5 Principles of Improv Theater for Salesforce Admins


Outside of my Salesforce career, I’ve spent many years performing improvisational theater, and what I’ve learned over time is that the core principles of improv can be an excellent toolkit for people working in the business world — especially for folks who are Salesforce Admins at their companies. I presented about this topic at the inaugural Northeast Dreamin’ conference, and I wanted to share with you some of the key points that you can use to be a better Salesforce Admin.

About Improvisation

Per the Cambridge dictionary, “Improvisation is the activity of making or doing something that you have not planned, using whatever you find.” You may have come across improvisation in the performing arts (“Whose Line Is It Anyway”), in movies (any Christopher Guest film), or in music, like jazz. If you’ve seen live music, almost certainly some part of that performance was improvised, likely during a musician’s solo. But every one of us is already an improviser! None of us have a script for what we’re going to say or do in our lives. We all go through each day responding to our environments, making it up as we go along! In the context of being a Salesforce Admin, you may find yourself improvising when you get a seemingly “off the wall” request, or you inherit an org with some unusual legacy metadata and you need to make do with what you’ve got, even if you haven’t planned something.

Let’s review some of the core tenets of improvisational theater and see how they apply to being a Salesforce Admin.

1. Say “Yes… And”

This is the core principle of improv — and there are two parts to this rule: saying “YES” to a suggestion, and then building on that initial idea with “AND.” Saying “YES” is one of the most difficult things to do. We are taught our entire lives about reasons to say “NO.” Your first word was probably ‘no’! But saying “YES” means taking a risk and putting your ideas out into the world. And saying “YES… AND,” means listening to someone else and building on THEIR idea, even if it’s different than what you had in mind. “YES… AND” doesn’t mean you have to say “YES” to every single thing. It just means that you can acknowledge someone’s reality and agree to it once you understand it. It does not mean saying “YES” to things you don’t think you should. Look for ways to say “YES… AND” in your role as an admin, whether it’s a request for a new field or rolling out Salesforce in a new department.

2. Listen in the Present

One of the keys to improvisation is the ability to listen — it’s what makes a great jazz song or theatrical scene. As an admin, it’s tempting to think about how what someone requests or says would require too much configuration workaround or difficulty, so you may start to tune out. Or, you might start trying to figure out how to implement what someone is asking for while they are still talking to you, and you miss an important requirement. It’s crucially important to keep listening in that moment and focus on the other person. This is because the more you hear, you could realize their request is simpler than either of you realize, or the way you were planning to architect the solution doesn’t actually work based on their use case. It can be helpful to restate and rephrase what they said to you back to them, to make sure that you truly are listening and actually understand their request. Say something like, “Let me make sure I understand…”, “What I heard you say was…”, or “In other words, what you’re saying is… Is that right?” That clarification can help make sure you really listen in the moment and truly understand the ask.

3. Make Your Partner(s) Look Good

In improv, you’re always looking for ways to make your scene partner the hero, or endow them with specific characteristics that will make for an interesting scene. As an Admin, you want to make your business successful, so you should always look for ways to optimize and improve business processes, even if your “partner” (users) don’t even know it! One of the best things I did as an Admin was demo an AppExchange app in a Sandbox to a part of the organization that hadn’t even thought about using Salesforce. They were completely blown away and decided to implement Service Cloud because they could finally see the possibilities.

4. Understand Your Role in the Scene

When an improvised scene begins, no one knows the attitudes and relationships of the characters to each other or the location where the scene is taking place. One of the first things the actors need to do is establish these fundamentals so that they can build on them and create a great scene. As an admin, you also need to make sure that you understand your role in the business, the relationships between you and your team, and the different parts of the organization. Is Salesforce being “forced” on a particular department? The emotions and attitudes of these people will be quite different from those who are already on board with Salesforce and have requested your assistance. Knowing your role in advance can help guide how you approach working with those users.

5. Realize There Are No Mistakes

In improv, if something odd or unexpected happens, although it may seem like a mistake, it can be the beginning of a terrific scene — you work with what happens in the moment and build on it, even if it’s not what you thought it was going to be. That’s true as a Salesforce Admin, too. Think of the “Bob Ross” school of mistakes: Turn something that looks like a mistake into a “happy accident.” Don’t get me wrong — there are definitely situations where you need to redo something because it wasn’t done correctly the first time. That said, you can always look for opportunities to take risks, try to prototype something new in a Sandbox, and, if it doesn’t work, see if you can build on it or shift it to something you CAN work with.

Give these improvisational principles a try and let me know what you think! Try saying “YES… AND” in your next meeting. Leave a comment below or tweet @SalesforceAdmins. I look forward to hearing your improv stories!

Note: special thanks to Dana Hall and Brad Gottesman who helped with this content and are very talented improvisers themselves.

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