Can you imagine how your business would perform if all, or at least most, of your employees approached their work with an ownership mentality?

In 2016, as Alberta was mired in the eye of an economic storm, Original Joe’s Restaurants (part of the Franworks Group of Companies) achieved just that.  Through a very deliberate cultural shift, Original Joe’s saw not one, but two employee led gestures that achieved viral status on social media.

Original Joe’s goes Viral

The first story went viral in May 2016 in the aftermath of the tragic Fort McMurray wild fires.  Twenty-four hours after watching their home burn to the ground, a Fort McMurray couple was having dinner at Original Joe’s in West Edmonton. A server overhead the couple discussing the loss of their home and decided to “comp” them with free meals.  The couple was so moved that they took to social media to express their gratitude for the heartfelt gesture.  Within 72 hours, over a million people engaged with that very post.

A few months later, it happened again. An Original Joe’s customer left her car parked overnight and returned to the restaurant to collect her vehicle the next morning.  She could see an envelope was visible on her windshield. Assuming the worst – a parking ticket or a nasty letter warning to never park here overnight again – she opened it.  Much to her surprise, it was a note from the Original Joe’s GM thanking her for being responsible, along with a voucher for a free pound of wings to redeem on her next visit.  Again, expressing gratitude for the gesture, the happy patron took to social media to say thank you.  Forty-eight hours later the post went viral with over half a million interactions.  Even major media outlets picked up the feel good story. 

The employee-led behaviors that made these stories possible were not mandated in an employee handbook, nor were they orders that originated from senior leaders in a traditional top-down hierarchal culture.  They were the result of an ownership mentality embraced by everyone who wears the Original Joe’s uniform.

Here’s how the Original Joe’s team did it:

Get Clarity About Your Core Values and Core Purpose

In 2011, the senior leaders of Original Joe’s started getting serious about what they wanted their culture to stand for.  After many tough conversations and robust debate, they landed on clear core values and a meaningful definition of their core purpose.  It took them almost eight months before they felt they really got it right.

Values and purpose are critical components of any healthy culture.  Values clarify the non-negotiable behavior standards for the organization and help drive consistency of behavior.  Core purpose defines “why” your organization does what it does.  When you get it right, the “why” brings meaning and pride to an employees work and is proven to be one of the strongest sources of intrinsic motivation for people.

As it turns out, Original Joe’s core purpose of “taking care of people” has been one of the most transformational revelations their leadership team has ever made.

Decide Who Fits and Who Doesn’t

Once they decided what their culture stood for the next step was to determine which employees fit and which ones didn’t.  The biggest learning came from how difficult, but necessary, it is to remove those employees who simply don’t fit.  Until you’re willing to confront non-compliance you’ll have very little chance of achieving the cultural alignment necessary for transformational change.

As counter intuitive as it may sound, Original Joe’s had an epiphany that “freeing up someone’s future” will make them happier in the long run.  The company adopted the mindset that if an employee doesn’t fit in with the Original Joe’s culture, they will fit a different culture somewhere else. Letting people go could actually help them by keeping them from delaying decisions that would stall them from finding their true calling.  As Original Joe’s realized, tough people decisions become a whole lot easier from this vantage point.

Embed Values and Purpose Into Talent Systems

Original Joe’s inserted values and purpose questions into all their hiring activity and trained anyone with hiring responsibility how to improve their interviewing skills.  While no interviewing process is fool proof, deliberately screening candidates for cultural fit dramatically increases the successful onboarding of employees who fit your culture.  Remember, it takes just as much time to conduct a world class interview as it does to perform an average or below average one.

Original Joe’s took this mindset a step further by also inserting values and purpose evaluations into performance review discussions.  Emphasizing these characteristics as a focus for both the supervisor and employee proved to be a very effective way to establish high standards of behavior.

Get All Leaders, Managers & Supervisors On Board

The progress didn’t stop there. As the Original Joe’s leadership team gained consensus and confidence around the targeted culture, more emphasis was placed on bringing this culture to life at each of the company’s individual restaurants.

This challenge was tackled by planting seeds of cultural consistency that would grow organically over time.

Recognize and Reinforce

Every leader and influencer in the organization participated in a concerted effort to start recognizing the employees who were best exhibiting behavior consistent with the values and purpose.They were always careful to ensure that the behavior being recognized was clearly linked back to a specific core value or their core purpose.

The results were very positive. The recognition reinforced the desired culture and motivated employees to repeat the desired behaviors.  It also strengthened team interaction as employees were genuinely excited to recognize their co-workers.  Overall, the approach created a real atmosphere of “catching people doing things right” while reinforcing that values and purpose really meant something at OJ’s.  It was more than just a plaque on the wall.

Tell Stories

Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to inspire and reinforce behavior change in your organization.  Original Joe’s started asking for stories of how their values and purpose were making difference in the workplace, for their customers and in the community at large.  As the stories were shared new ideas were generated and pretty soon an avalanche of cultural momentum was created.

Culture Takes On ‘A Life Of Its Own’

Original Joe’s realized that once they had done the behind-the-scenes heavy lifting, their culture started taking on a life of its own.  It started to belong to the front-line employees regardless of role or seniority.

There were behaviors and stories of people making a difference from all sorts of places.  All of the stories were different but they shared a common thread; they were all in harmony with their core values and core purpose.

We should all be so lucky as to have an employee led gesture go viral on social media but, as Original Joe’s will tell you, for the two stories that went viral there are a hundred others just as deserving that no one will ever hear about.  Perhaps the lesson is this; when we create an organization filled with people who are authentically living the values and purpose of the organization, anything is possible.

Article by Jeff Tetz