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Week 10: Hey boss: Talk to us, please

As Trimark Sportswear Group goes through the early stages of its cultural evolution, there’s one thing that comes up again and again: communication - the need for more of it and more often. If culture is the thing that drives most aspects of the business, which is what Trimark president Will Andrew has discovered, then communication is what drives the culture.

Last week, for the third time, Mr. Andrew got together with the 11 other members of his newly formed employee council (lightly called the Culture Club) to let the representatives of each area know what was going on in the company, to hear issues that were being raised in those areas, and to get feedback on a number of initiatives.

Even the meeting place was carefully considered: the second meeting had been held in the boardroom, and the conversation hadn’t exactly flowed. “About halfway through, I was like, ‘This is a really different dynamic than the first meeting,’” Mr. Andrew recalled.

This time the meeting was back in a large unoccupied office, with everyone sitting around in an informal circle. And a lot of ground was covered in an hour, with every topic naturally playing into the overarching themes of improving communication and working together as a team toward the same goals.

Mr. Andrew got the idea for an employee council after speaking with Tony Hseih, CEO of Las Vegas-based Zappos.com, an early inspiration in his quest for a better culture at Trimark. Already, technology-related concerns that were raised at the first meeting are well under way toward resolution.

This kind of action, it is hoped, will raise employee confidence toward the whole notion of communication. “You can talk forever,” says Greg Lonsdale, Trimark’s distribution centre manager and a member of the council, “but when you start to see change, then you can embrace it and roll with it, and they’re gradually seeing that.”

At the latest meeting, the focus is on just that. Mr. Andrew asks the group for ideas on how to engage employees at the upcoming town hall meeting. Typically, the meeting had consisted of a few reports from senior managers and silence when the floor was open for questions.

The group tosses around ideas of where to have it, settling on rotating the quarterly meetings through the building, potentially to Customer Service, the warehouse, the lunchroom and showroom. “My goal would be to have people leaving the room engaged, inspired or excited about what we’re doing - educated and enlightened,” says Mr. Andrew. “A sense of team, a sense of oneness - if we can achieve some of that, it would be great.”

It is decided that someone from the council will speak at the town hall, to let everyone know who’s involved and who to talk to if there are issues or concerns. In addition, one member suggests gathering questions before the meeting that can be used to stimulate dialogue in the town hall and through the company.

“The first thing they think about when they walk into town halls is job security,” says Mr. Lonsdale. “Where are we? Are we going to meet all these numbers? Are we downsizing? I think that is huge to them.”

Other members of the council agree - important feedback for Mr. Andrew, who assures the group that the message to employees is going to be a good one.

Separate discussions revolve around what kinds of training programs the company should be setting up, the proposed designs for the building interior, sessions in the warehouse so employees from other parts of the company have a better understanding of how things work back there.

Mr. Andrew speaks of wanting to “ring the bell,” or announce and celebrate when good things happen at Trimark. Recently, for example, they had a record-breaking week in the warehouse and celebrated with a pizza lunch.

“People are getting rewarded for their hard work,” says Mr. Lonsdale. “It’s being supported from the top - the owners, the president. Everybody came to our lunch and thanked people. And that was huge.”