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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.

November, 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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In October ROLE MODELS we featured Radio Flyer. They just earned top honors from Forbes Magazine as one of the best places to work in the country. The rating looked at things like credibility, fairness and camaraderie among co-workers. One interesting note about the wagon maker is that they pay their employees 50 cents per mile if they ride their bike to work. If you missed the October issue, check it out.

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Happiness Videos

Shawn Achor’s Famous Video
Shawn Achor’s Famous Video

We all know about the Shawn Achor and his famous happiness presentation at Ted Talk on The Happy Secret to Better Work. Shawn chose more talks he loves about making work and life a happier place. You can see eleven videos all in one place.

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Culture Focus Becomes Addictive

Judy Varner is CEO of the Nebraska Humane Society in Omaha, Nebraska. On July 3, 2015 she sent this email to me: “I am wondering if our HR person and I could sit down and talk to you about what you are doing and some of the challenges we are facing? Would that be possible and if so, what does your calendar look like.” That started what Judy now has to say.

Judy Varner
Judy Varner, Nebraska Humane Society

“I consider myself very lucky - I love coming to work. I love animals and love helping them. Our staff is extremely passionate about our mission and their work but clear communications, respect, and silos are still issues. I know that if we could harness their passion and change our culture, we would be able to make even bigger differences in the lives of animals and the people who love them. I decided it was time to do something to get this fixed. I had tried different approaches in the past but never achieved what was needed and gave up. As I was pondering all of this, I remembered receiving an e-mail from Jerry about something called Inspired Organizational Cultures. That opened a whole new world to me. I love Culture ROLE MODELS and have read the several articles and watch the videos that Jerry sends along to me. I’m also now reading the Harvard Business Review! I see what our future could become.

Nebraska Humane Society

We are starting small and we are already seeing some results: for the first time, we are registered to have employees take the Best Places to Work Survey to help give us insights on areas to address first; employees have taken the Positive Practices Survey; I have formed a Culture Energizer group to help on the journey and they have started to work to define our values; we have eleven employees participating in the Culture Champions meeting on November 12. Soon we will start classes for employees to learn about practices for positive workplaces. Our staff is brilliant and capable of so much more. Give us some time but we will succeed to have a staff who feels valued, listened to and involved. The animals and their families will be the big winners. The passion of everyone will fuel the future and it will be amazing.”

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They Are An Inspiration

Agriculture Works Here.

When I was at Bellevue University in charge of the Employee Wellbeing Institute we held conferences on Employee Wellbeing. Two ladies from Farm Credit Services in Omaha were speakers and they were always inspirational. The ladies are Lynette Campbell and Sharlyn Konfrst.

We are so lucky to have now captured Lynette and Sharlyn on video. You will want to watch it for sure. They are delightful, inspiring, and they will motivate you to think about their practices for employee happiness. This is 26 minutes that would be beneficial for every current and future employees.

Lynette Campbell and Sharlyn Konfrst, Farm Credit Services of America.

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Guess who has all these awards?

The answer is Namasté Solar, an employee-owned cooperative based in Colorado with branch offices in New York and California. Namasté Solar designs, installs, and maintains solar electric systems for commercial, non-profit, government and residential customers throughout the United States.

This remarkable company has installed over 3,500 solar electric systems since they were founded in 2004. Their unique model has attracted an amazing team of over 120 people who are passionate, not just about what they do, but about how they do it.

A typical residential installation
A typical residential installation
A typical commercial installation
A typical commercial installation

Namasté Solar believes that the way the world currently produces energy and conducts business is dangerously unsustainable and in need of radical improvement. The company tagline, “Transforming Energy, Transforming Business,” represents these beliefs.

Namasté Solar’s mission is to propagate the responsible use of solar energy, pioneer conscientious business practices, and create “holistic wealth” for the company’s team and the community at large.

