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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Closing a Deal? Let's 'Pinkie Five' On It First

Staffers at Salo LLC "pinkie-fiving" / WSJ photo

We read more the other day about an intriguing approach to employee engagement: ritualization of the workplace. And we'd like to hear from our readers whether you  use workplace rituals to promote employee alignment in your organizations.

At Inward Strategic Consulting, we have what we call a "Dips" orientation every two weeks that allows our associates to "dip" into new understanding about one another and discoveries about a new topic. Before we start, we go around the room, and each staffer has to tell a funny story or a joke, to help contribute to our fun and enjoyable environment and Inward culture.

And of course one of our major clients, Walmart, famously employs the ritual of the Walmart Cheer before every shift change and all major meetings, where employees and vendors chant together. It goes like this:
"Give me a 'W'! ... Give me an 'A'! ... Give me an 'L'! ... Give me a 'squiggly'!" to stand for the stylized hyphen (that is still part of Wal-Mart's corporate name despite its change to "Walmart" at the store level). So everyone twists and says "squiggly!".

Then, of course, "Give me an 'M'! ... Give me an 'A'! .... Give me an 'R'! ... Give me a 'T'! What's that spell? Walmart! Whose Walmart is it? It's my Walmart! Who's number one? The customer! Always!

You can watch one of the many Walmart Cheer videos on YouTube:

Researchers are finding that such rituals help on the job. People who engage in ritualistic behavior before a difficult task are less anxious, get more involved and tend to perform better than people who don't have a ritual, according to research at a number of universities, a recent story in the Wall Street Journal said.

Think of the baseball pitcher who insists on wearing the same pair of unwashed socks as long as he keeps winning with them. Every workplace could have equivalents of that sort of ritual.

And recognizing that many people believe intuitively in the value of repetitive, symbolic behaviors that aren't logically effectual, some other savvy companies are promoting ritualization as a means of building esprit de corps.

Salo LLC, a financial and human-resources staffing company in Minneapolis, for instance, incorporates rituals throughout its work cycle. Employees give each other a "pinkie five" before sealing a deal; ring an office gong when a deal is done; and celebrate in various other ways, such as with chest bumps, the newspaper said. 
Such rituals can build confidence and camaraderie, researchers told the Journal. However, if employees view group rituals as phony or paternalistic, they can fall flat. "One of the worst things you can do is come up with something that has employees rolling their eyes, thinking it's cheesy," Michael Kerr, a workplace trainer and speaker based in Calgary, told the publication.

What do you think? Do organized rituals work to engage employees? Are there some at play in your setting? Or is the idea hokum? We'd like to hear from you.

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