remember, GPS. Yes, we've got to do the S piece.

Wendy: So thank you so much, Scott, for being with us and sharing your wisdom. And keep the happy workplaces, all you managers. Because we need to do this for ourselves so that we go to work and can be full of surprises and the brain loves surprises and novelty. So you're doing such a good job for our neuroplasticity, so enjoy. Thank you, Scott.

Scott: Thanks, Wendy.

Wendy: And we'll see you all soon. Bye-bye.

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