Barbara Corcoran, Shark Tank entrepreneur and founder of the Corcoran Group (which she sold back in 2001 for $66 million), understands the value of a fun and thriving workplace. Corcoran notes that the ability to create a fun and enjoyable work environment is one of the most powerful aspects of her leadership style, calling fun "the most underutilized tool in the tool belt."

Numerous studies have shown that creating a lively, positive workplace is instrumental to employee happiness and, as a result, company success. Corcoran has known this for a long time. Crediting her mother for showing her the power of infectious fun, she injects a much-needed dose of it into all her business endeavors. Corcoran has always done her best to keep employees happy.

When running the Corcoran Group, she would bring in shoe shiners on Mondays, massage therapists on Thursdays, and plenty of other perks employees loved. Corcoran's company parties were some of the most outrageous around, with themed celebrations and summer picnics featuring circus animals and hot air balloons. Is all the extravagance and silliness worth it? Corcoran certainly thinks so. Corcoran says she witnessed an encouraging correlation at the Corcoran Company--the more fun she made her company, the more creativity and innovation soared. Not only that, Corcoran also found that fun workplace environments created loyal employees who would recruit for her and sing her praises.

Clowning around in the Shark Tank.

 Corcoran applies this fun element to her Shark Tank mentees as well. Working with entrepreneurs across the country, Corcoran brings all her apprentices together for a three-day retreat once each year. Each day they have a half-day of business brainstorming, followed by sunshine and fun, complete with hot tubs, beach bathing, and ski slopes. Corcoran's entrepreneurs become fast friends, sharing thoughts and bouncing ideas off one another long after the retreat ends. Corcoran notes that at the end of each retreat, she can "leave confident I've cross-fertilized my fields with fun, friendship, and ongoing innovation." It's the fun, relaxed atmosphere that allows people to let down defenses and enables them to experiment and think creatively in a comfortable environment.

The power of blowing mad money.

Corcoran learned another great lesson from her mother--sometimes you have to let people experiment and be friendly with failure. As a child, Corcoran's mother would hand back $20 cash to Corcoran's father, Ed, when he gave her his paycheck each week. Corcoran's mother told Ed that it was his "mad money," and he should go have some fun and spend it however he pleased. Corcoran's parents raised her and her nine siblings on a tight budget, but Corcoran's mother always made sure to provide Corcoran's father with a little mad money to lose. As Corcoran notes, "We never were sure what Dad did with it, but he sure looked happy taking the cash." Corcoran applied the same practice to her own company, giving her managers 5 percent of their operating budget to spend however they'd like, with no accountability. If they didn't spend their mad money, they would have to give it back. Most managers blew their mad money on parties, day trips, gifts, costumes, fortune tellers, and plenty of alcohol. Some spent the money on outrageous business ideas. Most of those ideas flopped, but in the process, great ideas were also excavated. Corcoran tells of how, on one company fun trip, the group was going through the airport when one sales agent stopped dead in his tracks. He was mesmerized by the airport monitor board, which listed each flight in a different color depending on the airline. Part of his fascination may have been influenced by his generous drink indulgence at the airport bar. Still, Corcoran knew a good idea when she saw it. After returning to the office, Corcoran color-coded the company's entire filing system, noting that as the company grew, hours were saved by the improved organization, with misfiles becoming a thing of the past. Corcoran says that all the best ideas and changes that helped her business grow happened "when we were playing outside or spending money that we had no business spending. I never had a good idea sitting at my desk nor did I harvest a big, game-changing idea around a conference table. They all happened outside." Could your company benefit from a dose of Corcoran-style fun? It might be just the thing to jump start your company's next big idea.

Published on: Jun 23, 2015
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