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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.

 

COR featured on AMI: Our Community

In August 2018, COR was featured in a documentary that aired to a national audience highlighting our approach to services. A special thank you to the AMI team and Halter Media for capturing our story so beautifully! We are very appreciative.

To learn more: https://www.ami.ca/category/our-community/media/creative-options-regina

People experiencing disability often don’t have the same options afforded to them as everyone else. Through personalized support services and the Gentle Teaching philosophy, Creative Options Regina aims to change that.

I have seen tremendous transformations in the people I support

I, Jusinda, have had the opportunity to work with people who each have their own unique abilities. I have been able to become creative in a variety of different ways to create a barrier free environment for the individuals I support. The training I received — Gentle Teaching and application has given me the tools to give value to relationships. I have come to have more compassion for individuals that have been in the system for most of their lives. It can be very complex; respect is not complex. Since I have been able to apply the skills I have acquired at COR I’ve come to realize our time and attention are our most valuable resources as people. So when we choose to focus our time and attention on people, and with that compassion, beautiful things can grow.

its what i look up to

I have seen tremendous transformations in the people I support at COR with Gentle Teaching tools I have utilized. I have had the ability to learn from mistakes and grow through relationships. I have learned that relationships are not easy in this context, but I have chosen to give my time and attention to the individuals that I serve because I genuinely care about their progress and passions. I truly pride myself in being a part of the COR family, because COR is not your typical 9-5 job, as a support worker my job has taught me to be patient in the process of growth, and that growth is ongoing. The individuals I support at COR are my equals, my friends and the level of passion I see in them are what I look up to. They have shown me more about myself than I ever imagined. Gentle Teaching is effective and in line with my values about the approach taken when having a working relationship with individuals with varying abilities.

 

Jusinda

COR Family Member

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

Gentle Teaching has allowed me to look into myself at what I value.

Gentle Teaching has transformed who I am by leading me to think how I should respond to situations, both while supporting and in my everyday life. When I am supporting I know that Andrew has been in and out of various systems throughout his life and these have largely been negative for him. He has told me many times that COR is his ever-home and loves all the supports and friends he has made since moving into COR. I believe that this is highly due to the philosophy of Gentle Teaching, because it seems to have made the most positive impact on Andrew’s life. Gentle Teaching has allowed me to look into myself at what I value and how it is important to allow people to make their own decisions, even though what I feel would make their decision easier. This is the hardest part of supporting, but also rewarding. When I see the joy on the person’s face when the outcome of their decision is positive it makes me happy knowing that they have accomplished this their own way without feeling like I have overstepped my boundaries by providing advice. This is helping me to become who I aspire to be by allowing me to gain experience in multiple situations in the lives of the individuals I support.

all it takes is just one step

I aspire to have under my belt, vast knowledge and experience in handling my own thoughts about Gentle Teaching. As the philosophy is still fairly new to me, I believe that more organizations would benefit from following this ideology. It has inspired me to bring this to other places I volunteer at. For example, some people who come into a local organization who is working to alleviate homelessness are making poor life choices with alcohol. When I am interacting with these individuals I encourage them that their choices are their own and provide them with possible outcomes for various situations to help them find peace in their choices. This is difficult because policy is not grounded in Gentle Teaching. I find that Gentle Teaching should be presented to more organizations throughout our province and across Canada. Though I have big dreams of making changes within communities, all it takes is some support from one place to make the first stride to incorporating Gentle Teaching into more organizations.

Christopher,

COR Family Member

 

A culture of gentleness has invited me to grow in ways that I’ve never thought needed to.

Throughout my degree thus far, Kinesiology has inspired me to care for people- very similar to how work with COR has initially shaped that for me. The Gentle Teaching philosophy has a unique meaning and purpose in everyone’s lives. To me, it solely means caring for people in a way that puts them before anything else, seeing people as individuals with names, goals and aspirations, and developing a genuine relationship with them. Promoting leadership, compassion and this feeling of contentment seeing others succeed through empowerment within their own lives are attributes that both my degree, and this philosophy have given me in the last few years. What gentle teaching has taught me about love and care for people is that it’s not about maintaining clients, or creating a following; love is about creating meaning, raising each other up to their best place in life, while empathetic and unconditionally accepting in the hard times. Each unique relationship is maintained with consistency, trust and faith in each other.

I recall a shift in my perception with an important lesson learned within this last year- For as long as I have been enrolled in post-secondary education, I have contemplated personal training and following that path in some regard. Although, observing the way trainers interact with their “clients” has slowly shown me that I could never become complacent with displaying such little compassion for another person. I have grown into the type of person that puts a name to that client, is interested in their goals, their triumphs and their struggles. I’ve grown into the type that strives to create a relationship with those I may be working with and with this gentle approach- I do not have power over you, we have power together. Accepting the gentle teaching philosophy has shown me the importance of empowering those same people to be leaders and providing them the tools to become leaders of their own lives, but also being able to celebrate interdependence with people closest to them or people within the community to create their own sense of meaning.

