With hybrid work here to stay, we invited keynote speaker and culture expert Erin Dheil to join us on our recent episode of “Bring Out The Talent.” Erin is the founder of “Improve it!” a unique professional development company that pushes others to laugh, learn, play, and grow on how to create and cultivate company culture in this new hybrid world.
In this blog, we cover some key takeaways that help leaders keep employees engaged in the hybrid world.
Q: Can you tell us how you started your company “Improve It” and what made you decide to start this company?
A: It was a calling in my heart. If I didn’t start this business, it would have been the biggest regret of my life. So, I started really honing the craft of improv. Just to kind of back up, my entire life, I have been a performer. I was on stage when I was three years old at My Fair Lady and performed at many Community Theatres In high school, I started doing sketch comedy. I loved comedy, kept coming back to it. But when I graduated from Clemson with a communications degree. I said, “What am I going to do?” I wanted to become a talk show host. So, I said, “Where does a talk show host live?” Oprah. OK, I’ve got to go to Chicago, literally moved there and started training. Now, this was the early 2000s. There weren’t a lot of online courses. I said, “How do you become a host?” I thought, “OK, I might need to know how to improvise a little bit.” So, I started dabbling in improv, and then got some hosting gigs, and would just always come back to it. And finally, I stopped hosting and said, “I need a full-time job.” I want to focus on improv full time, and that full-time job was recruiting, and I was doing business development, which is one of the hardest jobs in recruiting.
United Airlines was a client that we had, and I had a great relationship with them, and I said, “Can I pilot (pun intended) one of our programs to your talent acquisition team?” And they said “yes.” They give me feedback and then they started to regular use me? I knew improve it! was the calling for my life because every single time I would facilitate and use improv to train professionals, it was almost like this feeling took over my body. I was watching the people in the room transform through play, and United was my first big break. So that’s the origin story. Seven years later, we’re on Zoom. Who knew we would be here virtual in person, but it’s been a journey, and I love it, It’s my life’s calling.
Q: One area we’ve seen a need with our clients is the navigating of the new hybrid world to make sure that employees are engaged and feel connected. Are you seeing that with your clients?
A: It’s the number one challenge that we’re facing right now, and that’s truly why we work with clients is because they want some type of “outside of the box” engagement. A lot of clients that we serve are wondering “how do I service and, and, give care to the people that want to work from home and the people that want to show up in the office? How do I cater to both? How do I create a culture within that? How do I make sure everybody is engaged?” That is a lot of the work that we’ve been doing over the past two years and creating a better way to help teams cultivate that culture via Zoom. We encourage employers if they have people working from home and they have people in the office to create an even playing field for everyone. If you want to do an event or have some type of training, but not everybody feels comfortable in the office, do it all on Zoom.
That way you’re catering to everybody. Once everybody feels included, they’re on the same page. This goes into this whole topic of the Great Resignation and making sure people feel heard and seen. If we want to keep people and retain talent long-term, we’ve got to listen to what they’re comfortable with. Make sure they feel safe and then create an environment around that.
Q: Can you give us some examples of how you change the in-person effect to carry over to the hybrid workforce, as well?
A: We figured out how to make these platforms work for us. So, Zoom has breakout rooms, and they are so impactful because you can ask your team a question, and you can then put them in a breakout room to answer it with this small group with a partner. They’re able to have that interaction like they would in person.
The chat function become a nice driver of engagement since the pandemic started. A lot of people who are afraid to speak up in groups find it more comfortable. We use the chat function every step of the way and the work that we do. We use breakout rooms constantly in the work that we do. You can create a wonderful culture on Slack because it allows you to have these channels of communication. And I’ve seen companies do things like high-five channels. So, when something great happens, you write a note in the high five channel.
We use Slack to internally and improve it for things like “wins”. So, whenever a win happens, we have a #winning channel. You put in the “win of the day”. We celebrate that win immediately, and it’s a way to foster that water cooler chat too.
Q: Why do you think some employers are not doing a good job keeping their remote employees engaged?
A: I think it’s a lack of communication, which is funny because the worst thing you can do with a remote workforce is not communicate. The biggest thing that I think that leaders need to think about when engaging their teams is the right amount of communication, not micromanaging, but allowing the team to feel like they are not alone in the work that they’re doing. Make sure that you’re having touchpoints weekly with your team, setting those up in advance, having agendas for those meetings, having fun things in the meeting that they can look forward to.
A lot of our clients are doing focus hours. You can just pop on to this Zoom link or a team’s link. The chatbox is there if you want to chat with a co-worker but we’re just going to be here working together so you can focus on a specific task for this hour. Sign off whenever you need. But that way you’re seeing the people around you do the work and feel as if you are in the office together.
Q: You have 10 different workshops. Can you talk a little bit about these?
A: We train on power skills. Power skills are the skills that are going to be continuously needed in today’s workforce. Things like effective communication, team building, presentation skills, networking, leadership, thinking quickly on your feet, taking initiative, creative risks, careers like 101 sales training, and vision setting. These are the 10 offerings that we have. Those 10 things existed prior to the pandemic. What we did is we just moved all of them onto Zoom. Every workshop has an overarching thesis statement objective that we break down. We use improv comedy activities, and the idea of having fun and play to have people experience. There’s an experiential piece of what we want them to feel when they’re doing the skill the right way, and that’s what the workshop teaches you, step by step, is how to be a better leader, how to be a more effective communicator.
Q: Do you do one-on-one coaching with leaders?
A: Yes, we do and it’s a passion of mine. We’re starting to do this once we’ve engaged with a team to continue to work with one to two leaders of the team post-engagement. Now we know their team, we know who they’re talking about when we’re coaching, we know what they’re challenged with, and we can see the dynamics when we’re working with the team. So that’s my favorite way to coach a leader is to work with the team first.
Q: One of your titles is the fail-fluencer, can you speak about that?
A: I gave myself the title of “fail-fluencer” in 2020 when the world shut down. The way that I engaged with clients and people and my community was in-person. But for social media, it was just pictures of my child. Nothing, nothing of connecting virtually. So, I turned my Instagram to public. I started posting on LinkedIn every single day. And so, there was this idea of there are all these influencers in the world, right on social media, people who influence, right? I started posting. I started being real. My Instagram handle is “keeping it real Diehl.” The first picture I’ve posted of myself in March of 2020 was me literally with real tears crying. I have fake eyelashes. I had like one fake eyelash hanging like this because I was crying so hard.
It was when I thought our business was completely failing, and it was just like, “Here it is, I’m going to be real with you. I’m failing. Things are happening and we are trying to figure it out.” So, this idea of fail-fluencing” thing started in March of 2020, and I’ve leaned into it ever since
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our audience?
A: Just keep failing. Keep improving because the world needs that special “it” that only you can bring. You see what I’m saying here? Improve it.