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ROLE MODEL stories feature people and organizations that support humanistic cultures where there is relentless passion for kindness, empathy, dignity, trust, transparency, sharing, happiness, compassion, and love.


Role Models

Whole Person Organizational Cultures©

Employee Happiness, Wellbeing and Engagement

Gerald R. Wagner, PhD.

December, 2015

The organizational culture movement is the most important business management change in more than 100 years. Culture ROLE MODELS© features people and organizations that are leaders in the movement.

Table of Contents

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Starting in January each issue will have a “trailer”. This trailer gives you a glimpse into every feature within 60 seconds. ROLE MODEL issues are loaded with great material and we want you to have an easy and fun way for a quick look.

Culture Champions on a Roll

The Omaha Culture CHAMPIONS group met for the second time on November 12, 2015. Fifty people attended! The meeting was held at QLI headquarters. QLI was a featured ROLE MODEL in the September issue. “QLI has become one of the nation’s premier post-hospital centers for brain and spinal cord injury rehabilitation by embracing the concept that great rehabilitation is more than just the science of physical recovery – it is the art of rebuilding a life”.

QLI had an interesting meeting format with a panel of 8 employees (all in a row) with another employee as the moderator. The moderator went through QLI Leadership principles one at a time and asked employees for comments on how the principles are lived at QLI. It worked really well. It is a format that Culture Champion groups in other cities might want to try.

My friend Dr. Matthew Della Porta is starting a Culture Champions group in Rochester, New York. They will start early in 2016. If you are near to Rochester, Matt would love to hear from you. He is a terrific guy. Matt earned his Ph.D. studying positive psychology under Sonja Lyubomirsky, one of the world's top happiness researchers at UC Riverside. You know how to contact me so you know how to contact Matt.

A Workplace Brand

I love this short video called “Love in These Walls” from Graphik Dimensions. I think of this video as Graphik Dimension’s brand for their workplace spirit. Do you have a workplace brand video for you company? Graphik Dimensions will be a featured ROLE MODEL in the January issue of Culture ROLE MODELS!!

Employee Work/Life Blend Lives Here

Videos of Ground Floor’s People First Culture.

When it comes to integrated agencies, Denver’s GroundFloor Media (GFM) is anything but average. Thanks to its flexible, employee-centric culture and staff of seasoned industry pros, the company has earned awards and accolades including a nod by Outside Magazine as #1 on its list of the Best Places to Work in America.

During the past 14 years, the agency (which specializes in public relations, social media strategy & engagement, digital & creative services, and crisis management) has worked with brands including Oskar Blues Brewery, Door to Door Organics, Children’s Hospital Colorado, BNSF Railway, Sun King Brewery, Earth Balance, 34 Degrees, Qdoba, Starbucks Coffee Company, Habitat for Humanity and many others.

GFM attributes much of its success to its commitment to a work/life blend for team members, and this devotion has been validated by the Denver Business Journal, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and the The Holmes Report, which named GroundFloor as the Best Agency to Work For, as well as by Colorado Biz Magazine for the “Perk-iest” Company, as well as the recipient of their “Gets It” Award.

For the third year in a row, GFM ranks in the top five out of 100 companies in the United States that OUTSIDE recognizes for helping their employees strike the ideal balance between work and play. These companies encourage employees to lead an active lifestyle, are eco-conscious and prioritize giving back to the community.

The company enjoys a unique culture based on celebrating accomplishments and encouraging camaraderie. Leaders treat team members more like friends than people on the payroll, and this commitment to employees has resulted in a remarkably low attrition rate – about two percent annually.

GFM has no set “office hours” – GFMers can work at any time, from anywhere, provided they get their work done. This allows team members to attend children’s school activities, get a haircut, go to doctor’s appointments, etc., without having to use personal time, which ends up making them more productive as employees and happier as individuals.

GFM Giving Back to Others

GFM has always been committed to giving back. Since its inception, the agency has donated the equivalent of nearly 15 percent of annual revenues back to the community through cash contributions, pro bono public relations, reduced billing rates for nonprofit clients and staff time committed to community organizations including Tennyson Center for Children, SafeHouse Denver, Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver, Denver’s Road Home, Hunger Free Colorado and the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition.

