We love to support people and organizations in their pursuit of humanistic employee cultures where there is relentless passion for kindness, empathy, dignity, humility, trust, transparency, sharing, happiness, compassion and love.


Role Models

Proven Ideas for Creating Positive Workplace Cultures

Gerald R. Wagner, PhD.
July, 2016


The new KC chapter launched on June 9, 2016 with more than 50 people attending. A remarkable success. The presentation was by John from VML. VML has an exceptonal workplace culture and you will read about in this issue of ROLE MODELS.

John Mulvihill, executive director of the VML Foundation was so gracious to share his PP slides with us. Click here to see Johns slides.

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This issue of Culture ROLE MODELS features a special group of employees from ROLE MODEL companies. I asked a group of ROLE MODEL companies to select one employee to answer this question: What one thing do you most love most about your workplace? Here are those beautiful employees that were asked along with their answers.

“I love that our teams work naturally. Naturally means we organically engage and have fun with each other.” Brittany Snow, Radio Flyer, is responsible for the development and execution of PR, social media and overall marketing strategies.

"The thing I love most about working for Auto/Mate is that everyone in the management team wants to inspire and promote their employees. No idea is unheard and we are all made to feel we can take any career path we want within the company." Eric Marcel, Auto Mate, Product Knowledge Expert Team.

“What I love most about my job is the freedom we have over our day-to-day responsibilities. It makes me feel trusted and appreciated”. Wendy Kelly, WD-40 Company, Investor Relations and Corporate Communications.  

“I love working in teams that are filled with fun, joy and mutual respect.” Nisana Decimus, 1st Grade Teacher at Haiti Partners Children’s Academy, Haiti.

“The one thing I love about my job at Happy State Bank is how the bank’s unwavering values are lived out every day and ingrained in us from the top down.  Family first is a reality at the bank. I am attend all of my children’s events, and have flexibility to get my job done.” Erin Viermann is with Commercial Banking at Happy State Bank, Happy, Texas.

“I love that people of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds are appreciated and nurtured to be the best they can be.  Plus it’s a really fun place to work! Did I mention everyone here loves to eat so we do potlucks all the time?” Lorin Brust, Business Services Specialist, Graphik Dimensions, Ltd.

“In Haiti Partners I love the way we build a shared vision and plan for accomplishing it together where each person fully assumes responsibility for his or her role.” Esther Remy, first grade teacher at Haiti Partners, Haiti.

“What I love about Drake Cooper is how we embrace the montra that a good idea can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time. I love my coworkers - their passion and willingness to be team players is extremely inspiring!" Ella Koonce, Junior Creator, Drake Cooper, Boise, Idaho.

“I’m able to be myself.  To yell if I want to.  To sulk if I need to.  And to be completely honest with the people around me with no repercussion since they know me for who I am not who I’m expected to be.” Victor Corella, Programmer, Nearsoft, Mexico/California.

"There are many things I love about RealTruck.com, especially their unwavering commitment to positive company culture. Aside from creating a fun and comfortable work environment, their commitment makes me feel like I matter and have a voice." Antinea Ascione, Marketing, Real Truck, Jamestown, North Dakota.

“The democratic process that Namasté Solar embraces and uses is my most loved part of our workplace. I love working with a group of people fully engaged and committed to making sure all voices are heard prior to, during, and after decisions are made”. Jon Wedel, Namaste Solar, Operations & Maintenance and Commercial Service, Boulder, Colorado.

“Our motto at Dixon Schwabl is ‘We Make It Happen.’ It is empowering to work for an agency that has this culture and spirit.” Ryann Bouchard, Public Relations, Dixon Schwabl, Rochester, New York.

“One of my favorite things is having a voice in our C-4ums. The company listens to our creative ideas and makes them happen. We support each other and work together to offer creative feedback and turn ideas into reality.” Stephanie Cranford, Account Fulfillment Specialist, Graphik Dimensions, Ltd.

“I love working with creative, energetic, good-humored people that genuinely enjoy helping one another succeed. Getting work done while laughing with your fellow team members—who doesn’t love that?” Phil Cunningham, Account Executive, Firespring, Lincoln, Nebraska.

"I love working at Zingerman's because I get to be an Owner. In every sense of the word. I get to own (and take responsibility for) my own talents, my personal development, my vision of the future, my role in the success of our business and an actual share of the Zingerman's Community of Business." Mara Fergeson, Zingerman's Training, Keynote Liaison, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“My coworkers are like family. We laugh, cry and sometimes argue with each other. But at the end of the day, there’s a lot of love in my workplace.” Victor Lujan, GSD&M, QA Analyst, Social Club Leader, Austin, Texas.

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Vail Colorado

What Makes Vail Resorts Such A Great Place To Work? When it comes down to the reason
 why – there isn’t just one answer. When a workforce of more than 25,000 Brave, Ambitious and Passionate™ employees get to align what they love with what they do, amazing things happen.