“It isn’t what we do or say that will be remembered

Gentle Teaching has transformed who I am in many ways. It hasn’t changed who I am, but rather challenged me to find growth within myself. Growth is not an easy thing to accept as the principle of it insinuates the need to step out of a mindset we so comfortably accept. Therefore, growth cannot be confused with change. The culture of gentleness has invited me to grow in ways that I’ve never thought needed to- my interactions have become warm and welcoming; I have learned how crucial it is to be present in each moment with people. My focus is on building companionship with those I serve and interact with. An unconditional amount of patience allows me to value a person for who they are and not what they may be going through, or traits others may have pushed them away for. The philosophy of Gentle Teaching was once described to me as not simply just a hat that allows us to be gentle, able to be worn and hung up when we so please, it’s a feeling in your heart that is within everyone. Above all else, this culture has shown me how powerful it can be to maintain kindness, for it isn’t what we do or say that will be remembered, it is always how we make people feel.

 

Sawyer,

COR Family Member

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.

The pillars of Gentle Teaching (safe, loved, loving, and engaged) have taught me the difference between equal and equitable.

Dr. John McGee’s Gentle Teaching has transformed the person I am by helping me to understand that everyone deserves the help that they require. This is beneficial to me as I start my internship at a local inner-city school through the University of Regina Faculty of Education. As I start this journey, the teachings of McGee will continue to guide and shape my thought process by helping me to understand that there are reasons behind any action, as well as by helping me recognize the difference between equal and equitable. Together these teachings help me to better support those around me.

The realization that there is a reason behind any action will help to guide me in the future. The importance of recognizing things like attention seeking behaviours helps me to understand that some “negative” behaviours may stem from a negative experience or that a person may be lacking positive attention so they are seeking that attention through behaviours. A key for me to deal with this is to remember the four tools of gentle teaching; presence, words, hands, and eyes. By having a welcoming presence, words of encouragement/recognition and to spread conversation throughout the class, using my body language to show that I am calm and accepting, and my eyes to recognize everyone’s presence I will be able to provide positive attention to all students.

GT has helped me

Along with the tools, the pillars of Gentle Teaching (safe, loved, loving, and engaged) have taught me the difference between equal and equitable. This will guide me in supporting individuals who I serve with COR as well as in school. This is important because the pillars can be used as categories of self-fulfillment. When considering a person’s level of content with their pillars, there may be pillars where that persons level of content is higher than others. This is similar to using a wellness wheel to measure different areas of health like physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. By using the four pillars of gentle teaching I am able to better understand that everyone feels more content and less content in different areas so everyone needs equitable treatment that focuses on the pillar(s) that they need to improve the most in order to make that individual feel fulfilled in all four pillars. Where as equal treatment would focus on helping everyone progress in the same way without considering individual needs. Considering the four pillars will help me to make sure that people feel fulfilled in those areas and are able to say “in this place I feel safe, I feel loved, I am able to love and I am engaged with the people and things around me”. This helps me to better understand that everyone needs support in their own specific way.

Gentle Teaching has helped to transform me into the person I am today. The teachings help me to better comprehend the idea that every person needs a different form of support. Through critical thinking I am able to understand that there are reasons for any action and that people deserve to have support that suits their needs instead of one uniform approach. Gentle Teaching has helped me to grow as a teacher, support person and most importantly as a person.

 

Andrew,

COR Family Member

 

I was inspired by these interactions and how the 4 pillars of gentle teaching were incorporated into everyday interactions almost seamlessly.

Before I started working at Creative Options Regina I had never heard of the term “Gentle Teaching.”

I had never worked with people with disabilities before – and to be quite honest – I was afraid.

I was afraid because my entire life society told me to disregard and disengage; to completely forget about what it means to show compassion, friendship, and above all else, acceptance to those with disabilities. After taking Gentle Teaching Level 2 the first week working in the office I can’t tell you that I was “changed” or “different,” in fact I was quite the same. Gentle Teaching started to shape my inner self through the interactions and observations of those around me: the supports, the office team, and, most importantly, the people we serve.

I was inspired by these interactions and how the 4 pillars of gentle teaching were incorporated into everyday interactions almost seamlessly. How gentle teaching opened this door to interactions I had never thought I would WANT to have. Slowly, I was able to incorporate myself into the lives of the people we serve, learning about them, caring about them. I also didn’t realize this was happening outside of COR with my daily interactions with family and friends. Gentle Teaching doesn’t happen over night and it is something you can never master. But, you learn everyday a little bit more and grow a little bit more. That is what I love about Gentle Teaching and that is how I move forward to engage, to love, to be loved, and provide safety to all those around me.

 

Tom

COR Family Member