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The Fandom Organisation

A different way to think about engagement.

Engagement is a big thing. We survey it, we measure it, we try to improve it. We do our best to understand what our people like and dislike so that we can make working for our organisation a better, more fulfilling experience.

We throw perks at our staff, flex their time and space, play with compensation and benefits, we try to get managers to be better at managing, we try to teach everyone to collaborate. We invest in workspaces, social gatherings and the list goes on.

Last but not least, we try to keep up with the Jonses (if not get ahead of them) while keeping our budgets under control.

Does any of it help? Maybe. The jury’s still out on that one.

Even though we may not have a definitive answer, we keep doing it because it does translate into something. Organisations report increased productivity (which will translate in higher turnover, to better products more quickly). They also report changes in other indicators, like costs of hiring going down, increased talent retention, even bettering their placement of the company in Top Companies to Work For – all of which translate, at some point, to pennies and pounds.

So we all think about making our workplace more engaging.

Here’s a different tack to consider.

The Fandom Organisation

Imagine a new kind of engagement: staff that is so engaged, it uses its talents outside of work time and context to work, to engage with work, to talk about work, to advertise your organisation through their own experiences.

Imagine your people using capabilities for which they are not paid for in their daily grind to create new things, play with variations on existing themes, augment their work experience. For example, an accountant who is also a painter in their spare time, may create brand-inspired art. A programmer who codes in ancient languages (say, COBOL or Basic) will create a retro version of a part of the product as a novelty. Others may blog about what they are doing or experimenting with, share their experiments with others that may provide input you will not have had.

The beauty of this informal creation is that it very quickly becomes a thing. Much like funky sofas and gaming consoles in social areas, it – too – will lead to pennies and pounds.

But wait, I hear you say. Why would employees do any of this?

Well, the answer is simple. Because they love it. They love the process of creation, and they love whatever it is they are creating. They are probably doing it already.

For those of you who are getting this – congratulations. Your organisation is a step closer to achieving fandom status.

What’s fandom?

Depends on who you ask. But trying to remain objective, fandom is a group of people who share enthusiasm for a cultural phenomenon (sometimes it’s a celebrity, sometimes a brand, sometimes it is someone else’s creation). (Try this four and a half minute video from Brainstuff).

I sense that the skeptics among you would have some questions:

“Are those the people who hashtag themselves #Swifty or #Belieber?”

Some of them do.

“Are those the people who dress up for comic conventions?”

Some of them do.

“Are those the people who write new stories for TV shows that may not even exist anymore?”

Some of them do.

“I’m not sure about this...”

I hear ya. This feels a bit odd, because sometimes we think about the amount of time and effort people pour into their passion feels a bit stalker-ish.

But this is no different to people who are keen sports fans who play Fantasy Football (Footie and American). This is no different to people whose sports activities (running, cycling, triathlons, tough mudders, Spartans) are the epicentre of their lives. This is no different to the Cult of Mac.

“Erm.. No disrespect, but how is this going to be useful for my company?”

Why be a Fandom Organisation

Logic #1: people are passionate about their fandoms. If you think about it, fandoms – in themselves – are organisations: they are a group of people who share a common goal. In this case, the goal is open, unashamed appreciation of something. Why not purposefully make take a fandom approach to engaging with your organisation?

Logic #2: Dan Pink, in his preaching about motivation, talks about Mastery, Autonomy and Self Direction. These three things fuel fandoms to become the most unique group of consumers every. They don’t just consume – they create. With no monetary reward, with no other apparent, capitalist reason, other than Mastery, Autonomy and Self Direction.

Logic #3: your customers could be part of your fandom organisation. I don’t just mean those who poopoo everything that isn’t your brand, but ones that will take your brand and muck around it with, augment it, build it up and make something with it that will engage other customers you could have never reached. Yes, this is Open Sourcing. But I challenge you to think beyond the code element of it. Open source your brand, your processes, your suppliers.

Logic #4: you will realise that you have an army of dark horses in your midst, people with hidden talents and abilities and forms of expression you didn’t even dream of. And the thing about dark horses is that they run faster than any other.

Logic #5: your millennials will love it. Gen Yers and Gen Xers too. We get fandoms. We are the fandoms.

Logic #6: fandoms can change society. I didn’t say it, PBS did.

Bonus Logic: they won’t call be employees or team members anymore. They will come up with awesome names for their own teams, chop and change them as projects begin and end. You will never need to worry about parading people through Tuckman’s model again. Fandoms are cool that way.

And as a personal footnote, I can count many lives, including my own, which fandoms changed for the better. From music (Tori Amos) to TV (Buffy, Warehouse 13) to fitness (Jazzercise) to philosophy and research (ConsultancyHive).

What do you think about being a Fandom Organisation?

Let me know! Comment below. Be brave! Share your fandom experiences!

Photo credit to fazong via

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