The Power Of Play In Business Culture

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Marketing Podcast with Kristi Herold

Kristi Herold, a guest on the Duct Tape Marketing PodcastIn this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Kristi Herold. She is the founder and CEO of JAM a multi-million dollar global business that has connected millions of people through play since its inception as one of the largest adult recreational sports leagues in the world.   

The JAM team has produced and delivered over 3500 playful corporate events, in over 30 countries since the summer of 2020. It has been awarded “Canada’s Most Admired Culture Award “ in 2022,  certified as “Great Places to Work – Canada” and named the “Best Remote Startups to work for”.     

Kristi is the author of the best-selling book It Pays to PLAY – How Play Improves Business Culture, a resource to implement play at work and improve the productivity and culture of companies. 

Key Takeaway:

Finding a way to integrate fun and play at work, can be a powerful asset that benefits the employees and the company itself. Laughs and playfulness will connect your team and help strengthen bonds and relationships amongst them, which then will help solve issues that can be found in unhappy employees such as retention, engagement, physical and mental health problems, or lack of innovation and creativity. Implementing this strategy and activities in the workplace could increase the productivity of your employees and work together as a team towards the common goal for the company.


Questions I ask Kristi Herold:

  • [02:09] How does somebody get a job playing?
  • [03:44] As you’re pitching this idea maybe to some sort of corporate program to an executive, what do you talk about as the top-line benefits of bringing this into a culture?
  • [06:24] Some people in leadership roles may think this is a really ridiculous idea, to mix work and play to be a serious company. Do you still get that pushback?
  • [07:43] Do you think there’s some resistance to the idea of play at work because it can be considered socially wrong?
  • [08:53] Talking about mental health and even working at home because of COVID, how big a crisis do you think we’re dealing with in the workplace?
  • [13:28] Technology is really running our lives now, how do you sort of insert play into that conversation?
  • [15:59] Give us some examples of how you’ve incorporated play in platforms like Meetings or Teams.
  • [18:39] What are some structured things that you’ve brought into somebody who wanted to make a significant change in their company’s culture and has been received well?

More About Kristi Herold:

  • Get a copy of Kristi’s PLAYbook pdf with a top 10 list of ideas on how to integrate play at work and receive 25% off a JAM corporate team experience: here
  • JAM

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(00:52): Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Kristi Harold. She's the founder and CEO of JAM, a multi-million dollar global business that has connected millions of people through play. Since its inception, one of the largest adult recreational sports leagues in the world. The JAM team has produced and delivered over 3,500 playful corporate events in over 30 countries since the summer of 2020, and has been awarded Canada's most admired culture award in 2022. Kristi consults and speaks on how to move a culture from surviving to thriving, and she recently authored the bestselling book we're gonna talk about today. It pays to Play: How Play Improves Business Culture. So welcome to the show, Kristi.

Kristi Herold (01:47): Thank you, John. I'm thrilled to be here.

John Jantsch (01:49): This is a milestone, a show for me. This is the first time I've had the sister of a former guest on the show, Cameron Herold. Siblings. Siblings. I don't think I've ever had, I've had husband or wife never siblings? I don't think so. Awesome. Little little thing. I get to check off the box. So I wanna know, how does somebody get a job playing?

Kristi Herold (02:13): How did get a job playing? Oh, that's a great question. Come work for JAM. .

John Jantsch (02:17): . That's what I'm wondering. Like how did you get that job?

Kristi Herold (02:21): I mean, I started, I just,

John Jantsch (02:22): Other than starting the company, that's the number one, but, but what led you there? Let's put it that way.

