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Two organizations prove that nice guys can finish first!

Mastermind Toys and Creative Options Regina

September 17, 2018
Your Workplace Sept-Oct 2018
While they may not seem that similar on the surface, Mastermind Toys and Creative Options Regina (COR) are two organizations proving that when you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of your clientele. One is a toy retailer and one is a non-profit providing services to people with disabilities, but both focus on creating a warm and caring atmosphere and building a culture based on shared values.

The result? These two organizations have earned exemplary reputations with the communities they serve and enjoy unusually high staff retention rates for their industries.

Mastermind Toys

Mastermind has a unique philosophy for selling children’s toys and books. By fostering an educational approach, the company enriches not only the customer experience but the employee experience as well. In fact, they enjoy an average employee tenure of close to seven years — an almost unheard-of retention rate in retail stores.

Ryan Thorson, store manager of Mastermind Toys Terra Losa in Edmonton, Alberta, believes that the company’s workplace culture promotes a fun and inviting atmosphere that lives up to their motto: “We take play seriously.”

“I wanted to find a company where I could not only pursue career advancement,” Thorson says, “but also have it be a place that shares my values… a family-like atmosphere and a track record for treating its employees with fairness and respect.”

Mastermind was originally opened in 1984 by brothers Andy and Jon Levy in Toronto to sell educational software to families excited about their new home computers. Two years later, they opened a store in the Ontario Science Centre. Now with 60 stores across the country, and growing, Mastermind’s CEO, Jon Levy, understands the impact that his company can have on the communities where the stores are located.

In 2015, the company launched a partnership with WE (formerly Free the Children), a charity that supports youth education in Canada and overseas. In 2016, Mastermind stores raised $400,000, but the initiative isn’t just about giving back to the community; it’s also about engaging employees.

“Anne [Baston, vice-president of marketing] and I started to talk about the charitable side of our business and what we could do to broaden our horizons from the standpoint of how our employees were engaged charitably,” says Levy.

After much deliberation and brainstorming, the company selected WE. Its educational mandate plays well with Mastermind’s objective to sell toys that educate.

When they launched the initiative, many of the company’s younger employees were already familiar with WE from their school days. Selecting a charity with broad appeal, and that their employees were already comfortable with, made for a smooth, easy transference of enthusiasm from the top down. To drive home the impact that they are making through their charitable efforts, Mastermind takes managers of the stores that raise the most funds to Kenya on a yearly basis.

“Behind every great manager is up to 60 employees that get that store to greatness. Two store managers went with me and my wife, Karyn, who also works in the organization, the first year. The rest of their teams back in Canada got a fantastic reward package … Even though they didn’t go on the trip, they were highly congratulated with lots of prizing.”

Levy is always on the lookout for ways to connect with his employees. He started creating videos for the staff that, in addition to educating about a product, also introduces him to all employees in a playful, easygoing manner. This, in turn, helps break down uncomfortable hierarchy in the organization.

“Our inner kid, the way we like to play and what we think resonates with the community, really comes through in a personal way [with this] video program… so, it’s kind of fun,” he says. “When I visit stores, the newly hired staff say, ‘I know you, you’re on the video.’”

“Every store you go into, whether it’s out in B.C. or in Nova Scotia, it feels like family,” says Baston. “There’s a community feeling to all of the stores. Despite the fact that we’re growing… Mastermind does a really good job of hiring people with similar values. You can feel that when you walk into the stores, into the home office. I think that makes it very different from other retailers.”

Creative Options Regina (COR)

A culture of gentleness is woven into all aspects of the organization at COR — not just in how the individuals and families COR serves are treated, but in the people it hires and how each employee is mentored.

Michael Lavis, executive director, says that their method of “gentle teaching” is not specific to disability but rather can be applied to all people constructing supports for marginalized populations. “There are a handful of organizations — I think there are four of us now in Canada — working on this philosophy… which is really the foundation, the bedrock of the work that we do. And this is rooted in whether or not a person feels safe and valued — putting relationships at the core of care giving,” says Lavis.

The company is the seventh-largest care provider in Saskatchewan and employs 200 staff who serve 20% of the most challenging cases in the province’s service delivery system. Like other service providers, COR is contracted by the government to provide personalized support services for people with disabilities. What differentiates them from other providers, though, is the intentional shift they made to focus on their employees — the caregivers.

“By making that shift — by making sure we are nurturing our caregivers and that our employees are feeling cared for — what ends up happening is they give the utmost care to [our clients],” says Lavis. “So, it’s shifting the focus as an organization to our employees — to what the employee experience looks like, what the employee wants, what they need from us to feel supported and how we can really understand what is meaningful to our employees.”