It Starts With A Mission That Matters. At Vail Resorts, the mission is simple — to create the Experience of a Lifetime for employees, so they can in turn, provide the Experience of a Lifetime for guests.

Own It. Personalize It and Elevate It. At Vail Resorts, employees live and breathe the mission Experience of a Lifetime and are encouraged to “Own it, Personalize It and Elevate It.” This mantra empowers employees to create their own experiences of a lifetime, making the company’s mission a reality.

Above And Beyond. Each year, 15 employees are chosen for an award called EpicService. Out of thousands of nominations by guests and employees, these particular employees are chosen from across the company’s resorts and lines of business for demonstrating extraordinary guest service. The top employees are given an all-expense paid trip to one of the resorts as a reward for their service. Their Experience of a Lifetime trip is filled with activities with the other winners and a private dinner with CEO Rob Katz and other leaders from the company. Watch the video above for last year’s winners

Mary Sample has been with the company for eight years and is now a Senior Specialist for Employee Events and Recognition in Park City. She is the only employee to receive this honorable recognition not once, but twice, for her exemplary service.

“I love being a part of something so much bigger. I feel that working for the mountain is doing something for our guests. They come out here for vacation and we have the opportunity to really elevate their experience. This, in turn, creates the lifestyle that I personally love so much,” said Mary.

Driving Values. Also, at Vail Resorts, employees take accountability for living the company’s foundational values every day and in everything they do: Serve Others, Do Right, Drive Value, Do Good, Be Safe, Have Fun. These values are not merely words in the company manual, but are also part of the company’s formal annual review and performance evaluation. Every year, employees are asked how they have embraced these values.

Front Desk Agent with Guests at the Arabelle in Vail

Purpose. Combined, all of this creates a sense of purpose for employees and enables them to create hundreds of programs themselves, all of which support the mission, vision and values of Vail Resorts.

Everyone Is A Leader. The company’s leadership philosophy and approach is referred to as “Leadership Terrain” for the Brave, Ambitious and Passionate. Every employee at Vail Resorts is a leader. Leaders are defined by how they act and what they do rather than the title they hold.

Employees at the Vail Resorts Broomfield Headquarters

Leadership Terrain is a step-by-step path to success that embraces self-discovery. The programs and processes in Leadership Terrain guide employees through various “Routes” designed to challenge and continually hone their leadership competency. Leaders are asked to own their development; it’s an environment like none other in the travel industry. The company believes that authentic leadership at every level is the key to driving re-imagination, innovation and superior results for stakeholders.

Vail Resorts’ approach to developing leaders is unconventional in that it is heavily biased toward creating a sophisticated level of emotional intelligence and agility through an intense focus on self-awareness, candor and vulnerability. The company’s leaders work to continually improve their ability to sit with the tension of confidence and humility, relationships and accountability, preserving core business while driving change, driving value and ensuring alignment of all stakeholders.

A few leadership program/initiative highlights include:

Northstar Village

Through all of these efforts, the company has been able to offer many career growth opportunities to employees. The current senior employees at Vail Resort have embraced this philosophy and have demonstrated impressive results. At the executive level, Vail Resorts has a less than five percent voluntary turnover rate. The company also earned a 90 percent favorable rating in the “Leadership” category in its most recent Employee Engagement Survey, exceeding other benchmark high-performing travel and leisure companies.

In an industry generally dominated by men, Vail Resorts also promotes gender-diversity in leadership roles and is proud to have women in leadership positions such as President of the Mountain Division, Chief Operating Officer of Northstar California Resort, Directors of Mountain Operations at Vail and Park City and Directors of Ski Patrol at Vail and Beaver Creek.

Benefits that go Beyond the Basics: Perks like a complimentary ski pass to help employees align what they love with what they do, are just the beginning. Employees get a competitive set of benefits, along with non-traditional benefits that only a mountain resort company like Vail Resorts can offer.

Vail Lift Operators Enjoying a Blue Bird Workday

The company's Total Rewards program gives employees access to some of the world’s most beautiful playgrounds and luxurious lodging properties – and extends added benefits to enjoy each one to its fullest potential. This includes:

Employees Giving Back at Vail Resorts Annual Epic Promise Day

Giving Back. As a company, Vail Resorts gives more than $7.8M annually to 250+ nonprofit partners, with a focus on youth programs and environmental initiatives through its EpicPromise program. And, it’s not just about the company making donations and getting involved in the community. Employees themselves get involved and can invite their families to give back as well. Each year, through EpicPromise, employees and their guests volunteer for one day in their community and participate activities such as building trails and cleaning up national forests.

