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What does a nosy pepper do? It gets jalapeno business.

Did you laugh or did you groan? Odds are you did one or the other. Even greater odds say you did it with a smile on your face. That means I did my job.

I have developed a personality at work as the Funny Guy. I push the envelope and try to make people laugh. It has always been my talent and a way to combat any nervousness or insecurity I may have in a challenging environment. It is something that I have also used to my advantage in my career. Working as a consultant, I am face-to-face with customers who have invested a lot of money into a new HCM/Payroll system. My day-to-day interactions are with everyone from the data entry folks, the hourly functional team, and the managerial staff all the way up to executives and C-suite employees. Some of these people are just as nervous as I am. How do we get through this?

We laugh.

A simple joke can completely transform our environment and often for the better. I have found that humor does not always work with every audience, nor can we please everyone all the time. But a well-timed chuckle is the best tool you can have at your disposal. This is definitely a truth I have discovered in my career doing payroll implementation.

Having worked in the world of payroll for over 15 years, I appreciate that it is not the sexiest or most enjoyable department in an organization. No one goes to school to study it or dreams of doing it when they grow up. Oftentimes, payroll is a necessary evil for companies and is treated as a back-office task rather than the integral business function that it is. Everyone recognizes that payroll is a vital necessity, but it is often staffed as if it is a menial job. That leads to a gulf when organizations jump from old ways of doing things to new methods and systems.

When I started in payroll, it was as a remote customer service representative. I handled calls in volume and purely by phone. My implementations were done via faxes and emails which led to a lower quality than I felt comfortable with. Still, I made the best of it by enjoying my time with coworkers while not on the phone. With customers my time was limited but I did what I could to evoke a laugh or a smile during our calls. As I transitioned to implementing new customers, it afforded me the ability to foster relationships with the customers who got to know me in our minutes together, connected across distance by a headset and our voices.

I then moved into a different organization, one with a start-up mentality and a desire to build that customer relationship even further. Moving from consultant to manager, I dealt with clients with one employee to those with thousands. While the volume diminished, I was afforded the ability to spend positive time with my counterparts on the other end of the line. I asked about their lives and how they were doing and made that concerted effort to bring a positive moment into their challenging day. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not. But, I never stopped trying to make them laugh.

My next hurdle was moving from the remote, Software as a Service side of the industry into true consulting. For the last six years, I have worked at various partners implementing Workday. Gone are the dozens of projects per quarter only to be replaced by massive and intricate platform deployments that require not just me but a team of talented consultants. Hired for our shared ethic and approach to our jobs, even our internal team had a wide range of personality types best suited for our specific assignments. What did not change was that same dearth of attention customers paid to their payroll staff.

So I brought in the jokes.

On every single project I have worked on as a functional or lead consultant, I have turned the stress of implementation into the meetings that customers look forward to. It never felt like performing or acting to me because for the first time in my career, I was able to embrace my natural personality directly in my professional work. I would be asked by teammates and those on the client side just how I was able to get through a challenging meeting with individuals that other consultants had struggled with. It was not due to being better as a consultant or even having a different outlook as a human being. It came with the idea that if we can all laugh together, it makes everything that we are doing that much easier to accomplish.

There are times where humor is not the right approach. There are entire customers where I knew the moment we first met that I would need to scale back what I planned to inject into our meetings. But even with those stricter and more conservative projects, I looked for every chance I could to change the dynamic into one with a bit more levity.

My latest challenge is to bring this approach to my new organization. We are building from the ground up and aiming to differentiate ourselves from any other firm in the ecosystem. This does not mean my interview process will include a requisite stand-up routine from prospective hires, but it does mean that I want the people I work with to have as much fun doing their job as I do. I know it will happen internally because my colleagues are some of the best out there. My goal is to make sure everyone we hire shares that same passion, that smile, that mission to have fun at work with each other and our customers. Because, when you have fun at your job, it is no longer work.

Alex Maidy leads the Time Tracking, Absence and Payroll team in Workday’s ERPA practice. Learn more about our Workday leadership team here.

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