Kristi Herold (02:28): Well, I was, you know, Cameron and I grew up in a small town about four hours north of Toronto. And then I went, when I went off to university after university, I moved to Toronto and I was like small town girl, living in a lonely world, working at a company and thinking I knew I wanted to run my own business, but I didn't know what, and I'd heard about these adult recreational sports leagues in the US in San Francisco, and I thought I should try that in Toronto. Like what a great way to meet people, solve my own problem here and try running a business. And I have a vision that it would become as big as it has. That wasn't my intention in 1996. I just wanted to do something fun and help people and connect and play. And yeah, so here we are 27 years later, getting a couple hundred thousand people annually playing sports and now our corporate business has, is really taking off. So it's been really a fun ride.

John Jantsch (03:19): So I, I can't tell you how often entrepreneurs say I started this business to solve my own problem. I mean, it is, it is so inherent in kind of the, you know, it's like I have a problem, here's the only way I could figure out how to fix it, is to start a business that, that that didn't. And I, you know, it, I think one of the beauties of that of course is that I think it does lead to a lot of passion in what you do. Let's just start within the workplace as you're pitching this idea maybe to some sort of corporate program to an executive. I mean, what do you talk about as the top line benefits of bringing this into a culture?

Kristi Herold (03:54): Hmm. That's a great question. Well, I've always wanna start with w what are you being challenged with? What's the, what are the challenges that your organization is facing from a cultural perspective? And what we're hearing a lot of these days is retention, right? Is, I mean, it's no surprise, it's a great resignation and those numbers have gone gotten worse. So retention, engagement, energy, physical and mental health, a lack of connection and a lack of kind of innovation and creativity. So interestingly enough, I sort of started to look at it and was like, well these are all the challenges companies are facing. Our company's not dealing with that because we have a really fun culture. We have integrated playfulness into our culture. And that's where sort of the idea for writing the book came from. And I really believe that integrating a little bit of playfulness into the every day at work.

(04:43): I'm not saying stop everything and go play a game of basketball every day. Like that's not what I'm talking about. And what I'm also not saying is once a year company event doesn't make for great culture, right? It's finding a way to make work fun every day. And play has a fantastic way of doing that. And there are ways to integrate laughs and playfulness that will connect your team and help strengthen bonds and relationships amongst them, which then in turn helps all those issues, helps with retention, helps with engagement, right? Helps with physical and mental health, you know, so

John Jantsch (05:16): Yeah, I think another thing that happens too, a lot of times we get very, you know, siloed in work that, you know, we don't really get to know the people we work beside, you know, all the time because it's always about the meeting and it's always about the task list. And I do think that bringing any kind of outside of work, if you will, type of activity, I mean it allows us to get to know each other better, allows us to see commonality and allows us to feel maybe safer, you know, even at work. And I think that's probably a big part of this retention and engagement, isn't it?

Kristi Herold (05:45): Absolutely. It's getting to know our teammates as people who we can then have a laugh with, trust them a little more because we've gotten to know them as humans, feel that we can be a little more vulnerable and maybe ask for help if we need it. So then you get like everyone working together as a team towards the common goal for the company. And if you don't have that, if everyone's just doing their own thing and are afraid to ask for help or afraid to admit they don't know something or because they don't trust there's no, you know, a lack of trust or in the relationship in the organization, like all of that can be so easily solved by having a few laughs together.

John Jantsch (06:24): Do you still get, I mean, I'm thinking the sort of old hierarchy old, you know, structure of a corporation where they're, you know, they actually are still people there in leadership that think this is a really ridiculous idea, you know, to bring play. You know, there's work and there's play and they don't mix. And you know, we're a serious company. I mean, do you still get that pushback? I'm sure that it's breaking down, the walls are breaking down, but do you still get that some

Kristi Herold (06:49): Absolutely. They're, and those are not gonna be our target market and not, you know, I mean, I would go toe to toe with anyone. If someone wanted to debate me on this, I would happily debate anybody on this topic. And I think it would be hard to, I think anyone would be hard pressed to prove me wrong on this, honestly, if they took the time to actually listen, like, to dig a little deeper as to what I'm talking about, because I'm not saying like spreadsheets still need to happen. You still need to have your board meetings, you gotta have your day. Like all the work has to happen of course. But if you can do that work and integrate some laughs throughout your day, how much happier is your team of employees going to become going to be coming to work every day? And so, yeah, there are people who are resistant to the idea of a, but I think it's more they just don't understand it. And