Epic Promise Day at Vail Resorts

Additionally, EpicPromise offers an EpicVolunteers program, which encourages employees to embrace their passions and have a positive impact on the world through volunteerism. All Vail Resorts employees – both season and full time – have the opportunity to receive up to 40 hours of paid time off to volunteer for the charity of their choice, anywhere in the world. Nearly 100 people have already taken part in the program, working with groups such as Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, the Wounded Warriors Project and Conservacion Patagonica, which is building national parks in Patagonia.

In addition to the company’s robust community giving program, in December 2015, the EpicPromise Foundation was launched (https://vimeo.com/147555359 Password: DoGood) to provide grants to employees in two key areas: Educational Dreams and Lending a Hand. The hope is that the Foundation will fuel employees’ commitment and connection to each other while creating a path for employees to pursue their dreams and support their families.

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Attendees browsing content of Kevin Roberts book LOVEMARKS

What is the value of achievement if we are unable to attain or maintain joy after having reached success? How much of our education or scholarly research is applicable to passing the ‘tests’ we will be given throughout life, regarding career, money, family, creativity, love, work and living in joy? Most of us would agree it would be inappropriate to address such subjects in literature class or before a statistics exam, so where do these questions get addressed?

The great thinker and Rhodes Scholar, E. F. Schumacher, believed that all through school and university we are given guidance about life and knowledge, and generally this guidance had little relevance to the things that people cared about or the way they conducted their lives—the way life is really lived. The ACADEMi of Life was founded to fulfil Schumacher’s observation … to provide the place for people to discuss the things they cared about and the things that mattered most in life that they were never taught in school.

The ACADEMi of Life, a place of higher learning, is dedicated to providing insights and training that much traditional education lacks. They are engaged in what would be one of the least expensive classroom experiences available in New York City. What's different about the Academi, is that there are no right or wrong answers, no definitive paths to result or a definitive outcome, no interpretation of data that will deliver either a passing or failing grade. There is only the ability to decode and apply the wisdom learned from another person's success and failures to an individual’s own life, in pursuit of a more whole and meaningful life.

Kevin Roberts, Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi with moderator on the value of love in the workplace.

In the current volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous world, people are seeking new ways to cope with their everyday lives. The hunger is undeniable. In this decade, people will stop thinking about filling their closets, and look to feed their inner self. In these disillusioned times, many are suddenly desperate for tools to help them live lives that are more joyful, more meaningful and have a higher purpose.

What The Academi of Life offers, reflects a new mood of soul-searching, a desire for self-inquiry and authenticity. People want more intellectually demanding things to see and hear, not fewer. They want more connection to the self, more connection to family and friends, more connection to work, more connection to love and more connection to fun and happiness. New information from the social network people say that, ‘the profile we look at the most is our own. We are very interested in how we present ourselves to the world. But perhaps more important, we are interested in trying to figure out ourselves.’

Attendees for Kevin Roberts speech about Business and Love

The Academi of Life’s commitment is to gather the world’s thought leaders for lectures, ‘how to’ classes, impact movies and intimate conversations that bring practical and enduring value to the things that really matter in life. This new method of learning aims to stimulate thinking, to deepen and enrich lives, and ultimately make the world a better place. They are committed to building a world that is infused with the values of beauty, truth, wisdom, justice, generosity, empathy, fidelity, joy, courage and honor.

Individuals who attend events at The ACADEMi are aspirants committed to self-mastery and a balanced life. They are wiser and are lifelong learners who are eager to discuss ideas to discover and perfect their inner lives. They are well-educated, well-read and intellectually curious people who endorse The Academi of Life’s motto: ‘there is no work more important that the inner personal development and the mental and emotional well-being of a human being.’

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People Powered VML

In 2017, VML’s employees will celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary. The contemporary global marketing agency – which earned a spot on

Advertising Age’s A-List earlier this year, began in Kansas City with three founders, John Valentine, Scott McCormick and Craig Ligibel. The agency has now grown to more than 2,500 employees with principal offices in 28 locations across six continents.

VML’s clients include Bridgestone, Colgate-Palmolive, Dell, Gatorade, the Kellogg Company, Kimberly-Clark, Microsoft, Motorola, NAPA AUTO PARTS, PepsiCo, Sprint, Tennessee Tourism, Tropicana, U.S. Soccer, Virgin Active, Wendy’s and Xerox.

“Though VML has experienced enormous growth in terms of our client base, staff, and global reach over the last several years, what hasn’t changed is our unique ability to move brands forward by inspiring meaningful human connections, being a contemporary marketing partner and having a good time while we do it,” said Jon Cook, global CEO, VML.

Giving back to its employees.

Calling it a “white board culture,” VML characterizes its corporate culture as a collaborative environment.

Knowing its employees are the agency’s primary assets and most important point of differentiation, VML provides its employees with a generous benefits package, in addition to opportunities for ongoing education, training and professional development.

