My Interview with Barry-Wehmiller: the $2B Company that Chose People over Layoffs During the 2008 Recession
Check out my guest-post here.
What is the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge?
In our current world filled with uncertainty, ubiquitous inundation of technology, and political turmoil, many of us are feeling more and more disconnected from the very thing that has been scientifically proven to determine our overall sense of happiness: our connection to one another. Anxiety, loneliness, depression, and suicide rates continue to rise within populations across North America. In the name of efficiency and cost cutting, many businesses focus on numbers over people. Many schools focus on grades and achievement, instead of cultivating conscientious, passionate, innovative, and entrepreneurial students. On both macro and micro levels, it feels as though our country, many businesses, organizations, and schools are in crisis.
As bestselling author on workplace motivation and behavioural management Dan Pink asserts, “individuals spend over half of their waking hours at work.” Most people want to feel like they are contributing to something bigger than themselves, that what they are doing is meaningful, and essentially, that they matter.
I believe we are all responsible for the cultures in which we work, learn, and live, and it falls on the shoulders of our leaders to show us the way.
The Small Act Big Impact 21-Day Challenge serves to promote and cultivate safe and supportive cultures in workplaces and educational organizations. We encourage individuals from all walks of life (leaders, employees, parents, students) to intentionally commit to performing at least one altruistic act per day for 21 consecutive days, putting aside differences, busy schedules, expectations of recompense, and assumptions, to do so. What’s incredible is that it’s scientifically proven that people not only feel happier when they do kind acts, but their actions actually contribute to making those around them happier, too! The kicker? By committing to 21-days of intentional kindness, habits of perspective-taking, altruism, and gratitude are formed at the neurological level and eventually lead to significant positive, long-lasting ripple-effects in workplace and institutional cultures.
How can businesses incorporate the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge within their workplaces?
The 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Kindness Challenge starts with a conscious commitment from individual employees, employers, and/ or companies to come up with meaningful ways to add value to their corporate culture throughout a dedicated 21-day period. It can be as simple as buying a coffee for a co-worker, congratulating a team-member on a recent success, writing an appreciative email, or listening to a friend vent, without judgement.
Or, it can be as far-reaching as, CEO of $2+ billion-dollar global supplier and manufacturer Barry-Wehmiller, Bob Chapman’s legendary furlough program, through which he was able to avoid devastating layoffs in 2008 by implementing a mandatory unpaid 4-week vacation. As Chapman has said, “It’s better that we should all suffer a little, than any of us should have to suffer a lot.” The leader is responsible for setting the tone through the choices they make, not by simply plastering their walls with slogans that sound good or are ‘on trend.’ We must ask ourselves daily whether we are proud of our interactions. It comes down to choosing integrity over what feels easy.Taking care of our employees and coworkers reinforces that they matter. We should all be striving toward actively creating workplace, educational, and community cultures guided by principles of tolerance, respect, and generosity.
How did the idea for the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge come about?
I read Simon Sinek’s incredible book, Leaders Eat Last(which told the story of Bob Chapman and Barry-Wehmiller) while on maternity leave with my second child. So many of the ideas he shared resonated deeply with me. In the book, he explains effects of stress and kindness on the brain.
Cortisol, Sinek explains, is the stress chemical dischargedby the brain into our body. It shuts down all of the non-essential functions in our bodies like digestion, growth, and our immune system so that we can instantly react to danger by running away, fighting, or freezing.Cortisol also directly stops the flow of oxytocin (the empathy hormone) in our bodies.The problem is, people are feeling stressed out more and more frequently and cortisol is staying in our bodies for way too long. It’s having harmful effects on our health, mental well-being, and most importantly, our ability to connect with people.
Oxytocin, the hormoneresponsible for the feelings of love, connection, and empathy is released when we receive or perform an altruistic act. It turns out, oxytocin is also released when someone simply witnesses a nice gesture. Incredibly, neuroscientists have discovered that genuine kindness is literally contagious and has the power to counteract the effects of stress. Consequently, simply engaging in kind acts can make those around us happier and less-stressed through association.