Feed Denver Get Grounded Volunteer Day.
Judi’s House Get Grounded Volunteer Day.

The company also has The Get Grounded Foundation. a new 501(c)3 that provides one-year community grants for nonprofits that directly support the healthy development of at-risk or neglected youth between the ages of 3 and 13 in the Denver Metro area. A supporting volunteer program allows GFM team members to receive paid time off (up to four hours per month) to volunteer for a 501c3, or they can designate a charity to receive $10/hr volunteered up to 40 hours (up to $400 per year) for volunteering outside of normal business hours.

Denver Union Station

GFM also believes that one of the cornerstones of a strong culture is the ability to celebrate both success and failure. The team has an annual Ground Hog Day “holiday” celebration over Ground Hog Day — a getaway for employees and significant others at various cool locations, most recently at Denver’s Union Station, complete with a cocktail reception, dinner and overnight accommodations. They even flew everyone to Las Vegas to celebrate the company’s 10th anniversary a few years ago.

High Ropes Professional Team Building
GFM Beer Club

GFM also has Outward Bound Professional team-building days including high ropes course, rock-climbing and an eco-challenge course featuring river crossings, rock-climbing and rappelling with an overnight stay in a luxurious mountain home and a catered dinner by a personal chef; surprise “free/fun” days out of the office including a Rockies day game, spa day, a trip to a casino via a stretch limo, and a “choose your own adventure” day where GFM paid for everyone to go enjoy their favorite activities in downtown Denver; and Beer Club – the company’s graphic designer is also a home brewer, and hosts regular “GFM Beer Club” sessions in which he teaches team members about different styles of beer.

GFM Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle (In and Out of the Office)

GFM also offers health and wellness benefits including a monthly $50 “active lifestyle allowance” that can be used for a variety of purposes from gym membership and yoga classes to therapeutic massages or new skis; an on-site gym featuring a treadmill, elliptical trainer, free weights, balance balls, an Apple TV and a treadmill desk; Free B-Cycle membership (Denver’s bike sharing program) to encourage employees to bike to meetings or lunch; and walking meetings, to keep everyone active.

Denver’s Bike Sharing Program

GroundFloor Media’s commitment to positive organizational culture has resulted in happy, healthy employees — and satisfied clients.

Give People Their Brains Back

An early Culture ROLE MODEL was NEARSOFT located in California and Mexico. A recent article says “Nearsoft's story is a powerful lesson for all companies. If you want to grow quickly, increase profits, reduce unproductive middle management layers, and keep your best and brightest people, you might want to give them their brains back and require that everyone become a self-managed adult at work.” This article gives you an actual view of an organizational style that is coming fast in every industry. Whether or not you agree with the approach you will want to keep up with the practices. It is spreading fast.

An Employees First Culture

Nearly every Federal agency uses REI dashboards and analytical tools. Twenty-six agencies share goals on; 41 agencies support, and 184 agencies offer over 105,000 datasets on—all developed and implemented by REI. In addition to their open government and decision and data analytics expertise, REI has 17 years of experience designing, delivering, and operating eGrants systems, which support more than 41,000 grants annually across 1,700 federal programs. REI was a pioneer in the move to the cloud within the federal space. Named by CIO Review as one of the top 5 Salesforce cloud implementation partners for the public sector, REI has completed 450+ implementations for 150+ public sector and commercial customers over the last 10 years. Watch a demo.

In 1990, two entrepreneurs with serious software engineering skills had a dream of building a company that delighted its customers with practical and innovative solutions. A NASA SBIR grant launched the firm that ultimately delivered automated grants management systems delivering over $20B in grants annually, data analytics and visualization tools supporting the past two Presidents’ Open Government Initiatives, and the opportunity, 25 years later to provide personal and professional growth opportunities for REI’s more than 500 employee-owners.

REI’s over 500 employee-owners are passionate about the work they perform supporting extremely important public sector missions. “REI” stands for Reliable, Effective, and Innovative – describing their constant persuasion with customer super-satisfaction – going far beyond what is contractually required.

REI’s vision is to become the most sought after IT Company that brings customer delight with exceptional results in every engagement.