Benefits include:

VML Global Headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri

Employees who have dedicated more than ten years of service can apply to VML Flight Plan: a month-long sabbatical during which they commit to spend four days volunteering with a group or organization they are passionate about. They can do this anywhere they’d like – tying a dream vacation and a service project together; the remaining days are all theirs.

Keeping employees at the cutting edge of industry trends is an important part of VML’s agency culture. To stay at the forefront of news and technology, the firm hosts weekly all-agency meetings to share the latest developments in the industry. VML also hosts a variety of Lunch & Learn sharing sessions with industry experts called Port Plug-Ins. And in 2013, VML and Rockhurst University developed a partnership to help VML employees further their education through an Executive MBA program.

All-agency meetings, known as “The Tuesday Morning Meeting” at VML, keeps employees plugged in to work going on throughout the agency.

Giving back to the community.

VML knows it’s important to its employees that their personal values align with the mission of the company. Some ways VML encourages its employees to give back include:

VML employees participate in Foundation Day by helping the Police Athletic League renovate their space.

VML’s Annual Worldwide Foundation Day – This is a special day when VML offices around the globe close down during normal business hours so employees can volunteer in their community. Last year, VML employees donated their time and talent to 45 non-profit and community organizations across the world on Foundation Day.

16 hours paid volunteer time – All employees get up to 16 paid hours of volunteer time to use as they wish – volunteering at a local soup kitchen, pitching in at an animal shelter, doing a neighborhood clean-up project, reading to students in their child’s classroom, etc.

Community Contributor Program – This program recognizes VMLers who are active in the community, awarding them a “Giving Card” to donate to the charitable organization of his or her choice.

Matching Gifts & Grant Request programs – the VML Foundation offers a 2-1 Matching Gifts benefit, tripling a personal donation a VML Foundation makes to the charitable organization of their choice each year. VML Foundation members are also able to submit requests for larger financial contributions to be made to causes close to their hearts.

Habitat for Humanity is one of 45 community organizations across the globe that VML employees helped on Foundation Day last year.

“The culture of VML is incredibly important – it is one that empowers employees to play part in how we, as a company, play part in giving back to our community,” Cook said. “Giving back is also a unique thread that unites the agency’s global network in a fun, collaborative way.”

An immersive, all-in, give-back culture has always been part of VML, but it’s never been stronger than now because the younger generation coming into the workforce has a strong commitment to working for a company that aligns with their values.

VML’s ongoing commitment to giving back sets VML apart from other agencies. The VML Foundation, in operation for nearly 12 years, has donated approx. $1.3M to community organizations. The agency’s charitable arm, the VML Foundation, supports a wide array of community outreach initiatives across all U.S. offices. Nearly 75 percent of VML employees contribute to the VML Foundation through payroll deduction. In 2015, the foundation funded over $200,000 to charitable organizations, and this year, the VML Foundation expects to surpass the $1.5 million mark in cumulative, unrestricted grants.

Collaboration across teams is encouraged at VML with a variety of different type of meeting spaces.

But giving back goes beyond financial contributions. Employees also have an opportunity to donate their time and talent to work on pro-bono projects for a variety of local nonprofits they are passionate about – to the tune of more than 10,000 hours each year.

People-powered participation.

Architectural design of VML’s offices is intended to foster creativity and collaboration.

Without a doubt, what makes VML stand out is its people and how employees genuinely care for one another. When tragedy recently struck the Kalamazoo office, VMLers joined forces to raise more than $21,000 to support the families of those affected. Likewise, each office hosts potlucks and bake sales to raise money for various causes near and dear to their community throughout the year.

VMLers have initiated their own programming for causes they are passionate about: a culture exchange program, a diversity program, and a Women @ VML program, to name a few. It’s this entrepreneurial spirit --- this “can do” attitude that attracts and retains talent.

Lastly, VML’s “Ministry of Fun” plays a big role in its culture. Each office has a group of volunteers who plan events such as annual holiday and summer parties, VML Day at the K, Sporting KC game, pop-up parties, chili cook-offs, photos with Santa, Cinco de Mayo celebrations, to name a few. Often these events have a charitable tie-in.

Leaving a mark.

VML’s vibrant culture has continued to thrive – not in spite of, but because of – its tremendous growth around the globe: growth that welcomes new ideas and fresh perspectives.

As the agency approaches its Silver Anniversary, it appears the best is yet to come.

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This is a note from me (Jerry). The following is about Saatchi & Saatchi referred to in the piece about the Academi of Life. I did not know about the company until Shirley gave me the piece. The company is a huge global communications and adverting company with 140 offices in 75 Countries. On their site are several branding movies developed for customers. You really must check them out. They will blow you away. One of my favorite is for Pampers, and there are several more. Wouldn’t it be great to have such quality of movies to tell stories about your workplace cultures? That leads into a plug for my HUFFPOST Business post entitled Workplace Spirit Branding.

