ABC News does it right when it comes to workplace culture. Recently, I sat down with Zach Toback, Vice President, News and Non-Fiction Production & Studio Operation at ABC News in New York City and Ann Louden, Director of the TCU Center for Connection Culture. Ann and I wanted to learn how ABC News stays at the top of its game as a leader in an extremely competitive, demanding industry.
During our conversation Zach zeroed in on people at ABC News who work behind the scenes in editorial and production roles, especially newer ambitious employees who put in long hours and have yet to figure out how to maintain work/life balance. These individuals are more likely to feel chained to their desks all day long because of the never-ending demands of the 24/7 news business.
Recognizing the positive effect that a strong sense of connection in a culture has on employees, ABC News senior management formed a committee to think “out of the box” about ways to show people they are appreciated, encourage them to take breaks for self-care, and offer settings for them to connect with colleagues. It’s open to anyone who would like to join.
Here are six programs the culture committee created that help make everyone at ABC News feel like part of the team.
- Speed Meet – Participants come away energized and enthusiastic from this opportunity to interact with colleagues whom they see around the office but don’t really know. A twist on the “speed dating” concept, in three-minute intervals, people meet one-on-one with a colleague and ask their name, what area they work in, and what their role is, then finish off with an open-ended “tell me something about yourself.”
- Storyteller Series – Past speakers in this in-house series featuring compelling guest lecturers include the legendary journalist Barbara Walters (on “how to tell a good story”); Ed Catmull, CEO of Pixar and Disney Animation; Disney’s Chief Diversity Officer; and senior executives of ABC News who talked about various aspects of the television and news business.
- Wellness Series – The Wellness Series helps people manage stress. The series includes a class on meditation techniques. Another event, “office yoga,” teaches stretching and breathing exercises that can be performed without needing to be in workout clothes.
- Food and Fun – On several occasions three food trucks lined up on the street in front of ABC News’ offices and lunch was “on the house.” ABC News paid for 750 lunches that day. At Halloween, candy was delivered. During Christmastime, Santa stopped by to take photos with ABC News employees, and hot cocoa and cookies appeared for people who had to work over the holidays.
- Professional Photos – The halls of most media organizations are lined with photos of anchors and correspondents. The culture committee had an in-house professional photographer take photos of people in editorial and production roles working alongside their on-air colleagues. These photos are displayed throughout the halls of the ABC News production floors and are a visible reminder of teamwork in action. Also, a photographer was made available for any employee who wished to have a professional head shot taken that he or she could then use on social media sites such as LinkedIn and for an email identification photo.
- Notes Day – Borrowing a page from Pixar’s playbook, a “Notes Day” was held. The idea is to involve as many people as possible in an intensive focus on solving business problems. The issue ABC News employees dug into over the course of two days was communicated in the form of a question: What are the core things that are not allowing you to do your job successfully (with an emphasis on productivity and work/life balance)?
Zach expressed the importance of these efforts to provide a healthy workplace culture at ABC News, which is a division of The Walt Disney Company. Thanks to leaders such as Zach Toback who care both about people and results, ABC News maintains a competitive advantage in the fast-paced, 24/7 news business.
If you’re a leader, what actions are you taking to create a Connection Culture? For additional practical steps you can implement and the “why, what and how” of intentionally infusing your organization’s culture with connection, read our book Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shard Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work and signup to receive the 28-page 100 Ways to Connect ebook and semi-monthly Connection Culture email newsletter. These free resources will encourage and equip you to create a Connection Culture in your organization.
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Photo used with permission of ABC News.