How in the world did they do it? We were only there a week and they got us totally into doing it their way —and loving it,” my old college chum Ann wondered as we retraced our travel on I-81. We were headed home from the John C. Campbell Folk School in tiny Brasstown, N.C. In addition to learning a craft, my friend and I had just experienced a lesson in culture immersion that could have taught any management guru a thing or two.
Every institution — including your business, your family, your church, your volunteer fire department, and your garden club —has a culture. Usually we learn it by watching, reading between the lines, deciding what will make us successful or what will get us attention in that environment. Often we do it by stubbing our toe and hearing, “We don't do it that way here.”
If you are a remodeler who would like to create a positive environment at your company that helps people to be their best and to see their work as part of something more significant than just the estimating or designing or carpentering they do, you may want to take a few lessons from this folk school.
Reading Between the Lines “What, we have to make our own beds?” I said as Ann and I surveyed our rustic accommodations. It was the beginning of an immersion that clearly signified we would be taken care of but not pampered. We did the bed thing and hurried over to the opening orientation with 130 other eager students who were taking classes in everything from blacksmithing to making kaleidoscopes to constructing intricate chocolate boxes.
We learned the school was based on a Danish model where competition was verboten. There would be no grades, no signs that anyone was pursuing anything but the best they could do. Craft would be sacred. Work would be valued. We would come to appreciate the individual journey each student was on.
Mealtime was communal with tables of eight and healthy food served family-style. At orientation, you were reminded that much of the learning would come from meeting as many of the other students as possible, so Ann and I circulated independently.
Meals were signaled by a bell and all were expected to hurry into the dining hall, stand behind their chair, pull out a yellow laminated card of non-denominational blessings and wait for the announcer to lead us in one. Only then would we sit down and pass the food. Dirty dishes and leftovers were to be delivered by those at the table to different windows. An iron fork or spoon displayed by one window would tell us which utensil to keep for dessert and one table member would pick up the tray of eight desserts to bring back to the table.
And I am telling you only a tiny scrap of all the ways we were helped to quickly “get it” and get with it.
Following Through Here's the point: This institution runs to its own heartfelt philosophy and ways of doing things and often there is a point to be made, a lesson to be learned from the way things are done. Within a few hours, we who had come from all over the United States, from a competitive dog-eat-dog world that often devalues the work of human hands, had been shaped up to a fare-thee-well.
It had been done so successfully because the school had defined, down to the smallest detail, the experience they wanted us to have, had communicated it very clearly up front, had aligned hundreds of bits of behavior and procedure to their philosophy, and had given us such a sense of the legacy it represented that we wanted to be part of it. The final result left us feeling we were making the world a better place. What a wonderful opportunity we have to do this in our businesses! — Linda Case, CRA, is founder of Remodelers Advantage Inc. in Fulton, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. 301.490.5620; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.remodelersadvantage.com.