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Management Practices

Culture Club: Ginger Bay Salon and Spa

Stacey Soble | April 5, 2016 | 8:27 AM
Laura Ortmann rings a Tibetan singing bowl to start a staff meeting which is focused on developing salon culture.
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An example of an appreciation exercise at Ginger Bay.
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A simple poster allows everyone in the salon to celebrate a staff member's birthday.
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A staff meeting selfie at Ginger Bay.
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Ginger Bay's Guest Services team hard at work on their own mission statement.
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Laura Ortmann believes establishing her salon’s culture is a challenging, never-ending job. As a former attorney who purchased the existing Ginger Bay Salon and Spa in St. Louis in 2008, one of her first tasks was defining the salon’s culture, but Ortmann now admits it was a one-sided debriefing.

“I made a PowerPoint and laid out what I expected the culture to look like, I set out my personal and professional goals and my business plan,” she remembers. “Looking back, I don’t know if that was genius or ridiculous, but it was clear. I also introduced open book management which a huge cultural shift for a company that had been in business for 17 years with little financial accountability.”

Several years later, Ginger Bay planned to expand to a second location in 2011, Ortmann and her leadership team worked through a number of exercises designed to uncover what they wanted to do differently in the new location. “I was writing their feedback on big sticky notes on the conference room wall, and as the feedback rolled in, it was a big wake up call,” Ortmann says.

Ortmann realized she had made some compromises when she’d made past decisions that favored money over the salon’s culture, and some work was required to get the salon back on track.

“At the beginning of my ownership, I had allowed negative employees to stay because they were high producers,” she says. “Because of my business debt, I was more worried about paying my bills than fostering a great culture. I learned I needed to get my priorities straight and lead fearlessly.”

Ortmann hired a Franklin Covey facilitator to coach both her and her salon leaders to define and cultivate their culture. Then, they held a full-day offsite meeting with the team to collaborate on the salon’s mission and vision statement. “We even created coaching sheets to ensure that we were not just evaluating the numbers, but also the behaviors that keep our culture alive,” Ortmann says. “For example, we track our team’s participation in education and philanthropic events on the coaching sheets.”

Daily Lessons

Each year for the past two years, Ginger Bay has held four all-team meetings which examine culture from the standpoint of where the salon came from, where are they now and where are they going. “Culture is very important to us, it’s more than a writing on the wall,” Ortmann says.

In addition, Ortmann and her leadership team have developed a number of activities that continually infuse culture throughout the team:

Book Club: When leaders want to introduce a new book to their departments, they encourage the reading of in in a book club format. The company purchases the books, and the teams read one chapter per month. The team leader prepares discussion questions so employees can show up prepared.

Departmental Missions, Visions & Goals: Team members create scoreboards and team signage is displayed in breakrooms and offices. Each team reevaluates their departmental mission and vision annual.

Life Celebrations: Ginger Bay celebrates team members’ birthdays, engagements, marriages, new babies and even the purchases of new homes and cars. One inexpensive, but visible way of celebrating, is by handing a giant birthday message and encouraging teammates to sign it.  

Appreciation Exercises: Sometimes when morale feels low or as a great way to start a new year, Ginger Bay leadership encourages the team to express appreciation in a group setting. For example, sometimes they’ll list each person’s name on a sheet of paper then have everyone go around the room and write down at least one thing they appreciate about that person. “We read them outloud, then give each person their appreciation sheet,” says Ortmann. “The reaction for each person is priceless.”

Feedback Exercises: A big part of Ginger Bay’s new culture is being open to feedback and change. Often in a group setting, the team addresses urgent and important topics in small groups so everyone can be hear. “For example, we conducted and exercise and asked the team what they didn’t like about our compensation program,” Ortmann says. “Each person put their ideas on a large Post-It note, then each team member were asked to place a tick mark next to the issue they wanted to see changed the most and we could see what was most important to them.”

Culture Wordle: Borrowing an idea from Neroli Salon and Spa, Ginger Bay conducted a team activity that produced a wordle that is hung on walls to remind the team of their culture. Leaders led culture exercises and reviewed responses after the meeting. They then took the 25-30 words that were most used by the team to create the wordle.

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