“Holistic wealth” means emphasizing the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts. This concept benefits all stakeholders equitably – customers, employees, investors, communities and the environment. This multi-stakeholder approach is one of the characteristics that allowed Namasté Solar to become a certified B-Corp, a prestigious certification given to companies with a deeper purpose that includes benefiting society and the environment, not just maximizing financial returns.

Namasté Solar strives to make the company’s core values a part of daily vocabulary. These core values include distributed leadership; a co-ownership mentality; F.O.H. (frank, open and honest) communication; fun; long-term thinking; accountability; safety; holistic perspective; entrepreneurialism; and stakeholder balancing.

As an employee-owned cooperative, Namasté Solar’s “Co-Owners” each own a single share of voting common stock. In order to become a Co-Owner, long-term employees must complete a one-year “candidacy” period during which they complete a specialized training curriculum. After completing their candidacy period, Candidates can then petition for Co-Ownership and buy one share for $5,000 via cash or a 4-year share purchase loan. They then receive an equal percentage of the company’s profits based on time spent as a Co-Owner, can participate in democratic stockholder votes, and can run for the company’s Board of Directors.

Co-Owners engage in group discussions at bi-annual company retreats.

Every other month, the company spends an entire day conducting its “Big Picture Meetings,” or BPM’s, where Co-Owners review financial statements, gauge progress against strategic goals, engage in big picture discussions, and make decisions. The company also conducts two off-site retreats per year, usually up in the mountains near Boulder and Denver, where high level business, strategic, and cultural issues are addressed.

As a democratic workplace, Namasté Solar practices “extreme transparency” whereby all company information (including salaries) and meetings are open to all Candidates and Co-Owners. Ultimately, with an employee-owned cooperative culture, extreme transparency, and democratic workplace practices, Namasté Solar creates higher retention, better quality work, better customer service, and a track record of tapping into a collective brain trust to find better solutions to inevitable small business challenges.

Fostering a healthy and fun culture is also very important to all “Namastaliens,” and the company has its own language, fun rituals, and history. In addition to the one-year candidacy training curriculum (with a 20-point checklist) that helps Co-Owners learn about the culture, the company provides regular forums for open group interaction, an internal “intranet” bulletin board, and an internal book club that reads and discusses books and articles on relevant business topics.

A happy, freshly tattooed, new Co-Owner at Namasté Solar.
A happy, freshly tattooed, new Co-Owner at Namasté Solar.

Most of the company’s rituals were created organically and include such examples as ringing a bell when a sale is made (after which the entire office cheers and applauds), drinking a cup of koolaid and getting a (temporary) company tattoo upon becoming a Co-Owner, using an inflatable purple cow as a revolving prize for people to keep at their desks, and playing certain games at the company’s bi-annual retreats. There are even hand signals and catch-phrases used at meetings, to utilize time more efficiently.

One of the company’s core values, “Distributed Leadership,” relies on everyone throughout the organization to positively recognize contributions to the company’s mission and operations. Big Picture Meetings include the reading aloud of positive customer feedback, plus the opportunity for team members to express appreciation for each other’s efforts. Each office also has recognition bulletin boards, where kudos and congratulations can be posted.

So what’s next for Namasté Solar? The future is currently very bright as the company continues its rapid growth trajectory after almost 11 years in business. It recently opened offices in New York and California, and is expecting to grow from 120 to 150 team members by mid-2016, in addition to raising up to $5M in additional capital to fund its growth.

Ultimately, Namasté Solar has grown very rapidly while still making a healthy profit every year for the past 10 years (except its start-up year) while also giving 10% of those annual profits back to the community (totaling over $800k from 2005-2014) in the form donated solar electric systems, paid volunteer days, or cash grants from the Namasté Solar Foundation.

The traditional or conventional way of running a business hasn’t changed much in the last century. Namasté Solar, however, believes that the old school business model is in dire need of innovation to better meet the demands of the 21st century and contribute to a healthier and more sustainable economy. By continuing to achieve financial and holistic success over 10+ years, Namasté Solar is hoping to set a positive example and demonstrate that being a certified B-Corp, an employee-owned cooperative, and a highly transparent and democratic workplace is indeed a better way to do business than the norm.

