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A Case Study in Culture Change

A Case Study in Culture Change

I sometimes joke that my presentations are “deeply shallow.” On the surface, they’re funny. And yet the deeper meaning sinks in later, despite the funny. In fact, due to the humorous nature of my programs, I’m usually hired to deliver keynote addresses at conferences and meetings. The shorter format fits my style really well. Plus, it means that my work is not too serious nor does it involve too much content. It is deeply shallow.

Occasionally, however, when I spend more time with an organization, I get to see the work they’re doing to create a culture where excellence and fun can coexist. But I am not a consultant and I don’t spend month after month with any particular client helping them manage through an organizational change. I’m too shallow to go that deep. But my material can often lead folks in that direction.

In this blog, I’d like to share one organization’s attempt to shift their culture. I’ll call them “Wise Guys” because I think it just sounds funny and fits my deeply shallow approach. Wise Guys, which employs both guys and gals by the way, is doing great work and the commitment of their leadership team shows what any organization can do to change the way that work is done. My hope is that you will appreciate their creativity and consider making similar efforts in your own work.

Step 1 — A Day of Staff Training and Appreciation

Wise Guys wants to change their culture to encourage employees to be more creative, to take more initiative, and to have more fun at work. So, the leaders decided to begin this journey with a half-day program dedicated to demonstrating the change they’d like to see.

First, Wise Guys closed for the morning so that all staff could be involved. Upon arrival, the employees were treated to donuts, juice, and coffee that were purchased by Wise Guys’ Sunshine Committee. The Sunshine Committee is dedicated to raising money and creating opportunities to serve both staff and the community. For instance, on Casual Fridays, everyone who wears jeans must contribute one dollar to the Sunshine Committee Fund. On Father’s Day, a raffle is held where the winner gets a free barbecue dinner. The money raised from these fun-raising events are then used for staff such as providing tasty donuts, juice, and coffee. In addition to serving employees, the Sunshine Committee supports “Charitable Wednesdays,” when staff can donate a dollar that goes directly to a community charity, such as the Humane Society (which was the chosen charity during the “Dog Days of Summer”—very funny).

Wise Guys hired me to do a ninety-minute presentation on the topic of Do it Well. Make it Fun. During that program, I showed the staff that it’s possible to seek excellence in everything they do while also making the processes in life and work more fun. It was quite an amazing and deeply shallow experience, if I do say so myself.

After a short break, during which more donuts and coffee were consumed, the 250 employees were divided into five-person groups. Each group was asked to pick a specific work process and put it through the Do it Well, Make it Fun analysis to determine how the steps of the process could be improved or made more fun. Each group created a detailed report and the leaders at Wise Guys analyzed the recommendations.

After the small group discussions, box lunches were provided by a local catering company that also serves at-risk youth. By employing these young people, the caterer helps them learn about the food industry while also developing their work skills. So, not only did Wise Guys feed their employees, they supported a valuable community organization. Oh, and by the way, the leftover donuts were taken to a nearby homeless shelter.

During lunch, the employees continued their discussion on ways to apply the information they had learned during the morning. At 12:30 p.m., the program ended and Wise Guys was open for business again.

It was a great event but it was also just the beginning. The success of their effort will be dependent on how they proceed after that morning.

Step 2 — Follow Up Suggestions

Many organizations conduct training and development programs. However, sustaining any long-term change is tough. An organization must commit to ongoing attention if their improvements are to last. Based on the work Wise Guys has done already and my experience in similar organizations, I recommend the following steps as a way to sustain a Do it Well, Make it Fun culture shift.

Implement Staff Recommendations & Monitor the Results. The simplest way to achieve improvements is to invite recommendations, make changes, and measure the results. Most organizations, however, either ignore the recommendations or try new things without measuring the impact after implementation. It’s all about cause and effect. The reports that were created by Wise Guys’ staff during their morning discussions should be full of valuable ideas upon which the leaders can build.

Institute an Ongoing Employee Suggestion System. The people who are actually doing the work are often the wisest when it comes to suggestions for improvements. But most organizational changes originate in upper management where people are most removed from the front lines. A robust and effective employee suggestion system can generate many improvements as well as cost savings. The most critical parts of any suggestion program, however, are that people need to be heard and they need to be informed of the outcome of their suggestion. Even if ideas are not implemented, staff need to know that their suggestions were considered.

Create a Reward System for Improvements and Fun. Whenever individuals or groups create improvements (or implement new ways to have more fun at work), they should be rewarded. Rewards are an important way of showing appreciation and yet do not need to cost a lot of money. Many employees are happy with public recognition. But, ignoring an improvement idea is a sure-fire way to eliminate future suggestions.

Change Meeting Formats. One study reported that 85% of us hate meetings. No surprise. So, in my humble opinion, running a meeting is a critical process that needs improvement in every organization. In simple terms, you can start each meeting with something fun and use creative processes for discussions and decision-making. For instance, role plays are great ways to change one’s perspective. If, for example, you ask each person to analyze a particular problem from a colleague’s point of view, you would force them out of their own limited way of thinking. If meetings are more fun, people will be invested in the outcome and look forward to participating.

Commit to  Education and Professional Development. I once met the CEO of Corning. He said that Corning was committed to every employee spending ten-percent of his or her work time in professional development. For a full-time employee, that would be four hours per week. A smart leader knows that stagnant employees lead to a stagnant work environment. A workforce committed to professional development, however, is forever improving.

Create a Mentor Program. One of the most underutilized tools in most organizations is tapping into the wisdom of people with more experience and expertise. If every employee had a mentor for his or her job, think about how much they would learn. Social work is a profession where mentoring is part of the philosophy of practice. And as a result, social workers are always seeking insight from more experienced people. This makes them better at their work.

If you want to change the culture of your workplace, or even your home life, consider these practical techniques. Wise Guys is committed to organizational change. It’s inspiring to know that they want things to be better for their staff and the people they serve.

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