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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.

 

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

I love the leader that COR and gentle teaching has enabled me to become!

Gentle Teaching has become a main part of my life. During my university career, I have done many presentations and projects based on gentle teaching because it applies to so many different areas of study; whether it be Psychology or Kinesiology and Health Studies. As Assistant Home Team Leader, I dedicated most of my support times (and outside support times) to making sure the people I support are physically healthy. I continue to do activities to keep the guys active and engaged, but allow them to decide which activities are right for them! I pre-cook and freeze meals so that it is easily accessible for the rest of the team. This is done so that supports aren’t tempted to buy unhealthy food! Since this started, I have continued to encourage others on the team to do the same as well. As a result, the team has all begun to contribute to grocery shopping and cooking wholesome meals. This was not so they could be “fit” or “skinny”, but to better compliment one’s overall quality of life. I am a strong believer in how physical health affects one’s mental health, thus my pursuit of a masters degree in sport and exercise psychology.

what I learned at COR

Although I recently stepped down as Assistant Home Team Leader, I have continued to keep many of the same responsibilities. The title of ATL was not my motivation to be a leader! I will continue to be passionate about caring for the people I support, as that is the foundation of Gentle Teaching. Their companionship and presence in my life is enough to want to help with the quality of it. COR has shown me that I am capable of my own academic accomplishments. Sport and Exercise Psychology is not popular in Canada just yet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t continue to follow my interests and turn them into my passion. Even though I have stepped down from my ATL role, supports still contact me when certain issues arise; they still want to hear my advice and experience. I love this! For the first time, I feel like I am a mentor. I like knowing it is not my leadership status that motivates them to ask me for help. I feel as though they ask because they know I am effective at solving problems while still keeping one’s emotions in mind. It has become a very empowering experience. I love the leader that COR and Gentle Teaching has enabled me to become!

 

Kyla, COR Support

Gentle Teaching has become a main part of my life

Culture of Gentleness: A Promising Practice for Supporting Vulnerable Individuals

Global Regina Click here to watch the interview on Global.

 

CTV Morning LiveClick here to watch the interview on CTV Morning Live.

 

Culture of Gentleness

A culture of gentleness for me has come naturally by genuinely caring for the three gentlemen I serve.

A culture of gentleness for me has come naturally by genuinely caring for the three gentlemen I serve. Since I started at COR almost one year ago I have created relationships with the three guys I serve that without a doubt will last a lifetime. Being able to care for someone on a daily basis and watch them grow as people has been one of the most professionally satisfying accomplishments to date. Watching the look on the guys faces while they do things they love can turn even the worst of days around in a heart beat.

i-strongly-believe-the-culture-of-gentleness-is-created-by-those-who-we-serve

I would have to say I more so reciprocate a culture of gentleness however. To say I create a culture of gentleness would minimize the amount of caring that these individuals show us who come in to serve them. The three guys I support have some of the biggest hearts I have ever met. They will share what ever it is they have with out batting an eye. I strongly believe the culture of gentleness is created by those who we serve.

 

Danny, COR Support

 

2017 Educational Workshop Series

Educational Workshops 2017

Gentle Teaching has transformed the person I am today; I see differently; I speak differently; I touch differently; I vibe differently.

How has Gentle Teaching transformed the person you are or aspire to be?

For the first time in my life, I am employed by a company that has the same philosophies as me and provides countless opportunities and encouragement to dive deeper into an exciting journey of self exploration and self development. I will be forever appreciative for this experience.

Gentle Teaching has transformed the person I am today; I see differently; I speak differently; I touch differently; I vibe differently. I now understand how paramount things like safety, love, and engagement are in maintaining my current relationships and also building new, healthy, empowering relationships.

Gentle Teaching has also transformed the hundreds of interactions I have each and every single day, whether that be with my family members, partners, friends, i-see-differently-i-speak-differently-i-touch-differently-i-vibe-differentlystrangers, or my pets. For example, I am constantly practicing Gentle Teaching with my fur-babies: two beagles. Beagles are stubborn, messy, loud, and stinky … but they also give the best cuddles, are the source of many laughs, and love me unconditionally. Sometimes, when they are not getting the proper attention and engagement that they need, they eat everything (literally everything – the bed frame has large chunk missing and the phone jack has been eaten off the wall), they puke on the new couch, howl at my neighbours, and are incredibly stubborn to train. Despite all of this chaos they cause in my life, I find it so easy to love them unconditionally. I no longer raise my voice or punish them when they do wrong. I only use touch and words in a positive way. However, sometimes when I feel like I cannot properly practice Gentle Teaching with my dogs and need time to myself, the pups visit Gramma and Grampa; this allows me time to recharge and recover so I can give them the best care I can. Gentle teaching has strengthened my relationship with my pets which is transferable to every other relationship in my life.

Despite all of the changes I’ve made so far, I’m not perfect. While I try my best to practice what I preach, sometimes I slip up. Honestly, I still aspire to be a more patient person. At the beginning of my Gentle Teaching journey, I often lost my patience on insignificant things; bad drivers, needy dogs, demanding partners. I feel like along my gentle teaching training was also a lesson in patience. I now know that the person is more important than the task at hand. It also taught me that, in disagreements, I no longer need to have the last word. Also, sometimes people have bad days and I do not need to take it personally. Hopefully, the relationship I have with that person was built on such a strong foundation that they can offer me the same compassion and understanding that I would offer to them when they need it most. I am also doing my best to love people unconditionally and aspire to have a positive journey to love without conditions and BE loved without conditions.

I have only been practicing Gentle Teaching for about a year. Now that I have a taste of this philosophy, I want to continue to change. I want to know more. I want others to learn the benefits of gentle teaching. I want to lead by example. I want to make a difference.

 

Diandra, COR Support