While here I want to call 2 books to your attention both co-authored by Kevin Roberts the Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi. Once in a while I find books that I think everyone should read. Here are two of them. I was not aware of the term “lovemarks” but it makes so much sense.

I can’t/won’t write a book review. Instead I want to give enough to pique your interest to look further.

Lovemarks are beyond trademarks. Trademarks define territory for a business. Consumers care about a trademark because it offers that they are getting the quality they paid for. But trademarks are susceptible to commodification and cycling of valued products into generic stuff. The author argues that brands are “out of juice”. He points out that instead businesses should focus on making emotional connections with buyers. “People are looking for new, emotional connections. They are looking for what they can love.”

“The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.”

The author says “The Lovemarks of this new century will be the brands and businesses that create genuine emotional connections with the communities and networks they live in. Love needs Respect right from the start. Without it, Love will not last.”

The book has a table that compares brands vs. lovemarks. Three that I loved are these:

Defined Attributes  
Love Story
Wrapped in Mistery

Lovemarks are not owned by manufacturers, producers, or businesses. They are owned by the people who love them. The attributes that give a special emotional resonance are mystery, sensuality, and intimacy. They inspire loyalty beyond reason. A few examples are Harley-Davidson, iPod, Coca-Cola, Virgin Atlantic, Toyota, MacDonalds, Red Cross, M&M’s, Cheerios, and Pampers. Lovemarks are the charismatic brands that people love and fiercely protect. They are not statistics or bullet points of the findings of some focus group.

The author presents a four quadrant diagram that is especially meaningful. Respect is from low to high and love from low to high:

  1. Low respect and low love – commodities. These are products that people need but don’t desire or even alike a lot.
  2. Low respect and high love: The area for fads, fashion, and infatuations. They are loved for a little while and tossed aside for the next cool item. Beanie Babies?
  3. High respect and low love: This is where most brands are.
  4. High respect and high love: This is instinctively where you want to be.

The book is a treasure trove of ideas and the previous hopefully gives you a taste. This is important stuff.

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The award winning, Zion & Zion building

Along the sunny outskirts of Arizona State University’s sprawling campus lies Zion & Zion — nationally renowned full-service marketing agency. An intersection “Where Business Meets Creative.”

Zion & Zion has long been well-regarded in the advertising sector, recognized for deeply aligning themselves with their client’s business models to aid in their clients’ evolution and growth, staffed with not only the expected top-notch creative talent, but with people with MBA and PhD level training in marketing, strategy, and social psychology. Much of the agency’s storied success can be attributed to their philosophy of “Our people are our strength.”

The company has worked diligently to foster a workplace culture uncommon among modern agencies. Recognized as the #1 Best Place to Work by Phoenix Business Journal and hailed as a Career Builders Top Company to Work For in Arizona, employees are positively glowing about their career opportunities with Zion & Zion.   

“Working at Zion & Zion is a one of a kind job,” says Kristi Bielewicz, UX/IA Strategist. “I wake up every day excited to go to work, happy to see my co-workers, and eager to jump into my projects. Not many of many friends in the agency world seem to feel quite this way.”

View from main Zion & Zion conference room

Emphasizing Individual Success

As a dominant full-service marketing agency, sustaining success starts at the level of the individual. Zion & Zion has made investing in ALL of its team members standard practice — a strategy that has paid significant dividends since its earliest adoption.

Emphasizing cross-department integration and day-to-day collaboration, Zion & Zion provides their valued team members the opportunity and resources to advance their professional skillset. Taking this concept even further, the agency, each year, routinely sends every employee to at least two national conferences in their field or a related field. And every team member returning from a conference presents the learnings from that conference to the entire agency. Specifically, what the team member feels Zion & Zion is doing well based on the conference; where Zion & Zion could improve; etc. Of particular note is that each time a team member presents, they need to make the presentation understandable and relevant to EVERYONE they are presenting to be that person from the social media team, the creative team, the web development team, the strategy team, etc. It’s no small task, but it does result team members truly thinking about the agency as a whole.

The devotion to lifelong learning is undoubtedly a key element tied to Zion & Zion’s success. Empowering employees to become thought leaders ensures the agency remains at the forefront of industry trends while maintaining the company’s status as a beacon for businesses that require custom solutions to complex marketing issues that cannot be solved by “creative” alone.

T-Shaped Professionals: Developing Multi-Faceted Employees

While Zion & Zion’s culture attracts top talent, it requires a special personality to keep up with the rigorous demands of this unique environment.

Aric Zion, CEO

CEO Aric Zion says, “As an agency, clients come to us for solutions. And while sometimes, the client may come in the door with problems that are addressable by a single functional expert, the reality is that their problems tend to be complex and require solutions that are multi-functional in nature.”

