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Exploding the doldrums: unconventional wisdom to rally the troops.

SO THE EMPLOYEES are at war: they're shooting snarky e-mails back and forth. The clients are disgruntled and complain of feeling "disconnected" from the company. Or the franchisees are threatening a revolt.

Some experts suggest shoving them out of an airplane.

And by "shove," we mean a hearty slap on their parachute-clad backs; enough to get them out of the plane, anyway. Utah companies and CEO's have discovered that one of the best ways to foster camaraderie among employees, clients, or franchisees is to do something unusual--like take the staff skydiving.

Skydive Utah's Jack Guthrie has seen a whopping increase in the number of companies bringing employees or clients into his hangar. Guthrie's business is booming, thanks to Utah businesses that have figured out the employees who risk life and limb together, stay together. "A lot of these companies do it for a reward--most are for performance-based occupations," Guthrie says.

But companies and execs don't necessarily have to push clients out of a Cessna in order to foster relationships. Sometimes, it's the little things that count. Jerry Gulden, president of Park City's SoundTube Entertainment, knows that keeping people involved is just as important as keeping them informed. "Over the years we have involved our partners, reps, customers and employees in any variety of original events, including the Olympic bobsled track in Park City, go-cart racing, concerts, movies, snowsports, fishing and camping," he says.

But SoundTube, which manufactures and develops audio speakers for clients such as Old Navy and Gold's Gym, takes it a step beyond free sodas for employees. The company outfitted a loft above the main sales and marketing office with a drum set, guitars and amps for impromptu jam sessions; wild colors, creative posters and interesting design elements accent the decor. Those "jam sessions" allow employees or clients to blow off some steam, cut loose during the post-lunch doldrums, and more importantly, bond over a stab at Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Gulden believes that forging relationships with employees and clients means trying something new and creative, going beyond an occasional pizza party. "We've had great success in maintaining highly effective employees by offering a creative and demanding workplace," he says. "Since employee turnover is almost non-existent, we've had many of the same people maintaining the same customer relationships since we started. That's impressive. The number one concept is to not limit your company to conventional wisdom."

Totally Awesome Computers frontman Dell Schanze--perhaps more famous for his frenetic commercials than his computers--doesn't pull any punches when it comes to his theories about creative employee or client bonding. He builds his relationships through straight-shooting talk first and foremost, and believes that everything else he might provide for those who work with him--from paragliding lessons (he owns Totally Awesome Flying Sports) to a firing a few rounds at the gun range (he owns Totally Awesome Guns and Range) is just gravy. "I do hang out with employees, go on trips with them or spend evenings playing network games together but only with people I genuinely enjoy spending time with," he says. And what about clients? "Anyone who needs to become your friend in order to buy from you is a complete fool."

Schanze is of the work hard/play hard school. He cautions that those creative amenities should be for the sheer pleasure of it, not a bargaining chip to be used to gain employee or customer loyalty. The savvy client will see right through it--so when Schanze is dreaming up things to do, there's only one caveat: "It will have nothing to do with business," he says. "We may talk about business--but only for entertainment."

Gulden and Schanze are part of a new breed of CEO, integrating business and pleasure. Creativity is the name of the game--and sometimes, that means strumming a few bars of classic rock with the staff, or loading the handgun with a fresh clip and inviting your buds from work over to the firing range. Either way, it's better than an inbox full of e-mail with the subject line. "Top ten reasons this company sucks."

Jason Matthew Smith is a Salt Lake City-based freelance writer.
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Title Annotation:executiveliving
Author:Smith, Jason Matthew
Publication:Utah Business
Geographic Code:1U8UT
Date:Nov 1, 2004
Words:690
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