Their core values shape their fundamental approach to all aspects of the business.

REI’s “Employee-First” culture recognizes employees as holistic professionals with unique development needs. They foster growth—professionally, personally, mentally, and physically.

REI provides each employee a minimum of 40 hours of professional development annually. The curriculum is continually enhanced to support emerging interests. One hundred forty nine unique courses were added in 2014. REI spent $591,000 in 2014 for professional development with 95% of REI’s 500+ employee-owners participating.

REI’s 7 Centers of Excellence (COE) enable employees to explore new technologies, develop frameworks and prototypes, and promote higher competency levels. In 2014, REI continued its campaign for personal leadership, success, and happiness as 81 REI Managers were enrolled in REI’s SOAR Program for leaders. This program is a 10 month program requiring a time commitment of at least 8 hours per month per student (6,480 hours!)

REI hosts potluck lunches, company-wide picnics and holiday parties, team events, employee spotlight celebrations, Halloween costume contests, sports tournaments and sponsors 29 clubs.

Another Halloween at REI

One club is called the “Happy Feet Club” with several programs such as running, swimming, kayaking, and biking. The REI Happy Feet Sports Club started its new division The Hiking Club and on November 3rd, 25 team members participated in the first hike. The 11 mile walk was on the Appalachian Trail from the Washington Monument to Annapolis Rock.

Only the tough survive.

Eleven Happy Feet Club runners participated in the 26.2 mile Marine Corps Marathon this year. Most of them were first time Marathoners. Some of them, before joining the club, had never ran more than a few feet. REI employees run in over 25 official races (foot, bike, triathlons).

REI’s Video Games Tournament Winners

They also have interest groups including photography, electronics, video games, and chess. Over 250 employees have participated in at least one of club activity.

REI’s Headquarters is equipped with a game room, ping pong tables, a basketball court, a volleyball court and employee quiet rooms to provide a quiet, private place for decompression.

The employee-run “REI Cares” Program hosts multiple charity events each year, including a potluck luncheon that raised over $2,227 in one hour for the Loudoun Interfaith Relief, a local hunger relief organization. They have also raised money for REI individuals and families who have had hardships including covering part of the treatment costs for the spouse of an employee with cancer; and in just 5 days, REI Cares raised $20,927.07 to cover funeral expenses when one of their beloved, young employees suddenly passed away.

During the holiday season, they sponsor coat drives, Toys for Tots, and Angel Tree gifts. As part of our 25th anniversary celebration, for the Arlington Food Assistance Center, REI bagged groceries distributed to over 8,000 individuals in need.

WOW! I’m exhausted just reading this.

REI was awarded the 2014 Mentor of the Year by the Government Technology & Services Coalition (GTSC) and Government Contracting Weekly for its partnership with ADG Tech Consulting. REI founded and hosts Loudoun County Project Management Institute (PMI) monthly meetings. They use this bi-monthly Government Analytics Breakfast (GAB) series to bring together government, industry, and academia to engage on important data governance topics.

And, they just recently won “Washington Posts Top Workplace” title for the year 2015.

Managing to Meditate

Recently I saw the article “Mindfulness and Mediation Meet in the Boardroom”. The story was about Dr. Anne Messervy’s workshop on holistic approaches to improving wellbeing including mindfulness and meditation. Anne is a wellbeing facilitator and lecturer at Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand. She helped design AUT’s Executive Wellbeing Programme, a first of its kind to teach managers to tap into the ‘silence within’. Practitioners of meditation and mindfulness techniques have advocated the benefits of these for centuries. More recently, medical research studies have confirmed the wide-ranging benefits of these practices.

Dr. Anne Messervy

Anne says “I am very excited to be working in this space right now. Twenty years ago, when I started my career in organizational development, the notion of a ‘meditating manager’ was absurd. Now I have ‘alpha male’ senior executives exploring yoga and meditation.

Managers today don’t just need good technical and people skills. To be effective in leading people, they need to practice conscious leadership - meaning they need to be self-aware and have good Emotional intelligence (EQ). The regular practice of meditation and mindfulness techniques offers a practical way for individuals to build this capacity.