Due to the complex nature of client issues, Zion has groomed his team to identify themselves as ‘T-Shaped people’ — multi-faceted individuals capable of making meaningful and impactful contributions across all departments and adept at dovetailing their functional expertise with the functional expertise of others at the agency.

Team members take pride and ownership in creating truly strategic solutions for clients — solutions that so-called ‘I-Shaped people,’ i.e. those with a singular area of expertise, simply can’t provide.

Zion & Zion’s culture ensures that no one is restricted to the immediate function of their job title. In stark contrast to other agencies, team members are encouraged to step outside the lines (there actually are no lines) and work closely alongside neighboring departments to create the best end product possible.

Taking a Cue from Navy SEALs

Ask the team behind Zion & Zion to describe their workplace culture and you’ll hear frequent comparisons made to the Navy SEALs — what many consider to be the most disciplined branch of U.S. military.

This lofty comparison is far from misdirected — it carries significant implication within Zion & Zion’s every day culture. Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, a book by two former SEALs, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, is not only required reading for the entire staff, but Zion & Zion engaged the authors to conduct leadership training for the organization based on principles of accountability and teamwork within high pressure environments.

In addition to the book’s many imparted lessons, it has helped reinforce an even stronger sense of leadership and teamwork throughout Zion & Zion. Employees work together as a unit to overcome agency and client challenges, taking initiative wherever and whenever necessary and operating with efficiency and determination to accomplish key objectives. 

Culture by Design

The modern design of the Zion & Zion building is striking — the building is a physical manifestation of the brand’s profile as an intersection for business and creative forces. Venturing inside the bright space reveals how much of its design was influenced by the culture.

Downstairs of Zion & Zion office looking into ‘The Arena’ meeting space

The Zion & Zion building’s design was based on architectural and interior design moves and a design language to facilitate a high degree of collaboration among its inhabitants. Traditional office elements that often subdue entire departments have been stripped away entirely. In the place of drab cubicles and closed-off conference rooms, you’ll instead find natural open floor plans augmented with glass partitions that enhance collaborative energy. Literally every square foot of the entire 14,000 square foot building has been crafted to be accessible to everyone and to have both a practical purpose and an embodiment of the agency’s brand and culture.

As Nicole Ellis, a Zion & Zion Online Marketing Manager, describes it, “Everyone in the agency is a part of a team, and almost everyone is the “leader” of a team, like the lead developer on a new website or a member of the online marketing team that’s heading up a new client campaign launch. Absolutely everyone is both a leader and a follower, effortlessly shifting between roles with no apparent ego.”

Work Hard, Play Hard: Keeping Spirits High

The company realizes that working hard and playing hard are equally important, and to this end, a portion of the office has been dedicated to providing staff with creative diversions.

Zion & Zion team members enjoying ‘The Intersect’ hybrid work-play area

Employees can often be found racking up at the pool table, playing shuffleboard, throwing darts, challenging high scores on the 135 in-house arcade games, or enjoying a frosty pint of beer from the office taps. The work/play integration ensures Zion & Zion maintains morale while providing team members a home away from home.

As part of that playful culture, the team regularly gets together to celebrate company events and milestones throughout the year. For instance, the annual “CrabFest,” now in its eighth year is a big deal at Zion & Zion. It’s a celebration in which the agency flies in hundreds of stone crab claws overnight from Miami Beach for a fun filled day of eating, drinking, and an array of outdoor games in the courtyard of the Zion & Zion building.

Whether it’s a company sponsored happy hour, a trip to Lake Pleasant, or a BBQ at the home of the Zion’s, there’s always something exciting around the corner that allows employees opportunities to bond and blow off a little steam.

Group shot from 8th annual CrabFest event

Where Business Meets Creative

Zion & Zion is setting a new standard for workplace culture. The emphasis on creating a flat organization without traditional managers creates an uncommon environment that stands head and shoulders above others, making them a role model to modern agencies and companies in general. In fact, organizations ranging from Phoenix Children’s Hospital to Microsoft have looked to Zion & Zion’s culture and the building’s architecture for inspiration. Even visitors from Google have commented on how exceptional the space is.

In the words of Gretchen Spain, a recruiter, formerly with The Creative Group and now with TEEMA Solutions Group, “It’s always a good day when I get the opportunity to work with Zion & Zion. As a recruiter, it’s great to be able to share about the intimate culture, the challenging work, the benefits, and the amazing strides that the company is making. Nothing, however, is better than the feedback I get from the candidates I’ve already placed. They feel that Zion & Zion is home, and they love being surrounded by a family of like-minded individuals. They are proud of the work they do, and their enthusiasm about the culture is absolutely contagious.”

