BE a leader, and lead by example. — Put your pride and your fancy MBA aside for a minute, get humble and vulnerable and lead by example. Leaders often need to work on themselves first. They need to train their mind, grow personally and get support as they grow a company. Almost all successful coaches have been coached. Get help on implementing changes. Talk to other people and figure out what may and may not work in your company. Then try it!
As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Binnendyk.
Rebecca Binnendyk is an international thought leader and the new breed of CFO, the Chief Fun Officer. She specializes in infusing fun into organizations, businesses, charities, schools, and families. She is a noted pop singer, jazz musician, and voiceover artist who has dedicated her life to giving back and making a difference. Rather than focusing on traditional methods, Rebecca teaches her clients how to use FUN to transform their lives and businesses. Learn more, here: https://www.rebeccabinnendyk.com/
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you so much for having me, it is a pleasure to be here. Of course, I’d love to!
Well, it was a few years ago that I was buying my 3rd property and needed money for a down payment pretty quick. I needed 10K in 2 months, so long story short, I hopped on a plane, went to Beijing where I had heard rumor there was “voice work” (which at the time I knew nothing about) and I hit the ground running. All the studios loved me there and I worked 37 days straight navigating the Beijing subways from one studio to the next. From there, I ended up building a voice over company which I scaled this past year. Amidst one successful business, I actually realized I didn’t want to sit in a booth my entire life. I wanted to have more impact, wanted to speak on stages, to inspire people and to give them something they needed.
Then, March 2020 happened. Everything halted. Except me. I plunged forward, invested big time into my own businesses. Through all the coaching and discovery, it became increasingly obvious that I was The Chief Fun Officer (CFO). You see, I kept hearing how unhappy people were in their jobs, I kept hearing and seeing on social media this trend of “quitting corporate” to become an entrepreneur. Well, I know that’s a hard road and not for everyone so I was on a mission to solve the bigger problem. Because we can’t all quit our jobs and become YouTube sensations. The bigger and real problem is that companies are still doing business the “old way”. There’s a huge communication gap between executives and millennials and I just happen to understand and relate to both! (Side note: In some cases, it’s as archaic as the way some educational systems still teach — with desks and chairs — this is why I had to retire from teaching. I couldn’t handle being reprimanded for trying to teach outside the box).
So, for the workforce, I saw a huge need for change in the areas of leadership, relationship, systems/operations, and mostly — culture. I knew that if more people enjoyed going to their jobs, they wouldn’t have to quit, that if they were having fun, they would feel more purpose and be able to give back more not only to their workplace but to the world on a whole. More happy people means more thriving individuals, families and workplaces. I believe we can raise the frequency of the world with fun to be honest!
With all of this knowledge, I know there’s red tape. I knew that CEO’s and corporate executives would be worried about their bottom line, profits, and ROI’s. Of course, it’s not new research and it’s not rocket science that employees who are happy are more engaged, retention is higher and companies see increases in revenue, but actually getting people and companies to first see the need for change and then actually implement it, is another challenge. That’s where I come in as CFO and make it my job to come up with customized creative solutions for them to infuse fun into their workplaces and really up-level day to day life.
It’s my desire to see more people happy in their day to day, it’s my desire to teach them HOW to find joy no matter what. From the CEO to the custodian, we all have a part to play, we’re all critically important to the success of a company and we all deserve to enjoy life. After all, what’s the point of life if it isn’t fun?
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of the funniest stories I like to share is when I was just starting out, I hired my first virtual assistant from Georgia. She worked for me for a month and one day I sent her an email that simply said, “we should talk about your rates.” She sent me a 4-paragraph email back explaining why she couldn’t lower her fees anymore. I sent her back an “lmao…” followed with, “girl, you don’t need to lower your rates, you need to RAISE them!” She was so surprised because I was her client and essentially, I was telling her to charge me more.
There is an aspect to fun that a lot of people don’t understand, which is setting goals and achieving them. One of the best ways to reach goals is through incentives, and what better incentive than raises? Money is the driving factor for work, and when you earn more, it makes employees happy. Giving them goals and raises to work towards not only makes them happy to achieve it, but it increasesproductivity and creativity as well when they know what the end result is.
You see, she was really good at her job and it didn’t take me long to see that. I knew she didn’t know her true value. We got on the phone, I then helped her with her website, her copy, her advertising/marketing and asked what she dreamed of making a month.
