You’re a month into spring and two weekends from Memorial Day, so we boldly predict, based on twenty years of business consulting, that your people are getting really squirrelly.
Spring fever can distract even your A-Players. We’ve found that the worst symptoms of the disease, from management’s point of view anyway, are the vivid hallucinations about summer outings that can occupy employees for considerable periods of time.
The fever also tends to make even your best employees think like children, which puts you in a particularly difficult spot. Input that they would have accepted as professional before the fever now makes you sound like an oppressive teacher or angry parent.
You certainly don’t want things to go in that direction. Burned-out employees cost the U.S. $190 billion a year in health-care costs alone, and a feverish employee with the mind of a carefree kid will burn-out that much faster.
Instead, you can use all of this to your advantage.
First, let’s try to harness the fundamental force behind spring itself: creativity. While nature blooms everywhere, people in the grips of the fever want to be creative, too. A recent study in the Harvard Business Review found that creativity happens when we “move beyond our habitual thinking patterns…to imagine truly novel alternatives.”
Spring fever already has your team daydreaming. Rather than scolding them to “focus,” engage their imaginations to think about your business. What do our customers love most? How can we improve? How will we make this summer the best one ever? What can we do now that will make our year-end awesome?
Needless to say, you don’t want to hold a bunch of feverish employees in a stuffy room to discuss those questions. They’ll go stir crazy. Instead, take advantage of their squirreliness and score a great buy-in win at the same time: tell them that you need them to do research.
You need them to go offsite for a couple hours to learn something in the real world. To a fevered mind, the mere suggestion of doing something that novel will trigger engagement. Spring fever makes them want to run around outside anyway, so cut them loose for expeditions to your competitors.
Well, maybe you don't just "cut them loose." Not now. Spring fever can have unintended consequences. For this to work best, you’ll need some structure. Not a lot, but some.
Before you send anyone off, put together a tight agenda for a brief meeting and make sure everyone who goes on an expedition knows exactly what they’re supposed to bring back. A description of customer service. Insights into logistics or process or placement.
They need to make observations about how others do things, and they need to be able to list what seems to work and what doesn’t. They don’t need to map any of that to their own job or make suggestions. That comes after.
With Some Structure
For really interesting results, also send your teams to businesses that you admire but that have nothing to do with your market at all. What can a hardware store learn from a dress boutique? Who knows - but it could be inspirational.
“To perceive things differently,” HBR said, “we must bombard our brains with things it has never encountered.” Springtime helps this along on its own. People see everything with fresh eyes. And spring fever gives them a child’s perception. Who knows what your forklift operator will notice when he goes to an Apple store as a warehouse spy? That’s the whole point.
When teams come back, it’s time for another focused meeting. Listen to the story. Make space for the jokes. And get your analysis of what worked and what didn’t at the other business. If creativity sparks right there in the meeting, that’s great. If it doesn’t, don’t worry, because it will spark at some point. When it does you’ll probably be surprised with just how good ideas from novel experiments like this can be.
"Seeing and experiencing something firsthand can shake people up in ways that abstract discussions never could,” HBR said. Send your spring fever people out into the world and you’ve got the potential for real creativity.