Reception area looking into ‘The Café’

Dana Johnson, a recruiter for Paladin describes Zion & Zion this way, “Great company culture is not built on its own. They [Zion & Zion] are continuously doing things that promote morale and show their appreciation for dedication and hard work. In turn, the company retains loyal employees that truly love what they do and where they work. Their flat organization is a unique structure on the agency side, however it promotes independence and empowerment in a world that dislikes being micromanaged.”

In the world of Zion & Zion, “Where Business Meets Creative,” great ideas are created by great people in the context of a great culture—every day.

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Monaco Lange

I read an article called How Emotion Can Help HR Win the Talent.  Since you know me, you will understand why that caught my attention.  The author was Greg Monaco, Founding Partner at Monaco Lange.

So, I contacted Greg and asked if he would do a piece for ROLE MODELS.  He said yes he would and here it is.  Thanks Greg.   I would encourage you to read the piece where I first found Greg.

“It’s one thing to bestow information upon your employees (memos and posters), or to involve them in a conversation (two-way dialogue), but to “move” them is quite different. To move employees means to provide a shot inspiration that will compel them to act. Get enough employees to act, and you can call it a “movement” in the same sense that you’d call it a cultural movement outside the walls of your business. (Think of the “slow food” movement, or the “Tea Party” movement.)

In today’s environment, recruitment and retention are critical issues for companies and numerous studies have proven that employee engagement is a key driver. For example, a brand new report by the Gallup Organization pins the cost of poor employee engagement to businesses at between $450 billion and $550 billion. Yes, that’s billion.

Strangely, many of the support organizations that should be pioneering solutions are oddly silent on this front. Large human capital and management consulting firms do a fine job of important functions like benefits and plan administration, payroll services and business processes, but they’re missing a large portion of what makes a truly successful business-to-employee, or B2E, engagement. True engagement starts with a global strategy and initiatives that create authentic, meaningful dialogue that move people to act. 

BASF gets employees’ attention and delights them in fun ways. NOTE FROM JERRY – DO CLICK ON THE IMAGE AND READ THE ARTICLE.

One recent, real-world example that underscores this huge marketplace opportunity is BASF. Its large employee base didn’t understand what the company stood for and held negative perceptions about how the company stacked up on benefits versus its competitors. So, BASF (in conjunction with my firm) launched a multi-pronged campaign entitled you@BASF that went far beyond a typical internal communications effort. It was more akin to a bold consumer-facing marketing effort with inspiring videos, a sophisticated lifestyle magazine, an engaging website—all designed to rally employees around the idea that BASF truly is a great place to work. This created positive movement in their behaviors and actions, as they became more aligned around the ideas. The results were convincing—after the campaign launched, a full 63 percent of BASF employees agreed that the company’s programs strongly factored into their decision to stay, up from 48 percent three years prior. That’s movement.

What We Do, Weber Shandwick

Leslie Gaines-Ross, Chief Reputation Strategist of Weber Shandwick, explains that if you cede a bit of control of your brand to your employees, empowering them to spread influence via social channels, the benefits can be tremendous. It can exponentially increase your brand reach, visibility, affinity, web traffic, conversions—all of these elements mean movement.

Two major corporations found interesting ways to bring this idea to life.

Hyatt Thrive

Hyatt Hotels & Resorts successfully tied employee engagement in a corporate responsibility platform called Hyatt Thrive. The program tackles the heady and complex issue of sustainability, but frames it in more accessible terms, using a Facebook-like interface to leverage the power of employee-to-employee influence to move people into action.

“Hyatt Thrive builds on our rich history of community engagement and environmental stewardship and is a global framework for teams of passionate people to bring to life local projects that benefit their communities,” said Mark Hoplamazian, president and chief executive officer for Hyatt Hotels Corporation.

It’s a big idea and platform that has deep, local relevancy, which is a key to movement-making.

Hyatt’s My Sustainability Plan

The retail behemoth Walmart chose a truly unconventional approach, launching a program that was co-created and co-owned by Walmart employees themselves. The global platform, dubbed “My Sustainability Plan (MSP),” moved Walmart’s two million associates in 28 countries into action to choose goals most relevant to their own lives. On the platform, they track and share those goals—from eating right and exercising daily to cutting their electric bill—in an effort to become accountable for their own sustainability.

To make the movement grow further and faster, Walmart agreed to share the underpinnings of the program with any organization that requests a license. More than 35 organizations have used it, including Unilever and UPS.

If it’s within your budgetary realities, your organization should be capitalizing on not just communications or open dialogue, but in developing a system of engagement that moves employees into action. This will have your employees believing and evangelizing your company and, in the long run, will drive recruiting and retention.”