A few days later, I was able to send her some referrals and voila, within a month she was making the income she had been dreaming about just 4 weeks prior! I love that story because it made her smile, it helped provide for her 2 kids, and her confidence sky-rocketed. She now owns her own successful growing business. That’s why I do what I do!
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m working on an amazing project with a business partner that will be available in book form once completed. The research will uncover the positive outcomes for companies who implement strategies and tools to create a healthier, more fun and positive workplace environment. As a Chief Fun Officer, this is something I’m really excited about! Many companies who are small and just starting out may not have the income yet to afford a Chief Fun Officer but still want to begin creating a fun work environment. Our book will be a great resource for those who want to implement strategies, but don’t have the resources.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
People need to feel valued, seen and heard. We are unique individuals — all with experiences and a voice that deserves to be heard. Does your boss listen to you? Does he/she have the time to invest in you as an individual? Does she/he really care if you’re finding joy in the in the place you spend most of your waking hours? The answer is too often, NO. This is the problem. People feel undervalued,unappreciated, and they don’t know their purpose in their work or in life.
Too many of employees go home each and every day from their jobs with suggestions/ideas/complaints/concerns about their job — but no one is there to listen or acknowledge them. Why? We know it’s pointless to bring anything up because we’ll be called the complainer, our boss could just hire someone else, or what we say will simply fall on deaf ears — that’s what’s happened in the past.
Not only that, if we DO get the guts up to ask for something different or share an idea, we could be seen as the show off, the one that doesn’t work as hard as the others etc. Even if you have a ping pong table in a workplace (which some tech companies think is the solution to a healthy culture) there’s a stigma around actually ‘playing’ the game, so often no one does. They’re worried what other people think because the culture has not been properly established and modeled for them so they feel safe in branching out and trying new things.
As a workforce, we’re scared that no one will listen, that we’ll lose our job, that what we say will be criticized and put down, so we just keep our thoughts to ourselves and do the same thing day in and day out. But we’re unhappy. That’s clear.
Also, our leaders have failed us. If the system is broken, it’s most often broken from the top down. Bosses are lost, don’t know what to do, are scared of making mistakes and become stuck. They fail to lead. Without a leader, team integrity eventually erodes and becomes toxic.
CEO’s/bosses/companies are fearful of making mistakes. Quite possibly due to tunnel vision, and the focus only on gains and ROI’s, they can’t identify creative solutions, they don’t try new things, they get caught up in the red tape. They completely miss the opportunity to invest in people, in relationship and in building a company culture where innovation, creativity and exploration will lead to better results in customer satisfaction, revenue and employee morale.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
People who are unhappy are not often just unhappy. They are suffering from anxiety, repressed emotions, and other mental health issues — sometimes as a direct result from their work environment. On the emotional scale, if people experience fear, insecurity, guilt, unworthiness, powerlessness, jealously, hatred, discouragement, blame, worry, doubt, overwhelm, frustration etc.
They are vibrating at a low frequency and they carry this with them wherever they go — including work. How can people in this state be productive? If they’re feeling underappreciated, and undervalued, there will be no internal motivation to be productive and stay engaged. They will feel stifled. You all know the feeling of watching the clock and just waiting until you can get out of there.
Not only that, unhappy people tend to attract more unhappy people so if your HR department is not exactly “happy”, don’t expect them to successfully hire your next A team! If bosses/CEO’s and employees are all experiencing these types of emotions in and out of the workplace, they will see average productivity, mediocre profits and a workplace that reports poor health & wellbeing.
Take Joe for example. He’s unhappy. He’s been working for a company for 5 years. He does his job, but he puts in the least amount of effort, he clocks in and out right at 9 and 5, he taps into the benefits and even takes a mental health leave because he can, and on the company clock, he often secretly searches for new employment. He’s not happy. Business suffers, clients and customers suffer, profits stay the same or decrease over time and Joe — well, Joe never develops his skills, he isn’t challenged to grow and learn and really just goes on feeling unheard, unseen and undervalued.
Businesses are at great risk if they don’t shift with the times and improve their workplace culture. The days of command and control are quickly coming to an end. Individuals are increasing “quitting corporate,” becoming entrepreneurs, finding ways to do what they love and seeking workplace environments that provide opportunity for fun, creativity, innovation and freedom.
People are recognizing that life is short and that much of their lives are spent at work. They are beginning to see the value in working with people they enjoy being around, and being in a space that appreciates them. Many are even willing to take lower pay in exchange for feeling valued, seen and heard.
