A Night at the Improv with HR…

Paul Hebert Audacious Ideas, Business Development, Change, Driving Productivity, Employee Communications, Employee Relations, Good HR, HR, Innovation, Paul Hebert, Performance

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that for once, things will be staying the same for a while?

I think about business in prior decades – the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Most business folks could get up every day and know that things will be pretty much like they were yesterday (not counting the War years, of course.) Most business change occurred slowly. And it seems (not having been alive and kicking during that time frame) that most change had adequate warning so you had time to react and plan.

Not so anymore. The speed of change in business is now “real time.” New products, services, heck – entire companies can spring up over night and take sizable market share before you get your Starbucks. Given that much change, the old rules of getting things done at a company need to change to match the speed of the market.

When the speed of change outside the company exceeds the speed of change inside a company though – you’re doomed. So how do you speed up your company? Why Improv of course! Improv is all about reacting to changes and moving those changes forward to tell a story. That’s business today.

Below are 8 rules of Improv – see if you can see how to apply them in your HR function – or any Management role for that matter.

1) Say Yes, and…!

You never say no. It’s always “Yes, and”… saying “no” stops the flow. Same in business. HR needs to say more ,“Yes… and we’ll need to monitor that for any unforeseen circumstances.” Or, “Yes, and we’ll need to adjust our compensation structure to make that work with the rest of the employee base.”

2) After the ‘and’ add new information.

An improvised scene can’t move forward or advance unless there is new information added. Your role in HR is to add value – not just approve others’ ideas (or in a lot of cases, step on them.) If someone gives you a scenario, you say “yes” and help that person move the idea forward with new information – something they might not have thought of.

3) Don’t Block.

The opposite of saying “yes-and” is blocking or denial. Sound familiar? If business is Improv, HR has traditionally been the department that did the blocking – am I right? Don’t do it.

4) Avoid Questions.

A form of blocking (in its more subtle form) is asking questions. Questions force our partners to fill in the information or do the work. It is a way of avoiding committing to a choice or a detail. It is playing it safe. If you think about it… most ideas aren’t 100% baked. There are a lot of questions. Devil’s advocates do this all time. Rarely is it to help move something forward – most often it is designed to slow something down or keep it from happening. Don’t block. Say, “Yes, and…”

5) Focus on the Here and Now.

Another useful rule is to keep the focus on the here and now. A scene is about the people in the scene. The change, the struggle, the win or loss will happen to the characters on the stage. Focus on what is going on right at this moment. As an HR professional, your goal should be to help this person move this idea/issue forward. Don’t worry about 10 months down the line. I know this one is a toughie – but try it. You might see that there is less risk than you think if you’re working WITH the person to make the change happen rather than working to make sure you don’t have a problem 10 months down the line.

6) For humor, commit and take choices to the nth degree.

This means to add some ridiculous in the process to break up the slow slog of conversation.  I’m not suggesting HR go off the deep end on this – to me it’s more of a recommendation to “think outside the box” – don’t always go with the “average” answer or response.  Go ridiculous to get the ideas flowing.

7) There are no mistakes. 

In a good Improv scene, everything is incorporated, nothing falls to the wayside. A character’s anger, someone’s limp, the joke that falls flat, the imaginary cup that gets dropped all get acted and reacted to. You work around, and with, what others offer, and trust that you’ll all somehow pull it out. Work with the people you have. Don’t assume something can’t be done because you don’t have “the” person – there’s always a work-around. Find it.

8) Change, Change, Change!

Improv is about character change. The characters in a scene must experience some type of change for the scene to be interesting. Characters need to go on journeys, be altered by revelations, experience the ramifications of their choices and be moved by emotional moments. Employees are like the characters in an Improv scene. They need change too, and HR is there to help them change and move forward.

Take these rules and see how you can apply them.  I dare you to take a day, use these rules in your business dealings, and see if you don’t get a better response from the people and a better outcome for the business.

All business is Improv these days. There is no planning (not really – but that’s another post.) The most successful companies are those that can observe, orient, decide and act quickest (yeah… that’s a military thing – the OODA loop).

Improv is your ticket to faster and better responses to unforeseen challenges… now let’s see if I can apply it in the comments.