It was the first time I had truly come across the science of kindness as it relates to workplaces and educational cultures.It felt like a powerful realization for me. As a teacher and aspiring educational leader, I naturally began thinking about the way that these theories could be adapted for implementation within the classroom and our school communities.
Teachers and educational leaders need to work actively to create supportive environments that foster a sense of belonging, especially if we wish to create cultures of innovation within our schools and post-secondary institutions. After all, we are preparing our students for the very uncertain future. We need to teach them to innovate and adapt. We need to encourage students to try new things, share their ideas, take risks, and feel the sting of failure in a safe environment.
So, I asked myself: How can we encourage individuals to become responsible for the culture of empathy in their workplaces, educational organizations, and institutions, and to do so with the intent of creating lasting change?
That’s when I came up with the idea of a 21-day kindness challenge. Intentional kind acts would result in a more positive change in culture and extending it to a 21-day campaign, would ensure lasting change.
What differentiates the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge from the random and sporadic nature of other kindness initiatives is the 21-day commitment. If we’re to create positive shifts within our cultures long-term, we need to fundamentally change our habits.
Shawn Achor, Harvard-educated author of The Happiness Advantage, states that it takes approximately 21 days to develop a single new habit. In 2008, he led a study with a large group of tax managers at KMPG to test the habits directly related to fostering optimism and happiness through kindness and gratitude. “Our brains don’t like change,” he noted. Nevertheless, the more you practice kindness and gratitude, the stronger the neuro-pathways become, which helps to make these habits become more automatic. Think of it like exercising a muscle. The more you practice perspective taking, random acts of kindness, and act altruistically, the easier it becomes. After the 21-days (and 4 months later after a subsequent retest), the experimental group’s score was much higher than the control group’s when it came to overall “optimism and life satisfaction.” This proves that practicing habits of kindness and gratitude towards others can not only create lasting habits but can also dramatically affect your own happiness.
So, I got to work. After creating a short and impactful animated whiteboard video explaining the challenge, I began touring a number of school districts, speaking in classrooms, at whole-school group assemblies, and, basically, spreading the word. That was nine months ago! The results and interest in the challenge have been phenomenal.
Currently, I am working on a number of projects that reflect the values of the Small Act Big Impact Challenge. I am in the process of designing professional development to provide teachers and leaders with a roadmap for integrating the program within their classrooms and schools in a cohesive way. I also write a weekly blog about kindness, resilience, and vulnerability. Because I am a huge fan of podcasts, the Small Act Big Impact 21-Day Challenge will be launching our very own podcast this summer! Finally, I’m putting my money where my mouth is through two projects that are close to my heart. Next year, we will be holding the Second Annual Small Act Big Impact Charity Photoshoot for single-parents through our synergy with a local non-profit organization. Ten world-class photographers have committed to providing low-income single parents from my hometown with beautiful, quality photo keepsakes of their families, free of charge. I am also currently working on developing a photo-journalism project that will tell the stories of and directly benefit the homeless population in my city. In a nutshell, this project has been tremendously rewarding!
What is “Minute Monday?” What is your hope for these videos?
Our lives are so busy! Many of us barely have 5 minutes for ourselves to meditate, eat well, or exercise, let alone time to stay up to date on the latest inspiring ideas and thought leaders out there.
My YouTube Minute Monday Series is a bite-sized, one-minute glimpse into the big influencers who inspired the 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge. Generally, the videos reinforce and provide examples of the possibility of intentional, daily kindness.
My hope is that individuals will resonate with what they see and become inspired to learn more about and incorporate some of the altruistic and innovative ideas within their own lives to make their workplaces, homes, and communities more positive, supportive places. I know from personal experience, sometimes, all it takes is a spark of inspiration to make big, lasting change.
The thing is, we can all contribute to kind and resilient cultures through our actions, whether we do so publically or through the small things we do daily. We all stand to benefit from a stronger sense of connection to one another. The 21-Day Small Act Big Impact Challenge is intended for anyone who wants to make his/her life more fulfilling and to inspire others to live in much the same way.
Together, let’s make a big impact, one small act at a time.