John Jantsch (07:43): Do you think there's also an aspect of, I mean, play is kind of beaten out of us, you know, as we grow up, right? I mean, as little as kids, it was like, oh, the only thing that existed and then it's slowly, you know, you had to become more responsible and you had to do this and you, I mean, is there somewhere there's some resistance because it's like, wait a minute, this feels socially wrong almost.

Kristi Herold (08:03): Yeah, absolutely. And it's funny you, the last two things you've said to me are, are things I clearly talk about. I do a lot of keynote speaking now on this, and I speak to specifically to this. I actually say, you know, so many people think work is work, play is play, and never the two shall meet. And this idea of when we were kids, it was our favorite thing to do. So why do we stop? Like why do we stop? Yeah, I play every day. I find a, whether I'm playing my guitar or I play tennis, or I play a game of cards, or I'm having a playful banter with my, the way I communicate with my staff, there's ways to play all the time. And so why do we stop? Because George Bernard Shaw said, we don't get old because we stop. No, we don't stop playing because we get old. We get old because we stop playing.

John Jantsch (08:52): Yeah. Awesome. One. So let's, you mentioned mental health already, and I mean, I, this is a topic that certainly has always been a very large topic, I think in the workplace, you know, let's throw Covid under the bus one more time. , and you know, the work from home, you know, that's gone on. I mean, how big a crisis do you think we're dealing with in the workplace? I know you're not a psychiatrist, psychologist, or sociologist, but just in your work, how big of an issue do you think that is? Like leaders need to be addressing

Kristi Herold (09:20): It? Was it, I think pandemic proportions or endemic proportions? I don't know what the proper terminology is. Prior to the pandemic, it's only gotten worse. And yes, I'm not a psychologist. I do, however, have six kids between the ages of 18 and 22. And guess what? All the kids and their kids, these, that age group and all their friends are all struggling with anxiety and depression and mental health challenges. And it's, it is coming to work. It's, yeah, you know, if people aren't happy about coming to work every day, if they wake up every morning, dreading going to work, it's not gonna be good for their mental health. So if we as employers and leaders can make the workplace a little more fun, a little more engaging and rewarding to be part of your team is gonna be so much happier and perform so much better.

(10:19): Yeah, I had two employees leave during the pandemic for, for better career. They felt they were leaving for, you know, better career opportunities and more money. And I wish them both the best. Like anytime over 27 years have had lots of people come and go. And I tend to keep in touch with people that I, you know, I care about as friends who inevitably, lots of my former teammates I keep in regular touch with. Anyway, I remember after about three months, this fellow Sandeep had left and I reached out. I'm like, Hey, how's it going? I hope your new gig has been well, we miss you. And he's always this super upbeat, positive guy. He responded, I'm miserable and I'm giving my letter of resignation tomorrow and I don't have another job to go to. And I was like, what is going on? Fast forward, he's back on our team, Taylor also left back on our team, and Taylor said to me, she said, you know, I could feel every day my me mental health was declining every day. I had to get up and go to that job. And she's like, I, the biggest issue was I was working with people who didn't care about me as a person. And at JAM I know I have people who care about me as a person and I care about them. And so she, you know, like it's a really powerful thing to, to care and have connections and relationships in the workplace. We spend a lot of time at work,

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(13:14): A lot of play is physical, a lot of play is analog. Let's talk about that as the anecdote for, I mean, let's face it, most of us sit in a chair and delete email all day long and, uh, you know, so, so as an anecdote for technology and how technology is really running our lives now, h how do you, how do you sort of insert play into that conversation?