Unhappy workforces lead to low productivity because people are in fear of making mistakes, speaking up, sharing their ideas/opinions. Their ideas are not valued, and employees are not invested in the outcomes of the company. Their ideas are not listened to, their bosses create an atmosphere of fear (even if they don’t mean to or know they’re doing it) and productivity suffers.
Unhappy people are in survival mode. Their brains are unable to create and innovate when they’re in such states. So, how can they even begin to be productive or increase their profits from this state of mind. If individuals are not reaching their potential the company as a whole will not reach their potential either. The truth is, most employees are not functioning even close to their capacity because they’re just plan unhappy.
Corporations and businesses that fail to take a hard look at their culture, and make changes from the inside out will lose to their competitors and may eventually become completely obsolete.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
1. BE a leader, and lead by example.
Put your pride and your fancy MBA aside for a minute, get humble and vulnerable and lead by example. Leaders often need to work on themselves first. They need to train their mind, grow personally and get support as they grow a company. Almost all successful coaches have been coached. Get help on implementing changes. Talk to other people and figure out what may and may not work in your company. Then try it.
2. Listen to your employees. Communicate
They often have the best ideas but no one is listening. They may have ideas/suggestions/complaints/concerns, but if no one is listening, they don’t feel valued and in return they don’t end up wanting to invest their time/energy into the company. Let the staff share crazy ideas on what they’d love to see happen in the next year. Have a special “show & tell” where anything goes and all ideas are acceptable and considered. What would make your team happy, what would bring them joy? What’s hurting them right now and where are their struggles? Ask these questions and genuinely listen and be willing to try new things, fail and try something else and make changes internally and you’ll see massive improvements externally! Trust me, customers will notice!
3. Build Relationships.
Get out of your fancy office that you’ve “earned” and start seeing people as equals. You all have a role to play in the company but no one can do it alone and every person needs to feel like an important piece in the puzzle. Acknowledging that it’s a team effort and investing back into the team as a whole can do wonders for your company culture. When’s the last time to randomly gave out gifts to staff? Do you celebrate birthdays? Do you as a boss notice when someone is down? How do you handle emergencies? Are you understanding? Are you willing to admit when you fail so your team can pick you up so you can carry on together?
Make your staff priority #1 over everyone else — even your customers.
4. Improve your Systems
If your systems aren’t working, you’re likely to have unhappy staff. Improve them and be willing to make change. Regularly check in with individuals in the company to see what’s working and what’s not. Gather suggestions with a suggestion box and actually look at them so you can implement the changes over time. Make sure people know there are changes coming and get them excited about what’s to come. Make sure various departments are communicating so your systems can be optimized.
5. Have fun.
If you’re having fun, your employees will have fun. Loosen up and don’t take yourself so seriously. If you’re struggling with a problem in the company (customers aren’t returning, COVID caused major revenue loss, employee engagement is ridiculously low) talk to your team or hire/appoint a Chief Fun Officer. Show them you trust them and work together to come up with creative solutions.
In a world where things have become so serious, focused on death tolls and politics, we need fun more than ever. We need permission to be silly again, to laugh, to bring joy back to life. We need companies to bring innovative ideas. We need leaders and teams that aren’t afraid to try new things. This is the only thing that will bring your customers back out of their fear holes. If they know you’re having fun IN the company, they will embrace your ideas and the fun, smiles and laughter will spread and everyone will win.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
I think before we can do anything, we need to acknowledge there’s a problem. That there’s a gap and a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication within corporate American, between generations and even on a global level. I think we’ve had the blinders on and wanted to keep things running as they were. Now, since COVID, there’s been an even larger wake-up call to businesses and an incredible opportunity for them to shift and change their culture.
I suppose since a society is made up of individuals, it starts with YOU. What can you do today to make a difference? What can you do to actively treat people as equals? What can you do as a parent/guardian/mentor/teacher to instill respect and value for human life and the planet into your children? After all, the kid that cleans upsomeone else’s trash in the classroom is more likely to be part of that A Team you want to hire when they grow up. From there, we can create better work places.
These better work places will encourage freedom of thought and speech, freedom to fail without fear, opportunities to learn and grow and reach individual and company potential.
