Every once in a while you meet someone with a fascinating job who is doing some innovative work that is really valuable to organizations and really all endeavors.
That’s Erin Diehl, who has taken her love of acting and improvisational comedy into organizations like PepsiCo, United Airlines, Mesirow Financial, Groupon and the American Medical Association – an impressive list. And her company and team are making a huge difference in the cultures and abilities to change, to grow companies and brands, their people and business.
Her company is improve it! .Their mission is delivering high-energy, laughter-filled corporate team building workshops that incorporate improvisation teams and techniques and improvised performances at corporate events.
- How did you get this started?
My love of the arts brought me here. I was lucky to land a role in the Off Broadway plan – the Awesome 80s Prom. From there, I took improv and comedy classes and graduated from Second City, i.O. Theater and The Annoyance Theatre. I then took a job that required me to travel a lot and during that time I missed performing and improv. A friend invited me to a women’s business group called MsCareerGirl, which coaches woman on starting businesses. While I thought improv might have a role in corporate America, I wasn’t going to the event with that in mind. But, I was encouraged and motivated by the group and created a business plan while working as a recruiter. I then approached my boss about testing a program with a client. She said why not United Airlines. We did a team building program which succeeded and resulted in more business with the airline. It was really a springboard for us.
- What type of organizations succeed with your programs?
We work best with organizations who are going through innovation and some cultural changes. We work effectively with leadership that recognize that improvisation can be valuable to innovation. It’s about the choice to trust and take risks, and especially relevant in the way they work. Improv can also be valuable in building rapport and fostering creative risk-taking. Our program, personalized for each client, are cohesive springboards for simulating meaningful conversations about culture innovation.
- Are you workshops and sessions the same for each organization?
Our workshops are personalized and we apply proven structures to help get at the real issues. We spend lots of time learning an organization’s style, culture and goals. We then personalize a workshop or performance to address their challenges. We take the place of awkward and unreal role playing by team members. We don’t simply role play, we bring a dynamic and real-life performance that hits home on the problem in a provocative and humorous way. Our emphasis is on constructive criticism and our performance seems to inspire more creative thinking within the organization in a compelling, relevant and almost inspirational way. We become a conversation starter and change ignition while providing comfort and support. It’s valuable because our methods allow an organization to take a step back and positively receive what we are giving.
- How is what you do affected by the technology in today’s business and how do adapt?
What we do is especially relevant in this era of technology where people are constantly buried in mind and spirit in their smartphones, tablets and all their screens. We communicate face to face so we effectively see body language, hear tone and foster listening. As you can imagine, technology offers none of these, which are so crucial to communications, understanding and respect within an organization, especially ones involving change. It’s like missing out on the smile when you answer the phone or when you get to that eureka moment. That can only happen face to face. We find that our clients de-stress when they put down tech. In our workshops, we usually have a fishbowl for depositing cellphones. We love how that stimulates a group. Without this, we miss out on building rapport and teamwork, and giving and receiving support. All of our programs involve two-way conversations and positive choices.
- What’s the biggest challenge you face in selling your services and how do you overcome them?
The challenge is this is a high-touch business, and I have to get clients and prospects to trust me and touch “brains” so to speak. It is invaluable for them to witness our programs to appreciate what we do. This is really about how to make you and your organization better. It takes time to build trust. And there is no way to overcome that. There is a lot of time helping a client or prospect feel invested so they can fully capitalize on this unique opportunity.
- I hear you have a meaningful and impactful charity component to your business?
Yes, 5% of our profits goes to our charity partner, Funny Bones Improv. They provide volunteer improvised performances for sick children in hospitals across Chicago and New Orleans. So when we work with companies, we let them know that not only are they receiving cost efficient, high quality engagements but they are giving back to a very worthwhile cause. This makes all of us very happy and motivated.
- Finally, you are a Clemson alum and a huge football fan, how are you taking the National Championship loss in a great game?
I was at the National Championship game in Arizona, and even though we lost, it was truly one of the best weekends of my life. Most of my entire family (husband and in-laws too) are Clemson grads so this game meant a lot to all of us. The energy in Glendale was infectious, and it was like a gigantic college reunion with purple and orange everywhere. I would be lying if I didn’t say the loss hurt. I WAS that fan that ESPN cuts to in the stadium after a major loss with her head down crying. However, I was and am still proud. They fought hard, and I know we will be back next year at the National Championship game in Tampa. That school is one of my favorite places on Earth, and our coach and team truly deserve it. GO TIGERS!!
Erin, thanks for introducing us to the improve it! way to stimulate change and innovation! Keep it going and GO TIGERS!
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