Kristi Herold (13:36): Great question. So, well, ironically interesting , the pandemic shut down our adult sports leagues that had been operating for 25 years in a number of different cities shut us down for almost 18 months. And when we first were mandated the like Canadian mandates were really harsh. Our Michigan operations weren't shut down quite as badly. But so when we were first mandated to shut down, we were like, how are we going to survive? And I, I remember thinking we have to stay true to our core purpose of connecting people through play, but how do you, I was like, I don't, and I actually, I remember having a very tearful conversation with my brother Cameron, and I was saying, he was saying, you have to pivot. You have to pivot, you're gonna have to go online. And I was like, you can't play soccer through your phone.

(14:21): You can't play beach volleyball on your computer. It doesn't work. And but then we opened our minds to possibilities and we actually started meeting needs of company teams who were all of a sudden working from home missing the banter that they, the fun laughs that they could have in the office. So we started doing online games, but we were like, we called them like we're hosting the best kitchen party ever kind of thing. Like it's, you're in a Zoom, but JAM hosts are leading you through a lot of fun and laughter games. Yeah. And has taken off. I mean we built a significant business in a very short time doing that. And now that's morphed into, we're still doing virtual, we're also offering hybrid opportunities and in-person opportunities. So we've got it all covered now for the companies that a lot of companies have stayed remote.

(15:07): Right. And, and it's a, it's not a negative thing, but that means, you know, I've got a teammate who lives in Paris, France, another one in Vancouver, somebody in Calgary, someone who just moved to Cyprus. Um, I can stay connected with them and have some laughs at them by doing virtual events. I don't have to fly them on a plane once every two months to stay connected and laughing and strengthening our relationships. So there's positives and negatives to sort of the technology I think. But I think if used properly it can still be a really powerful positive tool.

John Jantsch (15:41): Yeah, I was really talking more about the addictive behaviors, you know, the, some of the online gamings and the, you know, checking faces a million times a day, , I think, you know, we, we've sort of lost control I think in a lot of ways, you know, based on the technology we thought was, you know, going to actually give us more control. Right. You know, what I'd love for you to do, if you wouldn't mind, is give us some examples of how you've incorporated play into meetings, you know, teams. Just however, anything you wanna do. I'd love to hear some Sure. Kind of concrete examples that, uh, might get people's mind spinning about what's possible.

Kristi Herold (16:15): Yeah. One very easy one that everyone could do starting today. Set up a banter channel in, or a shout out channel or both. We have both in your, whether it's Slack or Microsoft Teams, whatever your company uses for internal chats, we have a shout out channel. And so every day there are multiple times during the day you'll see somebody is shouting out someone else for great work done. And it's, it just is a positive reinforcement. It's playful and positive. And the banter channel is just where people put silly jokes or funny things like it's just random banter and it's, it keeps people laughing and engaged, costs nothing. And it helps build community and relationships. Huddle. We do every single day.

John Jantsch (16:57): We, we actually, I was gonna say we call our shout out channel tacos. So we give each other tacos, so

Kristi Herold (17:04): Okay.

John Jantsch (17:05): We're completely distributed as, as well . Mm-hmm .

Kristi Herold (17:09): And then we have a huddle every day. We do a seven minute huddle at one o'clock. So if you're living in Vancouver, it might be 10 in the morning if you're living in Paris, France, it might be seven in the evening or six in the evening. But everyone comes to huddle and it's a different leader every single day and huddle. It's always the exact same agenda. And huddle starts always with good news. Whoever's the leader has to share their good news and what huddle always ends with. I mean there's obviously important metrics and stuff that we're sharing and important announcements throughout the seven minute huddle, but it always ends with leader's choice. And leader's choice can range from, I mean one of my favorite ones was the leader said, I would encourage everyone to pick up the phone and someone today who you haven't talked to in six months, sometimes someone will say, you know, sent post a picture of your first sports team that you ever played on in the banter channel or the best Halloween costume you ever had as a child. Or you know, it just, someone else might say, go for a 15 minute walk today. That is my choice for you as leader to encourage everyone to get outside and get fresh air. You never know what you're gonna get. And it can be very playful and fun and it allows everyone to shine as a leader because they're leading this, yeah. This huddle. So you get to meet different personalities.

