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A new company culture, from top down, and bottom up

SSThere was the Halloween party and the pumpkin-carving contest, the pizza lunches and the "biggest loser" boot camp. In fact, there's been a lot of action at the Richmond Hill, Ont.-based Trimark Sportswear Group over the past five

months, since Will Andrew took over as president and determined that improving the culture was the company's top priority.

"I've noticed an incredible change in a short time," says Trimark's distribution centre manager, Greg Lonsdale.

"We've done a lot of little things and it's come a long way. Everybody's coming together and, most importantly, our results are great. I'm really in awe."

Indeed, the company had a record high sales month in October - at the same time

as it experienced its lowest operational cost month. "How to read between those lines? It's intriguing," says Mr. Lonsdale. "We're all focused, and I think everybody has a sense of ownership, a lot more sense of pride - and it's been

driven right from the top."

Over the past few months, Mr. Andrew started the process of change by focusing on improving communication, both from the top down and from the bottom up.

First came sporadic news blasts, called "The Road

Ahead," outlining company priorities and strategies, among other things. Then Mr. Andrew set up the employee council, made up of representatives from each department. It meets regularly to discuss and address any and all issues.

Every

day, each department now has a "huddle," in which day-to-day business is dealt with and any concerns can be raised.

At the same time, departments have been reorganized to make more sense. Sales and Customer Service are more closely

aligned, for example; employees are being encouraged to become more empowered about decision-making, which will lead to better customer service; successes are celebrated company-wide; even the seating plan has changed and the décor is

in the midst of renewal.

Potentially equally as important for long-term change is the lessening gap between front-line employees and those who work in the warehouse. This has all happened as a result of the recent initiatives.

"Everybody's going, 'Hey, how you doing?' These people don't have a lot of time to connect," says Mr. Lonsdale, "and over a pizza slice a lot of things change. There's a face to the name. These little incentives are really pushing

people."

Despite the many signs of goodwill and best intentions, evolving a culture is a difficult, long-term commitment. "Effective change takes somewhere between 12 and 18 months," says Marty Parker, president and chief executive

officer of Waterstone Human Capital, which started the Canada's 10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures award program. "That's the fastest I've seen. Will's off to a great start, but he will be constantly at this for the next year or so."

One of things Trimark has going for it, though, is an extremely willing work force. There is tangible excitement about the changes when staff members speak and real concern that momentum not die down.

"What I think we need to do is

stop talking and start walking," says sales analyst Nelia Pacheco. "We need to get a comprehensive plan and begin assigning [employee council] members to certain issues and items that require focus. I do believe the executive team sees

this as a priority, but the employees would like to see more tangibles."

Mr. Lonsdale concedes that there is definitely lots to be done but still marvels at the changes that have occurred already. "I don't want to jump ahead. I know

there's a lot to come. But it just seems like it's gone back to the good times when businesses were great and people were doing the right things."