“Culture is something that can be influenced by leadership. The extra things we do for our employees are far reaching,” says Danone Simpson, CEO of Montage Insurance Solutions. “Reaching beyond the normal sets you apart.”
Smart Business spoke with Simpson about her company’s culture and what she’s doing to improve it.
Can you provide an example of how leadership can improve a company’s culture?
Spending time at my niece’s home last May while her three month old had a major surgery inspired a kid’s camp in our office, which included the employee’s children.
I witnessed two young parents juggling their schedules so they could be home with the children as often as they could. The surgery allowed both the baby and her three-year-old, older brother to be at home for the week. As the time grew closer for me to leave and the children to go back to day care I saw the pain in my niece’s face.
On the flight home my thoughts shifted to my employees and their children. It was on that trip that I decided to have a kid’s summer camp at the office.
The first young lady we hired decided at the last minute to take another job, putting us in a bit of a bind. Luckily, another employee spoke up, ‘I have a friend whose sister may love a job like this.’
We asked the young lady to come in the next morning. She appeared at first glance a serious girl. I was a bit concerned since camp was starting the next day.
Taking a leap of faith like this drew a few internal questions; however I had committed to the employees and after reading “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg I knew this was a step in the right direction.
As it turned out the young lady’s first sentence to me during the interview was, “I was working on science projects last night and the play dough came out really good.” I hired her immediately.
How did Sheryl Sandberg’s book weigh into your decision?
In the story she wrote about being pregnant and running to the door for a meeting after parking far away. She was out of breath, and when she sat down Mark Zuckerberg asked her why they did not have closer parking for pregnant women.
She paused and realized that leadership needed to get back to thinking about some of the unique differences we enjoy as women and men.
We push to be the same, but the truth is in some ways we are not.
Today, parents equally share in caring for their children and I see in both our young fathers and mothers the gratitude in having their children experience their workplace if even for a day.
What was the result of your summer camp?
It was a fun-filled summer for the children. They spoke about what they had learned about their mother’s and father’s heritage, presenting boards filled with family photos to our employees.
Recently, we moved our offices and it was important to me that our culture remained intact as we transitioned from a homey office environment to a more modern one.
So, during the spring break we invited the employees’ kids (ages 6-11) to return once more.
This time they presented what they wanted to be when they grew up. I asked them to think beyond sports, art, singing and dancing and to think about these important talents along with a second career to take them even further out. Daniel wants to be a football player and a Paleontologist, studying fossils to determine organisms’ evolution and interactions. His younger brother wants to study the sea as an oceanographer.
They all stood proudly in front of the employees in our conference room presenting to our familiar faces smiling, cheering them on and asking them questions. It was a special bonding time for us all.
We impact our employees in many various ways, and when we include their families it leads to growing strong commitments, and less reduction in workforce, which creates a culture that lasts.
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