Fun is something a lot of workplaces want at their organization because they understand how important it is. At the same time, fun cannot be prescribed. Getting the balance of work and play right can be very challenging, but when it does balance out, it works very well. Today’s guest calls herself a Chief Fun Officer, and she has a lot of fresh ideas.
Meet Rebecca Binnendyk, a sort of consultant and renaissance woman who has dedicated her career to helping organizations find the fun available at work.
Would you say that “chief fun officer” is an HR role?
If you are asking if I’ve been in HR, my history is actually that I was a teacher. I’m a music therapist. I studied psychology and education.
Is CFO a role of HR? I think it can be partially, but I would say it’s not just an HR role because it spans and takes care of the whole company or the whole person. I work with individuals or brands or entire companies. HR would just be one department I would work with on developing better communications and deeper relationships within the company.
It would be helping the people in HR to communicate with the people in sales, the people in marketing, and the CEO. We definitely work with people in HR, but you know what? If you want to really get down to the nitty-gritty, it’s a human role. As a CFO, I work with humans. I work with people. It doesn’t really matter what their label is or their category. In that way, yeah, it’s absolutely a Human Resources role, for sure.
Yeah. I mean, it depends on what kind of Human Resources person you’re talking about. If you’re talking about a traditional personnel-style role in which you’re basically filling out W-9s and onboarding talent, I would say it probably doesn’t sound a lot like what you’re doing.
But it has come a long way since then. A lot of people really do have a holistic job that has to do with every department and is largely a people role.
Yeah, definitely. I think what I do more, Jim, is to help train people who are in HR who have maybe had a career in HR to date, and they’re used to doing it a certain way. I come in with creative solutions and ideas on how we can better the HR role and how we can make it more enjoyable, as well as how we can maybe completely change the way we do onboard individuals so we gain higher engagement and less turnover. The average right now is 30% of their revenue, and companies are losing with people who are not engaged in their jobs.
As CFO, that’s what I would do: work with Human Resources, work with those individuals, interview them, talk to them, deep dive into the company, and really get to know the people. And then from there, we strive to create a healthier, better-balanced culture where people can thrive as individuals.
Would you say your role is more of a consultant?
I guess you could classify me as a consultant, for sure—with a lot of tricks in my bag. There’s a counseling element to it because I have an intuition. When I go in and work with people, I may be talking to the CEO, I may be interviewing clients or customers, or I may be talking to stakeholders. And like I said, I may even be doing leadership training for certain people in the company who express leadership qualities that maybe the CEO has overlooked.
That’s my job. It’s like having that third party in there to see the strengths and weaknesses you can’t see when you’re right in it yourself.
Do you think there’s a common thread among the HR people you assist as to what their major concerns or problems are?
I think in general, there are always challenges with hiring and administration and training and then seeing people leave the company. I think with that comes a level of stress. I would say most people who are in HR, who are listening to this right now, are going to say “Oh yeah, there’s stress at my job” because they are the ones who are somewhat responsible for those roles and making it a successful process. I think the level of stress for them is definitely something that goes through all companies and businesses. That stress leads to fear and attrition and like “Well, what if I do it wrong? Or what if I onboard this person wrong? Or what if I’m not communicating right?” There’s a lot of fear involved in that role, I believe.
That’s another thing I work on with the department: communication within the department and helping develop better communication and relationships so they know each other and can talk. Then we develop relationships that go beyond just the workplace. Some actionable things are to have get-togethers outside of work during which you’re actually meeting up with the CEO and talking with people about things that are not work-related. That’s actually mandated by the company. “OK, we are going to have lunches on Thursdays, and you’re going to meet with different people from different departments, and you’re not allowed to talk about work.” This is actually something I’ve implemented.
The outcomes are amazing. You see people’s joy increase. You see they start feeling more like a person and less like a number. A lot of that fear and attrition and stress can get dissolved that way because now they feel like they’re part of a team, even within the HR department. When they feel like they’re part of a team, they’re not going to be afraid to ask questions, to say they made a mistake, to fail, or to just have these discussions and say, “Oh, well, you know what? Maybe if we tried this….” They won’t be afraid to suggest something when they’re in a healthy, positive-cultured environment.
HR is in this particular situation, especially those who have been given a so-called seat at the table. They’re stuck between the employees and the leaders. And the leaders’ failures and the employees become HR’s fault, and the employees’ failures become HR’s fault. It takes a special kind of somebody to willingly put himself or herself in that position. I’ve met a lot of them. It’s just an interesting place to be. I could see how some of your intuition, as you call it, and some of your background would help you in those roles.