Meditation and mindfulness techniques are easy to learn. It’s like physical exercise, the benefits come from regular practice. Managers who dedicate even 15 minutes a day to meditation are reporting benefits within 3 weeks of starting the practice.

Benefits to the individual include enhanced physical, mental and emotional health, while the organization benefits by helping managers become more in touch with their staff and in particularly Gen Y and Millennials, who rate ‘meaningful work’ high on their priority list.

Employees are increasingly asking themselves questions that are essentially spiritual in nature - such as ‘Why do I go to work?’ and ‘What is important to me?’ there is a realization that workplaces cultures are needed that celebrate the whole individual.”

Bigger Than Themselves

Across the country, AutoMate Dealership Systems helps auto dealers successfully manage their businesses. The Albany, NY-based company has one overriding goal: to always be #1 in dealership management system (DMS) customer satisfaction.

To achieve this goal, President and CEO Mike Esposito has dedicated himself to building a culture focused on employee satisfaction.

"Many business leaders believe that customer satisfaction is the most important priority, but it isn't," said Esposito. "The facts show that customers will never love your company unless your employees love your company. Employee satisfaction is what it's all about."

Auto/Mate Does Business Differently

For the past decade, Esposito has studied and implemented management principles geared towards creating a great place to work. His dedication has paid off. Focusing on employees first, Auto/Mate has won the following awards:

"Many leaders believe that employees care most about money and perks," said Esposito. "But what really motivates employees is more complicated than that. They crave autonomy to be in control of their own projects and goals; opportunity to improve their skills; recognition from upper management; potential for career advancement; and the desire to be part of something bigger than themselves.”

That said, Auto/Mate offers many quality-of-life perks, such as an on-site gym, free health and wellness workshops and one paid volunteer day per year. The company also hosts many company events and outings.

One favorite company event is Hawaiian Day. The day starts out with Esposito and Corporate Training Manager, Ken Rock (wearing a grass skirt and "coconut shell" bra), greeting employees with flower leis as they arrive at work.

Employees are encouraged to wear Hawaiian shirts, board shorts, flip-flops and other island wear. Additional festivities include a catered Hawaiian lunch, virgin pina coladas and more. Later in the afternoon, a Kona Ice truck serves shave ice treats.

Esposito views the day as an opportunity to strengthen the company's core values and to show employees an appreciation for what they do every day.

"Core values are important because they are the essence of a company's identity. Core values define our philosophy, support our vision and help in the decision-making process," said Esposito. Auto/Mate's core values include passion; customer centricity; honesty and integrity; family; and loyalty and commitment.

Following these values, Auto/Mate has achieved outstanding growth and has a 99.7 percent customer retention rate. So who deserves the credit for this success? According to Esposito, it’s all about the employees.

Fun short videos

I found these short clever cartoon videos on a Mayo Clinic web site dealing with stress. The videos are by Dr. Amit Sood who is a Professor of Medicine at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, Minnesota. He serves as Chair of the Mayo Mind Body Initiative. I thought (still do) that you would enjoy and learn from them. I’d guess you will also send them along to friends and family. They are 2 to 4 minutes each.

A Very Happy Brain
What is Happiness
Twelve Reasons to be Happier
Meditation 2.0 A New Way to Meditate

The Life We Spend At Work

Click here and then when at the site click on Play Episode. Professor Adam Grant at Wharton is the Author of Give and Take. His audio recording for 51 minutes is exceptional. Much more worthwhile than watching TV. Click on “Play Episode” when you get to the web site.

Please Let Us Know Who you Suggest as Role Models

At the Institute for Inspired Organizational Cultures recognizing individuals and organizations that support the advancement of Whole Person Organizational Cultures. This is a community project so please help. We want to especially feature businesses who are not already in the high profile limelight.

Please send Jerry a note about individuals or organizations that you think might be good candidates to include. His email address is

Click here to watch videos of our curriculum faculty. Our complete curriculum with videos and suggested reading materials are free for all email addresses ending in .edu and also for faith based and/or charitable non-profit organizations with .org email. For others the fee is only $79 per year.

Gerald R. Wagner, PhD.

Director, The Institute of Inspired Organizational Cultures.

© 2015 The Institute for Inspired Organizational Cultures, Inc. All rights

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