The fish vendors and workers of Seattle Pike Place Fish Market can certainly lay claim to having taught more to senior human resource managers than the best corporate trainers in the world.

One would think that working long hours in the smelly, dreary fish place would dent most people’s morale. But many customers and witnesses vouched otherwise.

The employees at the Fish Market were always cheerful, attentive and helpful. They would often entertain their customers by tossing fish with a flourish and making their work “fun” in every possible way. Their concept of “play at work” was also yielding them tonnes of sales daily.

Authors of Fish!, Harry Paul, Stephen Lundin and John Christensen, developed the concept that has helped many companies blend work and play.

Says Mr Paul, who personally conducts training workshops: “I’m one of the three who saw and developed the concept of Fish! Hence I can rightfully say I am ‘Harry, the Fish Guy’. However, we’re glad that there are many who follow and teach this philosophy — it shows its global acceptance.”

The book, Fish!, has been translated into 35 languages and is a best-seller in many Asian countries, from Korea to Japan. Over half of the five million copies sold were outside the United States.

Four basic principles that successfully re-energise teams and achieve better results, have been used by countless companies to boost productivity:

* Play;

* Make their day;

* Be there (for co-workers); and 

* Choose your attitude.

Mr Paul says: “It’s about choice. Choosing to enjoy what we do and making a difference to people, no matter what we do — and it’s about fulfilment.”

Positive productivity

The Fish! philosophy is about creating work as a destination. “A place where we get up in the morning and say, ‘I don’t have to go to work, I get to go to work’,” says Mr Paul.

Keeping people engaged at work and understanding that it is okay to look for ways to enjoy what they are doing, can be especially challenging for human resource managers in Asia, where the onus is on productivity and performance.

“That thinking by bosses will have serious repercussions as the economy continues to turn positive because your high-performing people who have not been appreciated will start to look for work elsewhere and at a great cost to the economy. It’s important that management realise this and pay attention to the people they depend upon, now,” says Mr Paul.