It's one thing to rebuild your organization around employee participation. It's another to make your people like the new corporate style. In 1988 Shepard Poorman's overhaul was stuck. Open communication among all workers was the goal. But employees at the Indianapolis printing company didn't like to speak out, and supervisors didn't enjoy hearing underlings' opinions.
Drawing on his memory of a college psychology course, CEO Bob Poorman Jr. suspected the solution lay in bolstering his employees' self-esteem. Poorman hired the University of Indianapolis's training department to develop a class that would teach workers how to nurture relationships.
The program focuses on three fundamental topics -- the self, relationships, and teamwork skills -- and meets weekly. The most popular feature of the 18-week lecture series: in-class exercises that bring psychological theory to life. The routines vary from humorous exercises on hidden agendas to doing the hokey pokey in class to loosen people up. But such unlikely routines often trigger the most arresting insights. After being given a group assignment to draw a coat of arms for the company, recalls Don Curtis, formerly vice-president of quality: "I was so involved in drawing my vision of the perfect coat of arms that I forgot to include the group in deciding what should go into the drawing. It drove home the point about teamwork."
So far, almost half of Poorman's 330 employees have entered or completed the course. Their communication skills have improved so much that the company's management now lets customers speak directly to on-line workers about orders, instead of filtering inquiries through the sales department. More important, Poorman's work force seems to be gaining equanimity. Says benefits administrator Susan Rearick: "People accept criticism better -- they see it as an insight." -- Teri Lammers