The 2015 retreat
The 2015 retreat.

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Ten years running

Dixon Schwabl

With more than 200 local, regional and national clients, and 95 employees, Dixon Schwabl (DS) is one of the major players in the advertising world. The Rochestor, New York-based agency has grown significantly (and strategically) since its inception in 1987, and the company’s core values of respect, integrity, teamwork, community and fun are a major contributor to its success.

Reflected in all of the company’s work (which includes print and broadcast media development and placement, media relations, event management and execution, market research, web development, and marketing consultation), Dixon Schwabl’s values have helped lead it to become one of the Top 25 Best Small & Medium Workplaces in America for ten years running, including ranking No. 1 in 2008 and 2010.

Employees jump with joy with the award.
Employees jump with joy with the award.

In addition, Inc. magazine named the firm one of the 2010 Top 20 Small Company Workplaces in the country, and PR News called it one of the Top Places to Work in PR in 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Dixon Schwabl has also been ranked on the annual Inc. 500/5000 in 2011 and 2015 exclusive ranking of the fastest-growing private companies.

Dixon Schwabl’s mission is summed up by CEO Lauren Dixon as such: “We make it happen: We absolutely love what we do. Our energies and passions generate innovative, integrated marketing solutions that drive meaningful results. Our partnerships with the clients and communities we serve make a real difference. Together—anything is possible.”

So what makes Dixon Schwabl so special? For one thing, the company regularly recognizes employees with impromptu celebrations marking birthdays, pregnancies, anniversaries, professional news, account wins, awards, client happenings—you name it. Employee efforts are applauded every week during the agency meeting, and all employees participate in a profit-sharing program, Dixon Schwabl’s way of thanking team members for the great work they do every day. The agency continued its profitability in 2015, and rewarded employees for their role in the firm’s success.

In addition, the peer-nominated Jaz Janie Award celebrates the Dixon Schwabl employee of the month, and a spouse of the month is recognized for his or her support—not just at home, but often in the agency as well. The agency also thanks clients for being such an important part of all that we do by sending them a branded birthday gift and card signed by all team members.

Employees go red.
Employees go red.

It isn’t uncommon to walk through the agency’s front door and find a party. With activities, impromptu fun, Ice Cream Tuesdays, Columbus Day Clam Bakes, holiday office decorating, Super Bowl squares, baby pools, Final Four brackets—everything is celebrated at Dixon Schwabl! When the agency learns of big client or agency news, it isn’t unusual to find employees gathered for an all-agency celebration in the lobby. Teams within the agency also celebrate employees’ personal and professional milestones.

Whether employees are cheering on the house band, an agency scavenger hunt or the team that will help win the Super Bowl squares, there’s fun around every corner at Dixon Schwabl. The agency’s sports teams rival those of major corporations, with indoor soccer, indoor beach volleyball, softball, yoga and exercise clubs, as well as an indoor putting contest and impromptu games.

Every week, all employees gather for an agency meeting to share recent work, thank other team members and hear agency news. Employees also gather once each quarter for a town-hall meeting led by CEO Lauren Dixon and President Mike Schwabl, who answer employee questions and address any concerns.

The company is also committed to the Rochester community, and supports a number of key charities in the region and nationally. The agency donates nearly 10,000 hours annually to area not-for-profits, and employees are encouraged to share their charitable endeavors with the entire agency at meetings. This year, a team prepared a themed dinner at the Ronald McDonald House, participated in the American Lung Association stair climb, the American Heart Association charitable walk, and many other efforts. In addition to agency-sponsored charitable events, employees can take up to eight hours of paid time off as part of the Make It Happen Day benefit. This is above and beyond the employee’s annual PTO allotment. Employees can also select and suggest a charity to receive funds from Dixon Schwabl’s “Jeans Friday” dress down days, where employees give a $5 or $10 donation on Friday.

