How does a circus succeed in being successful today? The challenges for most circus companies to remain financially profitable are greater than ever before.
But not only do they have to survive financially, they also face important HR challenges.
How does such a circus attract new talent without an attractive salary package and with typical working hours well beyond a 9 to 5? And what if people get sick?
How can they survive at all in a world where children quickly find everything ‘boring’ and prefer to spend time on their PlayStation? And how do they deal with people who consider circus people as being ‘strange’ with different standards and habits than those in the normal world?
This and many other thoughts went through my mind when I attended a Circus Barones show with my family last week.
Contrary to expectations, the performance was almost sold out and I never got bored for two hours. What’s more, I was so impressed by the whole thing that the next day I went back to ask for an interview with circus director Richard Barones about his ‘secret’.
I would like to share with you the five aspects that make Circus Barones the most successful circus in Flanders and how the circus world can be a source of inspiration for our personal and professional lives.
1. A circus artist does not choose a job but a way of life
Richard comes from an Austrian family that has continued the circus tradition for 180 years. In 2002 he bought a small, old circus and started his own business. Today he works with his wife, three sons and a team of twenty permanent employees. Circus Barones has grown into a successful SME and yearly gives 220 performances in Belgium or the Netherlands.
“I am a life artist”, says Richard, “the people here don’t have a job but a life mission. You don’t work in a circus for the money, you work there because you feel connected to the mission and vision. You do it because you have a dream…”.
“Therefore, every time we recruit someone new, we will check to what extent that person chooses our mission and to what extent we can help realise this artist’s dream. Only then do we see how that person and his or her ‘act’ can add value to the circus.”
To what extent do you test during an interview how connected the candidate feels with your mission? And do you test whether you can help your employee’s dream come true?
2. Jobautonomy and trust are the basis of success
“I believe that you should give every artist the freedom to do his or her own job,” says Richard. “You can’t force artists, but you have to give them the opportunity to develop themselves further within a certain framework. If not, you undermine their creativity and passion.”
“Trust is also very important in our world. Not only giving confidence in the way the job is done, but it is also important to stimulate the trust between the employees themselves. People must be able to trust each other blindly when they bring an act together. They must therefore also be able to operate perfectly as a team.”
No greater contrast than between a company and a circus, you would say, but no: in the combination of individuality and group spirit, freedom and self-discipline that is inherent to the life of a circus artist, you undoubtedly recognise a dynamic that is inspiring for us all, both in our professional and personal relationships.
To what extent do you give trust and job control to your employees?
3. We are one big family
“Because we travel 365 days a year with a caravan of fifty vehicles, it is important that people really feel connected to each other. They have to fit within the group. After all, people live together day and night, so they have to get along well. What’s more, they have to support and encourage each other.”
“What matters is that you learn to live and work together. And that is a learning process that takes time and patience. In a circus you have extremely diverse and very free-spirited figures, who have to live together. They succeed by respecting each other’s freedom very informally, and by listening to each other.”
“We always look at the attitude and values of someone in the recruitment process. Self-reliance, teamwork, mental resilience, discipline and generosity are important values for us. Diplomas are only secondary.”
Do you dare to say that you have a strong team where people really feel connected with each other and stand up for each other?
“The most important reason why our artists go the extra mile every day is undoubtedly because of the applause they get from the audience every day.
If that were not the case, if the public were to boo them if an act wouldn’t succeed immediately, our employees would mentally break down.”
“The fact that the audience encourages them when an act doesn’t immediately succeed and the fact that sometimes three times in a row they applaud one performance, makes that the artists continue to give the best of themselves, time after time. Even when things sometimes go a bit more difficult.”
How much applause do you give to your employees? And to what extent do you express your confidence in your employees and encourage them if they fail the first time?
5. The show must go on
“Whatever happens, we cannot let the public wait. The show must go on.
We have to be able to count on each other. Generosity is therefore very important to us. This means giving the best of yourself at as many moments as possible. When we find people don’t share this mindset and the team fit isn’t as it should, the person is replaced.”
“And everyone knows that he or she is replaceable, even I myself”, says the director.
“How can we continuously reinvent ourselves so that we keep captivating the audience every year? How can we add extra value compared to last year? This mindset comes natural to everyone, because an artist must continue to grow by continuing to invest in himself in the first place. It is his or her own responsibility to continue to have job security next year.”
“And as a family we invest in the human side of the business by showing that our people are important. By regularly encouraging them, by expressing our faith in them, by appreciating them but also by being there for them when they have a difficult day”.
To what extent are your employees motivated to always give the best of themselves and to keep reinventing themselves?
Participating in a circus means going back to basics. It means living and working in a demanding and honest way, with dedication and unconditional commitment, with courage and daring. It means being given the space to develop yourself personally so that you can continue to grow.
It means learning to combine great freedom with strong self-discipline and concentration. It means being generous and taking your responsibility, it means learning to be self-reliant. It means daring to be yourself, expressing your personal style, and seamlessly integrating it into the whole.
Circuses can teach us something about mobilizing strong employee engagement, installing effective teamwork and building a ‘learning organization’.
In a circus you can’t hide and you learn what it means to be vulnerable and to be yourself.
Shouldn’t we all have to go back to basics with our HR policy?
I would like to thank Richard Barones and his team for inspiring me and my family.
It is so beautiful to see such passionate people who give the best of themselves every day, train hard and go for ‘excellence’ in everything they do.
It is also interesting to see how appreciation and encouragement play a crucial role in this so that they can always give ‘the best show of their life’.
I would like to encourage all readers to share this blog so that this circus and its artists get even more visibility.
Recognition expert – Entrepreneur