Organizational culture is a popular topic these days, but Lavis challenges people to go one step further and work on shared values, as he feels that that has the greatest influence on culture. “What drives culture is value alignment. That’s something we’ve focused on, understanding the values of our employees … and where we see that alignment and shared common purpose,” he says.

In the Saskatchewan disability services sector the employee turnover rate was around 60% in 2015. By contrast, the turnover rate at COR has remained at a steady 9 – 14% since the company’s inception.

Creating a caring staff atmosphere is about understanding who is working for you and what is important to them. For most employees, a fair wage is critical. But for many that is only a small piece of a larger picture. There are other crucial factors, such as whether or not employees feel engaged and if their ideas and suggestions are listened to and valued. At COR, they have found that exploring employees’ passions and helping them bring those passions to life in the workplace is key.

“We have to have that conversation with our employees, because we need to know what it is that they want and need and whether that is something we are able to provide,” says Lavis.

Helping employees bring their passions into the workplace enables them to impart important life skills. For example, one COR employee who loves cooking offered to teach other employees to cook. As the average staffers’ age is 28, this is a skill that some of them may lack. COR helped the employee develop a monthly cooking class with regular attendance of 10-15 staff, who can now pass that skill onto COR clients.

Lavis says they plan to develop an art initiative next. The idea was brought to him by two employees who wanted to share their passion for art. “It’s a pivotal moment,” says Lavis. “A matter of us saying, ‘Yeah. I’d love to help you. How are we going to do this?’

“It’s easy to think of barriers of why they can’t do it. And that takes the wind out of their sails. But, by saying, ‘I love this idea. We just have to think it through a little bit more. Let’s talk.’ — Then, they are motivated and energized, and you know what? [Here we are now] developing an art studio. There were lots of barriers, but we have been able to work through [them] to be able to see it realized.”

Lavis believes that a customer-centric focus has actually harmed many companies. “People tend to focus on the customer and forget about their employees,” he says. “I think that, whether it’s a for-profit or not-for-profit business, if we want to provide the utmost care for those we are contracted to provide services to, that starts with us caring for our employees. If they feel well cared for, they are going to provide great care.”

 

Click here to view on the Your Workplace website.

 

Supporting at COR has made me approach life at a slower pace and truly take in my surroundings

Gentle Teaching has transformed the person I am and aspire to be by making me more personally aware of who I am and who I want to be. Through my time at COR I have truly learnt the meaning of empathy, as opposed to sympathy. It is easy to be sympathetic towards someone and just coat situations with nice words so everyone is happy; it’s another to understand why someone feels that way and put yourself in their position to see the entire picture from their perspective.

she’s with COR, and COR is family

Supporting at COR has made me approach life at a slower pace and truly take in my surroundings and understand complex situations. It has allowed me to view problems from all perspectives to get a grasp on what the next step should be without making a rash, quick decision. We live in such a fast-paced society and sometimes forget to sit back and take it all in. The people I support have taught me how important friendships are and how valuable a good friend is. These relationships that have evolved over the years have truly become more than a “client” and “worker” relationship; I consider these people my family which is one of my favorite perks of being a support worker at COR. One of the girls I support said it best when she was standing up for another COR individual by saying, “she’s with COR, and COR is family.” This small, and relatively simple quote truly warmed my heart and sums up my time with this wonderful organization. My time at COR has truly allowed me to appreciate the little things in life like what a true friendship is.

 

-Shelby B.

My time at COR

Proud to be a 2018 Saskatchewan Top Employer

On January 24th, 2018, COR became a TOP Employer in Saskatchewan! We are proud to receive this recognition and are truly grateful for all those who have supported us on our journey! A special THANK YOU to our 185+ team of young, passionate professionals who are dedicated to nurturing a culture of compassion in the work place. We too are grateful to our partners, funders, supporters, family members and the people we serve for their continued support. I invite you to read our story below…

Take a peek at COR’s organizational profile online on Eluta.

Read more about Canada’s Top 100 here.

SHSAtv: The First Steps to Mental Health in the Workplace

COR is proud to be recognized by the Service and Hospitality Safety Association (SHSA) for our efforts to incorporate Mental Health within our Safety Management System.  To learn more about Mental Health in the Workplace, watch their SHSAtv video segment.

…..

Lisa Chavady, SHSA’s Senior Advisor will guide you through the first four steps to implementation, from gaining leadership commitment, conducting a baseline assessment, devising a plan, to measuring and revising.  Remember, what works for one organization may not work for another.  Find out what is required at YOUR organization, and do what works for you!