Employee Band.
Employee Band.

Music also has a role at Dixon Schwabl. As personal and professional lives shift, so does the agency’s rock-band roster. At varying times (and sometimes all at once), the company has housed a rock band, a ska band and an acoustic duo/trio/quartet, depending on the day. While the members may change, the bands’ popularity among employees and clients has remained. A client visiting the agency from out of town actually called CEO Lauren Dixon and requested that the band be the sole entertainment at an outdoor picnic. Last year, the agency band performed at a client holiday open house. It set up on the second-floor area overlooking the lobby and delighting the crowd with holiday favorites. The band performs at charitable events and continues to evolve with its musical styles and funky vibe.

As a family-owned business, Dixon Schwabl always opens its doors to friends and extended family. Employees are encouraged to balance their personal and professional lives, so all families are invited to join in on any of Dixon Schwabl’s on- and off-site activities, as well as the agency’s sports teams and rock band.

Dixon Schwabl is also committed to employee health and wellness, with on-site health screenings and an annual flu clinic. The agency was one of the first companies in Rochester to host a blood-pressure screening for all employees and welcomed staff from University of Rochester Medical Center to provide free screenings and information on how to improve overall health and wellness. The company also encourages employees to propose and implement any wellness program that fits the company strategy.

J. P. Morgan Corporate Challenge

This year, team members measured steps, tried new yoga classes and entered a record number of runners in the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge.

By committing to health and wellness, fun, philanthropic efforts and much more, Dixon Schwabl has proven the power of a strong, uplifting company culture and community.

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Getting to Know Warren Wright

Warren Wright is one our terrific teachers. His topic is Millennials. His video is exceptional and you will want to watch it.

Warrens Video The Surprising Influence of Generations in Organizations.

“For this summer’s vacation, my wife and I spent a week hiking in Utah. It was so beautiful that it renewed our interest in spending more time outdoors. It also reminded me how it is part of my core self to find the hiking trails that are least-travelled. We did our homework, studying topographical maps, got up early and tracked down obscure trailheads. On one hike, Cable Mountain in Zion National Park, we hiked 13 miles of stunning views and only saw one couple during our 7-hours on the trail.

Warren at Arches National Park, Utah
Warren at Arches National Park, Utah.

It has always been part of my nature to seek out the road less travelled and to find my own path. Part of this was feeling that I didn’t fit into the mainstream, that I was different. Born as a GenXers in 1961, I learned early that there was always something different about me that set me apart from the mainstream. For example, I recall in kindergarten teachers spending extra time ‘observing’ my left-handed writing. There was a time not too long before I was a child that left-handers were considered “not normal”, and attempts were made to correct them so they would write with their right hand by tying their left hand behind their backs!

Warren and Jennifer Wright, Bryce Canyon
Warren and Jennifer Wright, Bryce Canyon.

I was a wrestler in high school—not exactly a mainstream sport. Wrestling is characterized by unbearably grueling practices, cutting weight at just the time you need calories most, and then a six minute match that is so physically enduring, it feels like it last 90-minutes.

I had always been a good student in high school, but when I got to college, it was a shock to me that there were so many people that were so much smarter than me. I failed Latin and struggled to get C’s. But I found a different trail— I was interested in music and pop culture, and became General Manager of the college radio station. I had a knack for leading teams, communicating a vision and centering people around a common purpose—in essence, leading people.

Making the Impossible Happen
Making the Impossible Happen.

My first job out of college was sales, and I was terrified by it. Sales was hard — a rollercoaster ride of disappointments, punctuated with an occasional success. I was good at it, but not the best.

Over the past twenty years, I have served the role of salesperson, sales manager, senior executive, business owner, and consultant. I never had a mentor, but instead, have learned from those who are successful, and sometimes those who aren’t. Now I run a research and consulting business that helps companies understand the impact that generations and social change have on their business. Sound unusual? It is. It is the road less travelled and I feel at home.”

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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.

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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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