John Jantsch (18:21): I'm curious, how do you get that done in seven minutes? We sometimes we do a daily huddle. We sometimes struggle to get it done in 15. It

Kristi Herold (18:27): The odd time it does go over, we try and keep it pretty tight and we have a very clear agenda. There's like five or six points that the leader covers off and it's their job to keep it tight and it's o yeah, usually it's pretty, pretty darn good. Yeah.

John Jantsch (18:39): So, so what are some other kind of structured things that you've brought into, you know, not just these kind of everyday things, but like where somebody really wanted to make a significant change in culture. And obviously that's not gonna happen from one, you know, event, but what are some, some avenues that, that you've brought in to folks that have really seemed like they've been received very well?

Kristi Herold (19:02): Celebrations. We do core value awards highlighting great Achieve like we do the core value awards once a month, celebrating anniversaries, have a company sports team get, you know, offer it to your team cuz there are adult sports leagues in every city across North America. Sure. So sign your team up for a kickball league or a beach volleyball league if they would like, you know, offer it. Maybe you have a company, an office book club. We do that every two months. Perhaps it's a company rock band or choir for those that aren't necessarily sporty. There are ways to play every day. Like there are so many ways to play. I mean I could go on and on and we're not gonna have time to go through it all, but I

John Jantsch (19:37): Bet you there are some examples of it in it pays to play. So la last question. What kind of guitar do you play?

Kristi Herold (19:47): Acoustic and I only started playing in my early forties, but, so I'm very average with guitar, but I have a lot of fun. I really just play so that I can sing along cause I like to sing so Awesome. I do it to entertain myself.

John Jantsch (19:59): Well I've been doing it for about 50 years and so I have a whole wall if you could see my, a whole wall of guitars to that I love to play with. So I always love to hear what other people play, but I mostly play acoustic guitar as well.

Kristi Herold (20:12): That's awesome. My, my favorite guitar, I have one in Toronto that is a seagull, which is a Canadian brand and it's a beautiful guitar. I love it. John, I did wanna ta mention, since I couldn't get into lots of tactics, I'm happy to offer a, the a free PLAYbook PDF document that would list sort of a top 10 list of tactics for your listeners so I can get you that for you.

John Jantsch (20:31): That that would be awesome. That would be great. Also, invite people where they might bind the book or where they might find out more about, uh, the work that you are doing at JAM.

Kristi Herold (20:39): Yeah, that would be great. is is my website. K R I S T I H E R O L And then is our, is where we have all our corporate event offerings and adult sports leagues.

John Jantsch (20:53): Awesome. Well, Kristi, I appreciate you taking a few moments to stop by the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast and hopefully we'll run into you on these days out there on the road or on a field or in a, on a Accord or something like that.

Kristi Herold (21:03): That would be fun. One, let's do another one with both Cameron and I, we can banter together with you.

John Jantsch (21:08): Oh, that would be very fun. I've, I'd love it. Let's do it. All right.

Kristi Herold (21:12): Let's talk about growing up in an entrepreneurial household or something.

John Jantsch (21:15): No kidding. Yeah, pretty crazy.

Kristi Herold (21:17): Thanks John.

John Jantsch (21:18): Hey, and one final thing before you go. You know how I talk about marketing strategy, strategy before tactics? Well, sometimes it can be hard to understand where you stand in that, what needs to be done with regard to creating a marketing strategy. So we created a free tool for you. It's called the Marketing Strategy Assessment. You can find it,, . co. Check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with your strategy today. That's just marketing I'd love to chat with you about the results that you get.

This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network.

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