Special Guests Experts:

  • Elizabeth Rankin-Horvath, CSA Group Project Manager for the development of the National Standard of Canada on Psychological Health & Safety in the Workplace
  • Rory McCorriston, Mandy Boersch & Kristyn White from Creative Options Regina, who tell a first-hand story of how they have successfully integrated the mental health aspect into their safety management system 

To learn more, visit the SHSA Website.

 

A Culture of Gentleness

The true integrity that Gentle Teaching is related to creates an atmosphere where people are truly loved, feel safe and can embrace a culture of gentleness. Given these elements of John McGee’s philosophy of Gentle Teaching as teams of support people at Creative Options Regina we have created positive places for supports and the people who we serve to grow together. My personal contributions to my team’s culture of gentleness relate to true caring for the woman I support. They are fostering positive relationships between her and the team who supports her, including myself, as well as promoting independence in unique ways. These elements of support help to create a culture of gentleness where everyone feels safe and loved.

Creating and maintaining good relationship among the team and with Angie is extremely important when considering the support to an individual and support to Support relationships, as well as the inter-reliance of both relationships. Coming into my employment opportunity with Creative Options Regina I thought that maintaining so many positive relationships was going to be difficult. This was not the case because the nature of Gentle Teaching with the four pillars (safe, loved, loving, and engaged) and the four tools (presence, words, hands, and eyes) helps everyone to maintain positive relationships that help us to better work together to provide support. With everyone working together, bringing ideas, concerns to one another and the ability to be honest with each other creates a positive team atmosphere for us as supports, which in turn results in the ability to provide better support.

Promoting Angie’s own form of independence and what she wants to do, as well as achieving what she wants is one of the best ways of maintaining a culture of gentleness. Whether it is playing dominoes all day or venturing out on the town, it is important that the people who we support have the most impute in their every day lives and that we are there to help them — not do for them. Another element that adds to Angie’s form of freedom is creating a home that truly reflects her personality. Whether it is blasting Christmas music in July, helping her decorate her house for holidays, or bringing my guitar, the thing we are there to do is help her achieve what she wants and be her companion every step of the way. Although her way of independence appears different from that of most people, what is important is that we create a culture of gentleness that helps her to be independent in a way that involves help from her friends. After all, the founder of Gentle Teaching John McGee stated:

“Loneliness is not freedom. Decision-Making is not freedom. Independence is not freedom. Autonomy is not freedom. These are only expressions of possible freedom. It is each persons becoming the author of his/her own life-project, but in the context of being-with-others, feeling at home with others, feeling safe within oneself, and feeling connected and engaged with significant others.” (McGee. 2.)

As a support person, I feel that being there for what Angie wants is my biggest contribution to creating a culture of gentleness

As a support person, I feel that being there for what Angie wants is my biggest contribution to creating a culture of gentleness.

Given the kind nature of Gentle Teaching, the goal of creating a culture of gentleness and kindness is made easier if one follows the teachings of John McGee’s philosophy. Two of the ways that I try to encourage this culture of gentleness are by fostering positive relationships between the team of supports, Angie and myself, as well as helping Angie to create her own form of independence. Encouraging this gentle community of people leads to a better experience for anyone who enters Angie’s house and more importantly improves Angie’s quality of life.

 

Andrew, COR Support

References:
McGee, J. Self-Determination as an Expression of Engagement.

 

Casino Night – Support Appreciation at the Artesian

“It’s nice to have money. Especially when I want to buy something big.”

Austin is an example for us all to follow. Austin has set a goal, worked hard to learn the skills, spent the time mastering his skills and finally achieved his goal through persistence. He never once slipped up and was always prepared to try again when a challenge arose. Austin was not afraid to ask for help when he needed it and was always ready to help others with their challenges. When you put your time and effort into a goal, anything is possible!

Austin has been passionate about recycling for as long as he can remember. In his spare time he cleans up his neighborhood, and is always looking for ways to help out the environment. If there is a will there is a way, and Austin’s will is what pushes him to research all the different ways to reduce waste and maintain a healthy planet! That is why a job in the recycling field at Sarcan could not be better suited for him.

passionate about recycling

What started as a self-directed three month work term for his high school work experience class, turned into near full-time paid employment for the summer months. He was 16 when he set his sights on future employment with Sarcan and he is now 18 years of age still passionate and proud about this role.