Let’s make it simple. The environments we need in the workplace are much like that of a Kindergarten class. Children are allowed to play, no ideas are dumb, experiments are happening on the daily, learning and growth are imperative, we’re encouraged to find and make new friends, we’re not afraid of speaking our mind or looking stupid — we have FUN exploring, creating, innovating and being real. Why does this change so much when we become adults? It doesn’t have to!
What if, even as adults, there was compassion for each individual and grace when mistakes were made, if everyone was on a more even playing field from the get go? How much better would our health and well-being be? To be accepted and appreciated. You’d see improvement in productivity (because people would be internally motivated) engagement, retention, growth, revenue, customer satisfaction and the list goes on. And those who don’t fit into this model of fun culture, would eventually move on. And even the process of seeing someone out the door could be done with integrity and understanding.
In today’s work culture, CFO’s are necessary because work today has completely changed. Communication has changed due to technology. A work/life balance is now promoted but no action is being taken. However, we see successful companies like Google or Facebook who promote fun, and no one is noticing. If change does not happen now, then when?
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I see myself more as a coach/teacher. The authoritative/coaching approach I guess you’d say. I’m confident in my skills and knowledge and in a climate of uncertainty, I’m able to help people and companies see where they’re headed, expand their current vision and show them what will happen in the future depending on which direction they choose to go. I’m a wiz at coming up with creative and sometimes wacky solutions, so for the courageous leader, I can help implement great change that will see incredible outcomes over time.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I absolutely agree and I still have many mentors and coaches that I work with and am learning from on a regular basis. My parents have been instrumental in helping me get where I am. They have always supported my wildest dreams; spontaneous travel plans and crazy ideas.
At the end of March when the pandemic was just spreading around the world, I reached out to my dad. I told him I wanted to make an investment. He said, “please don’t tell me you’re buying another house” (as a co-signer, he and my mom had signed so many papers in the past to help me get to where I was and he was dreading more of that). I said, “Nope, dad. I’m going to make the best investment yet. I’m going to invest in ME! In my business!”.
Not many fathers can argue with that and after a few questions, he just said, “Rebecca, you’ve done amazing things in life so far. I fully believe this will just be another epic chapter in your journey. Go for it.” With their support and encouragement, I scaled one business and started another all in a matter of months — and so the story goes!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Success manifests in so many ways. Success to me is being able to fail and fail fast, learn, pivot, grow, become more self-aware and get so intimate with my fears that I can look them straight in the eye and face them head on.
Success is laughing at myself, enjoying the small things in life, being in awe, appreciating nature and the planet. It’s those successes that I want to share with the world. This kind of success in personal growth has led to freedom of the mind and soul, which in turn has helped lead me to financial success, relationship success, personal achievements and so on. All of this growth and success, helps me be a mirror for those who can’t yet see their own potential. I especially love digging deep with people, encouraging them to dream big, believe in themselves and then take serious action!
In a more practical sense, I’ve been able to donate all the proceeds of my music to organizations in Africa who are fighting child marriages and FGM. I have sponsor children around the world and to put it quite simply, I love being in a position where I can bless people both financially or with a smile. Nothing there has changed. You don’t have to have massive amounts of love or money to give it away. In fact, the less you have, the more meaningful it is. The message of hope and goodness is one that I am bringing to the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m not religious, but this says it all because no matter what we do, there will be opposition somewhere. The haters will drive us to do more and be true to ourselves or we can quit. The option is always ours. This quote reminds me to keep going no matter what.
Mother Teresa’s Anyway Poem
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Well, why not inspire a global movement of fun? That’d be fun! Fun could look different for everyone. It would definitely involve a large community of incredible leaders working together for good, to raise the frequency of the world. It would include large scale giving back, investing in projects that care for the planet, and for all people.
I am a part of creating a movement where people are healing their minds and souls from the inside out. Once we do this, I believe we will inherently search out ways to have more fun. We’ll laugh and play more and not take ourselves so seriously. It won’t matter where we were born, what we’ve lost or how we’ve lived, or how much money we have — we will be able to smile and love our lives. Maybe finally we’ll have peace and a deep inner joy. Sounds like a pipe dream, but I do believe it’s possible.
On another note, I would love to create a global community of empowered men & women who work together for the greater good. I know this is general, but it’s because I have so many ideas and I’m in the process right now of narrowing down where I want to get really focused! One day, it’s my dream to develop a program and scholarship fund for artists in my community to teach them the entrepreneurship skills they need to succeed doing what they love.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!
Thank you so much for having me, it has been a pleasure!