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Mindvalley is a company committed to empowering its audience to live healthier and happier lives, to unleash their fullest potential and to be extraordinary. The innovative organization is out to change education globally and provide personal growth for all levels, and it does this by building successful app companies, learning platforms, and online academies on mindfulness, wellbeing, fitness, spirituality, coaching, productivity and more.

But it’s really the company’s unique culture that makes Mindvalley one of the top private companies to work for today; the workplace spirit fuels growth and accelerates productivity.

As a business that also focuses on employee happiness, Mindvalley continuously invests in its company culture to build a team that is creative, productive, innovative, and most importantly – that feels truly valued as employees. The company has won numerous accolades for this, including WorldBlu’s Most Democratic Workplace eight years running, and a certification by Great Place to Work® from 2014-2015. It’s also a featured organization on GameChangers 500.

So what’s Mindvalley’s secret? Focusing on happiness, growth, abundance and cultivating a mutual mission for positive impact. Mindvalley founder, Vishen Lakhiani, explained the science of hacking and transforming work culture in his keynote at the 925 Festival of Work in Helsinki, Finland.

How else would the team be able to manage 200 world-class employees from over 40 different countries and backgrounds in one office? 😉

Here are five practices that any company can instantly replicate to boost productivity and happiness in the workplace, as developed, studied and proven by Mindvalley in the past 10 years.

1) Create a Code of Conduct that represents the values of your team and your company

Mindvalley works (and lives) by a Code of Awesomeness, which enlists the top 10 values the team has collectively voted for – such as the importance of positive thinking, integrity, gratitude and taking responsibility for words and actions.

This is reflected in the decisions employees make within their teams, their businesses, their partnerships, and when dealing with customers. Every new hire the company recruits takes this oath in front of and together with the entire company at the weekly Awesomeness Report (more about that below).

Mindvalley has this code up on a wall in every office as a reminder to everyone on the values that they’ve agreed to serve and represent as a member of Mindvalley. As a global brand, the company’s impact on humanity comes first on its list of priorities, followed by its customers and its employees. That’s why the team is always looking for high-impact ways to contribute and challenge the status quo – Mindvalley style.

As a business, Mindvalley’s main drive for breaking revenue and profit records is being able to launch and execute even more ideas and new businesses that can meet its mission to touch a billion lives and empower people to be extraordinary through healthier, happier lifestyles and belief systems.

2) Have a weekly company-wide meeting to celebrate your achievements and show gratitude to the people you worked with

And have fun with it! Mind valley has a weekly Awesomeness Report or A-Report for short (covered in a feature on BBC News) , a weekly gathering where team members celebrate the accomplishments of all employees for the past week, be it to applaud key staffers and teams, reinstate the group vision or update the entire company on targets met.

The A-Report

A-Report is designed around the spirit of fun, happiness and gratitude. It’s like a talk-show version of a town hall meeting, as the meeting is usually hosted by Mindvalley’s CEO. The A-Report also celebrates personal accomplishments – someone may have just launched a blog, had a kid, and received a certificate for community service.

And when someone or a team has broken a company record, they get to ring the Bell of Awesomeness (which may become the Gong of Awesomeness soon!).

3) Have interest in your employees’ life goals with the 3 Most Important Questions

Every Mindvalley employee is introduced to the concept of “life-planning”, so that they consider the quality of their life over their career. This is done through an exercise called the “3 Most Important Questions To Ask Yourself”.

In it employees list out their goals, visions and desires based on the questions: What do I want to experience in my life? How do I want to grow in my life? How do I want to contribute to humanity and the world?

These lists are printed out and posted up on the Mindvalley Dream Wall, a blueprint into their souls as they map out their journey for the company to see.

The beauty about this exercise is that many end up ticking things off their list much sooner because they’ve now showcased it to the world as a form of commitment to themselves, and have a support system from the rest of the company to encourage them.

Managers also use these lists to get to know their team members so they understand better how to lead and grow their team members based on what motivates and drives them.

The “3 Most Important Questions To Ask Yourself” exercise has been taken by many teams, companies and even schools worldwide, and can be taken on the Mindvalley website.

4) Celebrate the diversity in your team

The best way Mindvalley instills diversity is through global hiring. The team of 200 employees (in total) come from 40 different countries. When there are more than 5 employees representing a nation or a culture, a Culture Day is dedicated to them.

Because of this, there’s a Culture Day pretty much every month – Indian Day, Canadian Day, Lithuanian Day, USA Day, Romanian Day, Latin American Day and so on!

The company also expands its celebration of diversity beyond nations and cultures: it hosts an annual Female Appreciation Day and Male Appreciation Day; where team members of the opposite sex are tasked with showing extra appreciation and love to the other to celebrate and thank them :-)

Malaysian Day 2015

Lithuanian Day 2015

Canadian Day 2015

Indian Day 2015

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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 jerry.wagner.ioc@gmail.com.

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.

CEO, Academy of Culture Ambassadors.