Austin and his supports have started to notice a change in his self-confidence. His numeracy skills and ability to count and understand money has also improved and he has no problem reading a schedule or earning his own steady paycheck. Much of this success can be attributed to his job at Sarcan and because of this success his independence has also increased. He recognizes that he can set goals for himself and can succeed in attaining those goals. With this new heightened self-awareness and his independence and confidence levels elevating it is my hope that new and exciting opportunities will continue to present themselves to him.

In addition to being a great employee, Austin is learning to be a humbly responsible young man. To be fair, at 18 one doesn’t have a lot of expenses but he manages to save most of his earnings every two weeks. “It’s nice to have money. Especially when I want to buy something big.” He does however splurge with twenty dollars on pay day to celebrate his hard work. At such a young age it is rare to find this level of dedication! Austin’s next chapter in life is sure to be bright.

 

Ben Morris,

Community Education and Outreach

 

“I love cars,” he beamed. “I’d like to work with Monster trucks or clean Nascars. Maybe a mechanic.”

Ted is always on the go! Whether taking an evening to race around town on his bike, or working as a cleaner and detailer for cars and trucks at Morsky; Ted is always on the move. His attention to detail helps make him an extremely gifted artist and his resourceful nature rivals that of Macguiver. In the first couple minutes of getting to know him I learned that Ted is playful and loves to joke around which makes him a good friend and well-rounded teammate.

When asked what his favorite part of working at Morsky is, Ted confidently stated, “saving money for things and [his] boss. I really like to have money for things I want.” Ted is a cleaner and detailer at Morsky and loves being part of the team. “Everyone I work with is really nice to me and when I do a good job, they hook me up with a bonus.” Not a bad gig if I do say so myself.

When the clock strikes 4 pm, Ted’s day isn’t finished. In his spare time he likes to tinker with new projects and fix broken treasures. If he can’t fix and sell it, he finds a way to repurpose it. One of Ted’s most recent projects is a mount for his iPod which fastens to the frame of his new bike. Now he can listen to tunes while he rips around town.

Looking around Ted’s home it is easy to see that Ted is passionate about creating

Looking around Ted’s home it is easy to see that Ted is passionate about creating. When he is not fixing up his ride he can be found drawing video game characters, painting fresh canvasses in his art class, and playing through games on his Xbox. One of Ted’s favorite games is Minecraft; a game where one builds and plays characters of their own design in a world which is also designed by the game player.

Finally, I asked Ted about his dream job. “I love cars,” he beamed. “I’d like to work with Monster trucks or clean Nascars. Maybe a mechanic.” It sounds like any pit crew would be lucky to have your creative vision and playful personality. Thanks Ted!

 

Ben Morris,

Community Education and Outreach

 

Being WITH one another is one of the main lessons I have grown to appreciate since being introduced to Gentle Teaching.

Often when I have the chance to catch up with somebody I have not seen for a while, the question always seems to pop up: “So, where are you working these days?”. This is a funny question for me to answer because when you truly find something that you are passionate about and enjoy doing on a daily basis, it’s no longer considered work – this is how Gentle Teaching has transformed me as a person. After graduating high school, I soon found myself at a job that did not offer any growth for myself as an individual. A cooking job that provided forty hours a week, but had me asking myself if this is really how I want to spend the next however many years of my life, at a job where I simply show up for a nine to five shift, then go home. I can imagine that I was among millions of people who couldn’t wait to be done work to get home and relax, dreading the thought of having to go back the next day. I needed a change, especially knowing that I had much more inside of me than that. COR was an option that I had considered applying for, but was ambiguous about at first. It’s the type of organization that was very unfamiliar to me solely because I was one of many who had the common attitude that people with a disability may be seen as troublesome and based my perception on the idea of their “behaviour”. I took a blind leap into Gentle Teaching and soon realized that a critical part of this culture of gentleness is shedding these beliefs and valuing people for who they are. Now, two years later, I have found myself buried so deep in the lives of the individuals I serve that the thought of not seeing them throughout the week is unnerving.

With COR, I now find myself getting lost in the moment with these individuals that I can honestly call my friends, forgetting about time all-together. From being part of a fast paced, aggressive work environment in the past, to now being a part of a community that practices Gentle Teaching in every aspect in life is truly a blessing. Gentle Teaching has helped me focus on building a sense of companionship and community with those that I serve and that there is no nine to five shift when it comes to being involved in others lives. The relationships you create and maintain with others directly revolves around the time you invest with them, being WITH one another is one of the main lessons I have grown to appreciate since being introduced to Gentle Teaching. This philosophy is truly something special, something you can’t just turn on or off when it fits. I believe it’s the unconditional compassion for others in which we all have inside of us.

 

Sawyer, COR Support