Absolutely. I mean, even if you have an open mind to how you’re going to do that recruiting process but you’re not doing it, you’re not having to make the decision by yourself; you have a team. You’re all working together, and it’s not just within HR. You pull in the CEO, and you pull in some of the employees who have been there for a long time or have been there for a couple months.
Imagine a new type of recruiting whereby the person comes in and he or she has to work on the team that’s already present there for half a day. Imagine this: The person’s job is to work with the other candidates to make the other candidates look good. Now, take yourself back to grade four. The teacher says, “Your job is actually to make Susie in your group look good. So you’re going to have this group meeting. And then at the end, you’re going to present Susie’s findings in the best-possible way.” This is not the way we typically think. When you change that environment to be one of safety and acceptance, now, recruiting is not so daunting for anyone because we’re going to work together as a team, and that’s going to show you the true characteristics of a person.
Then you do a half-day, and then, instead of just putting all this stress on one or two people in HR doing the hiring, you talk to everyone. “Did you get along? What did you like about that candidate? What did you like about that candidate? OK. We’re going to call the person back, and we’re going to give him or her a 3-week trial.” The candidate also knows this is a 3-week probation, and at the end of the 3 weeks, we decide together whether this is a fit through a conversation.
Now you’re dissolving the stress around the whole recruiting process. In the end, you’re actually getting the best candidates who love the product or love the service you’re providing, and they want to be there. Now you have just hired people who are invested in your company, and the percentage chance of them staying is much higher. They’re going to stay longer, and they’re going to enjoy their job. They’re going to put in more effort, have more productivity, and help the company generate more income at the end of the day. You’re going to be your by-product of doing an onboarding system like that.
And that’s just one example, Jim, of what we might do to revise how things are done within just HR.
Have you done that at a lot of places?
I do it in a variety of ways. If I’m working with a start-up company and it’s looking to hire, then we do it as a team. I think the whole idea is just to be recruiting as a team with a mission in mind. I’ve even done an approach involving hiring a new manager. Instead of just the CEO hiring a new manager, you have the employees do the hiring. You go back to the employees and ask, “What are you guys looking for in a manager?” Now that’s a new kind of thinking. “Oh, we’re going to ask the employees?”
When you do that, you give the responsibility to the employees. Suddenly, they ask, “Oh, wait. I have a voice? They’re going to actually listen to me?” That’s how we start changing culture and start changing the environment to be a positive one where people’s voice is important and their contributions do matter and make a difference.
Then, when that manager gets onboarded, people aren’t like “Oh my God, my boss is a dick” because they never had a say in it. Now they have to take part of the responsibility for the person hired. Again, you have more team effort, a team mentality, and people who are going to work together and create better products and have better outcomes.
How receptive would you say your clients are to these approaches?
You know what? The clients who are open and ready for change and who have hit a wall and are lost, don’t know what to do next, and obviously want to move their company forward are very receptive. This has been researched for over 20 years; happiness and fun in the workplace work. It’s undeniable that they make a huge difference not only in people’s regular life but also in their life at work, which you can probably attest to. Most of our lives are spent at work.
Yeah. Most of our lives, but the best part of the best of our lives is spent at work.
Exactly. That’s where my passion comes from. I used to be a teacher, and I was surrounded by people who were living for the weekends and the summer. I was going, “OK. So what about the rest of the time?” That’s Monday to Friday, which is a lot of time.
My goal and my mission, because I’ve been living a fun life my whole life very authentically, was “OK, we need to change the Monday to Friday, the 9 to 5” because not everyone can quit his or her corporate job, which is a very fad thing to say, and become a famous YouTuber or a gamer online who makes millions. I mean, sure, that’s great if you can, but it’s going to be rare. I wanted to dive deep into businesses and see if I could help at the root of the problem.
And to go back to your previous question, there is definitely a huge percentage of corporations, businesses, and CEOs who are still doing it the old-school way. They can’t see the trees through the forest and are not ready for change. Those are not my clients. My clients are ready for something different. They’re ready to take a risk, they’re ready to be adventurous, and they’re ready to have an open mind and receive my creative ideas—or at least try—and that is all I require. Just try something different. If it doesn’t work, by all means, we’re going to change it. My philosophy is fail fast. If you’re going to fail, fail fast. Just dive right in. If you totally mess it up, “OK, back to the drawing board. Let’s get together on this and figure out how to make it better and move forward.”
You mentioned you started off as a teacher. How did you go from that to doing what you’re doing now?
