Halloween, Clowns, & Organizational Identity

Halloween is cool. For the most part, anyway. Seems to be a fun thing for kiddos (unless, of course, you grew up Baptist, in which case “Fall Festival” was a fun thing for kiddos). But regardless of what you called or call that thing where kids dress up in costumes and get candy, it seems to be a pretty good time.

For me, the scary part every year, and really whether it’s Halloween or not, is the clowns. I’m one of those weird people who thinks clowns are creepy all year round. They’re grown adults with painted skin and a variety of expressions smeared onto their faces. You’ve got happy clowns, sad clowns, surprised clowns, deranged clowns, constipated clowns, goth clowns, and so on; but for me they all fall into one category: creepy.

I’m not entirely sure why, but ever since watching Bozo the clown when I was little, I always just sort of assumed that most clowns were actually serial killers or some other sort of equally-evil humans underneath the rainbow-colored hair and painted-on smiles. I’m only half-kidding. My first, gut instinct on the rare occasion I see a clown is to kick that clown in the shin and bop him in the big, red nose.

And don’t get me started on Santa and the Easter Bunny…

In some twisted sense, it seems like that’s what some organizations do too. We try to dress ourselves up and paint some weird identity on our collective faces that’s different from what we really are or hope to be.

For example, deep down inside, maybe you want to be a fun, even quirky organization. You start hiring fun, quirky people. You start having more fun during the day. You begin to laugh more. People start to have a good time working together and helping customers (or members, for my credit union gang).

And then, for some reason, someone, somewhere says something like this: “Well, we can’t have people laughing in front of customers….” Or asks something like: “What if people see us having fun on the clock? Will they think we don’t take our work seriously?” Or maybe it’s some other similar question.

Right then, right there, you’re at a decision point. Your organization has to decide who it really wants to be. Do you want to paint a particular facial expression onto your collective faces? Or do you want to hire people with the right attitudes and let them be themselves?

I’m not saying every organization needs to be any particular thing–fun or otherwise. I’m just saying that organizations need to figure out who they are and then live it loudly. You’re not going to make everyone happy, so quit trying. If you want to be a fun organization, then be that. Some people will like it; others won’t. If you want to be consistently serious-minded, then be that. Some folks will like it; others won’t.

But whatever it is you think is important to you, and whatever it is you say that you are, just be that. Forget the face-painted smiles or frowns or whatever else.

As a closing side-note, if you’re a nice human adult who enjoys dressing up like a clown, please don’t take this post personally. I hope we can still be friends. Like the kind of friends who don’t go anywhere near each other when one or the other is dressed like a clown.

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