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How a Company-Wide Wellness Challenge United our Bi-Coastal Team

November 15, 2018

When my kids ask me what I do…, ok, let’s be real…if my kids were to ask me what I do, I wouldn’t say, “I am a Chief Talent Officer.”  I might say, “I am a bit of a corporate coxswain.”  And since they know nothing about crew, I’d just tell them, “I try to keep everybody rowing in the same direction.”  I aim for firm-wide cohesion. We work in a very competitive and complex industry and aligning a team of 100 spread throughout the country in three offices and 20 remote locations can be, well, daunting. Among us are a number of hard-core fitness freaks–runners, swimmers, cyclists, walkers, hikers–so in 2017 we (I – with a nudge from our CEO, Jonathan Jaffrey) decided to encourage community by covering the cost of local races. By the end of the year we had reimbursed about a third of the team with nearly $3K in race fees. That was a great start. The feedback was that the team loved seeing proof of race finishes on our Slack platform, but that the community felt restricted to our team racers, the die-hard competitors.


For 2018 we, like thousands of other companies evidently, decided to invest in Fitbits for all and ratchet up the “fun” by making the Wellness Challenge as accessible as possible. Everybody on our team, regardless of fitness level, takes steps! We split into teams and set a stretch goal of collectively hitting 30,000,000 steps in a three-month period. The team who tracked the most steps would receive funds for a donation to a solar-related non-profit. We baked in a few extra incentives for individuals; for example, hit a million steps and get a gift card to replace those blown out kicks.


For those of us behind the scenes looking at the program from the lens of talent engagement and team building, it was really fun to watch. A few themes emerged:


  1. We like to compete with our co-workers. The trash talking between the wellness teams on Slack begin immediately, and the physical distances between our offices seemed to disappear. Our folks in Davis, California were cheering on cohorts in Charlottesville, Virginia like never before. Teammates dropped their guarded style of communication and engaged in the natural banter of friendship and (of course) friendly competition. Genuine personalities emerged almost overnight, and the camaraderie of our competition bubbled over into meetings and conference calls.


  1. Wellness and engagement pair well. Remarkably, 90% of our team participated! Employee engagement is critical to company success, and wellness challenges can really amp up involvement. According to Forbes, well-delivered wellness programs (and ours was by all accounts) creates stronger work relationships, reduces stress and improves morale. Further, an emphasis on team wellness can save companies money. It turns out that disengaged employees (read: unhappy, disgruntled, checked out) are often a drag on resources and their fellow co-workers because they spread their negativity around.


  1. Selfies have a place in the office. Back to Slack. Hundreds of selfies served as proof that we were all out in the world being active and getting in our steps.  We good naturedly bragged about our personal bests, envied vacation shots of hikes and runs on beaches, organized team hikes on weekends, and condoned walking meetings and conference calls. One of us spent the entire three months working from his treadmill desk, shattering daily step goals and motivating all of us to catch him. It was really fun.


However clever the 2018 Wellness Challenge was, it would have flopped if we weren’t a group of fun, risk oriented, creative people.  If you think about it, it was really just a forum to introduce ourselves to each other.  Humans being what humans are, we need to know one another before we can trust one another - and how can collaborative work be done absent trust? 


The cherry on top?  The firm kicked in a donation to Grid Alternatives—an organization dedicated to bringing renewable energy to underserved communities—to remind all of us, it is never just about “us.”


Jonathan Baker is the Chief Talent Officer of Coronal Energy and an executive who has spent two decades leading businesses in the renewable energy sector. When he is not keeping the Coronal team focused on high performance as individuals and as teammates, he can be found running the many miles of trails and country roads located within his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia.

Pictured: Elijah Perry, Development Manager at Grid Alternatives with Jonathan Baker

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