That’s a very good question. It became my passion. I loved the teaching. I loved the kids. But I could not stand the bureaucracy and the policies. I was not a cookie-cutter teacher. I was the teacher who broke the rules. I was the teacher who got in trouble because I was letting the boys stand up at recess and during the eating portion of their lunch. I was questioning, “Well, why are we teaching boys this way?” This isn’t even how boys should be taught. This is how they all get left behind. I was the one who was sitting beside the bully who’d pulled down the other kid’s pants and saying very softly to the bully, “Are you OK?” Because nobody asked the bully if he’s okay; they gave him detention. They’re not actually addressing the root problem.
With that experience and my experience seeing the world—something I’ve spent a lot of time doing—I’ve seen a lot of people just unhappy. They are disappointed and searching for more in their lives. And some are tempted by the fad of quitting corporate and making money on their own with a get-rich-quick scheme. But if you really do your research, you will know that no matter how much money you actually attain in your life, it is not going to make you happier. It’s not going to bring more joy into your life.
In fact, even the quest for happiness is dangerous because psychologically, when we are seeking happiness, we’re almost always disappointed because we never attain it. That’s why my mission is fun and to recreate this word “fun,” not just allowing it to be a frivolous word but figuring out how we can get fun in every single day, no matter where we are, no matter what our job is, no matter how pissy our spouse is to us, or no matter how big of a dick our boss is. How can we create happiness in our lives today? And then move forward.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with Calvin and Hobbes?
I am. Yeah, they are great.
There is one strip in which Calvin says, “Here I am happy and content but not euphoric. So now, I’m no longer content; I’m unhappy. My day is ruined.”
Yeah, and that’s actually very true. We get the choice to create those moments of joy in the little things of the day, but it’s easier said than done. It’s a constant practice, and it’s something I’ve been practicing for many years.
Basically, I was unhappy as a teacher. I’m a singer-songwriter and very creative. I started running my own company. I’m an entrepreneur at heart, so I ran a few different businesses and companies. Then people started coming to me for business advice and for counseling in their lives—you name it, just advice here and there for all different kinds of things. I realized I could help a lot of people. That was the passion. It was like, “If I can help just one person to find more joy in his or her life on the day-to-day, then that’s my work. That’s what I want to do.”
Did you find it difficult to apply your style of thinking to the various organizations you work with?
It’s a very intuitive business that I do now. It depends on a lot of conversations I have. Sure, there are definitely difficulties as far as pushback because like you and everyone else knows, change is hard. Change takes courage. It sometimes takes time to help people see they have inside of them what it takes to take the next step, which is almost always one of courage. For example, take a CEO who has run his company a certain way for years, but he’s just not sure why everyone keeps quitting. Why does everyone keep quitting? What is he doing wrong? He’s trying his best, and yet there’s still a problem. I’d work with that CEO to show him where he can improve and help him see that.
I think it’s my experience of travel, Jim; honestly, I really believe the worst-case scenario here is death. I mean, literally, the worst-case scenario is death because, especially for corporations and just people in general living in the first world, we are in the top three percentile of richest people in the world. We have a roof over our heads. We have food on the table times 10, so what is the risk? If you’re going to put $100,000 into a new project for your company, what’s the worst thing that can happen? You lose that $100,000 maybe, but you tried something, and you experimented with something. You know what the outcome is—that you will learn something. So that lesson alone is hard for people to latch onto. So that’s the hard part.
The easy part of my job is the fun because you go in there, and you get to talk to people. I get to share experiences. People tell me things they will tell nobody. They’re not going to tell their boss, they’re not going to tell their colleagues, and they’re not going to tell anyone else. As a third party going in, that’s a very powerful insight into a company. That’s where I get to have my fun and go “Oh, four employees said the same thing about this item.” Maybe it’s an issue with the parking. “Oh, OK. Well, this is a simple fix. We’re going to make parking free instead of charging $2,” or whatever that is.
Start investing back into the employees. That’s really fun. The fun part about it for me and the easy part for me, too, is seeing people happier, seeing people come and say, “Oh my goodness, I had no idea I was capable of that. I didn’t even know that if I took a chance on myself and made that investment, my business would grow 50% in a year. Holy smokes. Thank you, Rebecca, for believing in me and making it fun along the way.”
Before we started the interview, you asked me what my claim to fame was. What’s your claim to fame?
I would say my claim to fame is that I believe people have limitless potential, and they may need someone to help them tap into that. But my claim to fame is helping people do that—helping people reach their own potential and having fun along the way.