6 ways Fitbit uses fun to spark innovation

From laptop stickers to an on-campus campout, the device-maker is finding ways to inspire a sense of community.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.

The world is full of advice for internal communicators, but here’s one idea that everyone ought to welcome: Have fun.

In a new Ragan Training session—“Lessons from Fitbit: Use humor and humanity to drive a culture of innovation at your organization”—former Fitbit communicator J.D. Norton offers a wealth of advice for putting life into your internal communications.

“If you can put a smile on somebody’s face,” he says, “they’re going to pay attention.”

For stuffed shirts who resist, consider: One study shows that people are more innovative when they are in a lighter mood, Norton says.

“When we can get employees to smile and we can impart more humor in what they do,” he says, “you’ll have more eureka moments and more innovation within your company.”

Here are ways to have fun in your communications:

1. Humanize the leadership.

Fun doesn’t have to be funny or clownish, Norton says. It can be as simple as showing the human sides of your leaders, who the workforce sometimes think of as having no life beyond the corner office.

Norton practices what he preaches—sharing stories from his family and revealing a love of trail-running and mountain biking. What do your leaders do in their free time?

2. Have fun even with standard, boring communications.

Everyone occasionally has to write those bland but necessary announcements about benefits signups or other matters. It is commonplace for communicators to feel frustrated at the number of employees who ignore these pleas.

Why not have fun? Open your missive with something like this: “Yes, this is one of those emails you’re going to get because we have to send it. But hey, keep in mind that it’s very important,” Norton says.

3. Define and encourage innovation.

It’s great to trumpet the importance of innovation, but have you defined what that means in your organization? If not, do it, so employees know what they’re striving for, Norton says.

Our brains go on autopilot when we do the same thing day after day. Help create prompts that foster new thinking and experiences. Break up your routine—and encourage staffers to do so, too.

“Take a different way to your meeting,” he says. “Take the stairs next time. Take the back stairs.”

The company encourages employees to sit in on other departments’ meetings, so they know what’s going on elsewhere in the organization. It also hosts a “Hackbit,” in which employees are urged to use their creative skills to innovate and solve problems.

4. Celebrate successes.

It’s well and good to call for innovation. Do you trumpet your champions?

“When it’s celebrated and when there is a reward,” Norton says, “you’re going to get more people that are probably going to want to participate.”

Here are some ways to do that:

  • Add an innovation section to your newsletter.
  • Start a video series on innovation.
  • Take five minutes at every all-hands meeting to recognize an innovator.
  • Use Slack and other collaboration tools.
  • Honor the innovators externally through LinkedIn and other social media feeds.

5. Stickers engender networking.

Hand out stickers to associates who participate in projects, such as testing a product before it’s launched. Norton’s family was involved in pre-testing a children’s product whose code name was Pluto. So he received a sticker with a picture of the cartoon dog, which he stuck on his laptop.

Corny, you say? Not at all.

“It’s not just about showing off,” Norton says. “Believe it or not, this helps make connections. You know how many people have seen a sticker on my laptop and said, ‘Oh, like that, too?’ ‘Or, you were part of that team?’ It starts conversations.”

On a larger scale, slogans on blank walls can get people thinking. Here are two from Fitbit:

  • STRETCH YOUR LEGS TO GET MOVING. STRETCH YOUR IMAGINATION TO GET WEIRD.
  • MAKE A MOVE THAT MOVES PEOPLE.

6. Host a campout.

Fitbit turned Earth Day into an Earth Week as a way of getting people to think about ways to make the company more sustainable.

Fitbit screened a documentary and invited employees to watch, and it decided to do that at a campout on the company’s lawn-bowling court. (Yes, there is one of those.) The organization provided tents, and people brought sleeping bags and pillows.

This led to “some amazing brainstorm sessions, because people were thinking in new ways,” Norton says.

Such activities will help inspire a sense of community.

“Employees need to feel like everything that they’re connected to is theirs, and that it’s shared,” Norton says. “It is not the company’s mission. It is not the company’s shared goals. It is ours.”

There’s more to this session. Subscribe to Ragan Training.

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