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Why Culture Shock Was a Good Thing for My Organization

An experience that taught me why seeking feedback in unexpected places pays off.

Photo by Nastuh Abootalebi/Unsplash

Years ago, I sent a company-wide memo that was returned to me completely marked up with changes from one of my team members, named Steve. Shocked that he’d send something like this to me, I left my office to confront him at his desk. He was startled, for sure, but that was the idea. My goal was to break the ice and eliminate any tension he may have had, pull up a chair beside him and have a conversation, not as his boss, but as his peer.

That day, I realized that office cultures were changing, and changing for the better.

We as a team decided to make the conscious effort to “flatten” our organization and foster a more collaborative environment. Change does not always have to come from the top. It can—and should—come from any area of an organization. I began thinking about all of the things 1-800-FLOWERS.com, as a company, could be doing to better engage with our team members and encourage a culture in which everyone’s input is valued equally, regardless of rank or tenure. I am proud of the fact that we have several people who have been with our company for upwards of 20 to 30 years. A strong organizational culture not only boosts loyalty but gives team members equity in your company and a vested interest in its growth and success.

A strong organizational culture not only boosts loyalty but gives team members equity in your company and a vested interest in its growth and success.

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An “open door” culture is important in trying to achieve such a goal.  I try to make it a point to go out on the floor as often as I can and go over to someone’s desk to engage them in conversation, to learn about what they’re working on and perhaps get their feedback on a particular project or idea I may be working on. In those conversations, you may find that someone possesses a certain skill set that could make that person an asset to the company in a completely different area. Making yourself accessible and allowing for collaboration is a must when it comes to organizational culture.

At the time I met with Steve, we had already been hosting periodic What’s Up dinners with our newest team members as a way to share and brainstorm new ideas. But I thought, What else could we be doing? Not long after, we implemented a concept called Kultural Kudos as a new currency of sorts to help incentivize and recognize behaviors that have a positive influence on our customers and our culture. Something as simple as recognizing a person for a job well done goes a long way in making them feel appreciated and that they are part of something bigger. I also began sending birthday emails to members of our team, which often helps trigger a dialogue that leads to a discussion of other ideas, which has a positive impact on the company as a whole.

This effort also gave birth to our Emerald Program, which is a leadership development initiative we use to identify and train top leaders within our organization. We keep the group small—20 to 30 employees—and provide them with a chance to learn from, and train with, senior leadership. These Emeralds get together about half a dozen times throughout the year for intensive meetings and seminars. We have been doing this for about seven years now, and more than 90 Emeralds have been promoted or have taken on broader responsibilities within the company. We also host regular Lunch & Learns for our interns, providing them with a similar opportunity to learn from team members and guest speakers.

During last year’s Mother’s Day week, one of our busiest holidays, it was all-hands-on-deck into the weekend at our office. I engaged in a discussion with our social media team about how they use social media stories not only in their own lives, but for the company as well. I learned a lot more about Instagram stories and, in so doing, deepened my relationship with each of them. I got to know several team members even better. Now, when I see them walking down the hallway, I know a great deal more about them and we can have an even more meaningful conversation.

Change doesn’t happen overnight.  It takes time and a willingness to accept that ideas come from team members at all levels of the organization. The key is taking steps to make sure you have several tools in your toolbox that you can deploy, not to control your culture—you can’t—but to influence it.

Jim McCann is the founder and Chairman of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, a leading provider of gifts for all celebratory occasions. In August 2018, McCann’s company, Clarim Holdings, acquired Worth. He now serves as its chairman.

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