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Top 10 Culture Hacks for 2020

Last year I released my Top 10 Culture Hacks for 2019.

2020 has brought some unexpected chanllenges, so I figured it was time to update the list to reflect the changing work landscape. 

Each of the 10 ideas listed below are easy to implement into any setting. Even better, almost every idea was stolen from another school district, business, or book. 


10) Trojan Way Awards - At the end of each year we ask for nomination from from staff members that best embody our district core values. The entire process can be found here. The "hack" is to get family and friends involved! They LOVE being a part of these awards, and it makes the event more special for the recipient.


In 2020 we had to take our "show on the road" by making surprise award deliveries at employee's houses. The result was so good we may just do off-site ceremonies from now on! 

Video One | Video Two | Video Three

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9) Employee Referral Bonus - Let's face it - teachers are getting hard to find! To address this issue, we started giving away a $250 employee referral bonus when a teacher helped recruit a staff member to our district. While this hasn't solved all of our teacher shortage issues, it has created some excitement in our staff about recruitment. 

The "hack" is to make the award a big deal! We go around and surprise staff with an oversized check and take their picture. What staff member doesn't like knowing their receiving some nice spending money?!

Curious about our program? Here is a document with all the info

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8) Remote Work Option - 2020 has been the year for making changes! One of those changes has been with remote work. In our district, we have adopted the following mentality: "As long as an employee accomplishes the goals for which she is responsible, how she gets there should not matter." (Much more can be read in this blog entry)

Too many school districts still force their staff to come in to the classroom or office when work could be done at home. Why are we treating this like the 1990's? Let your staff work from home!!

Staff love having options. Give them the option of working from home or coming into work whenever the opportunity presents itself (you'd be surprised how many still like coming in to work). You will find that this does wonders for workplace culture. 

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7) Donut Friday Giveaways - By now you have probably seen that we do community giveaways at least once a month. The purpose of these drawings is not only to have fun and give away FREE food, but to engage our community on social media.

We started off doing donuts, but now we give away just about anything (cookies, pies, gift cards, etc.). We love doing these little things for our community. 

The "hack" is to HAVE FUN!! We often will record a Facebook Live of the drawing for our community to watch. This is a great time not only to give away prizes but also to communicate important information or recognize groups and individuals. More information can be found here

Video One | Video Two | Video Three

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6) Free Professional Book Purchases - Whenever possible we purchase professional development books for our staff, no questions asked. When a teacher wants a book that can be tied to ongoing personal growth we will use school funds to make the purchase.

Many school districts have a professional development fund that should pay for the books. There are many reasons why books should be purchased for staff, and I dig into those reasons at length in this blog entry

Instead of making teachers do a book study or book report to earn a book (what is this, 9th grade?), we trust if our staff are asking for a book they will put it to good use! 

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5) Free Vacation Day Drawings - There are few things greater than the gift of time. Shortly before winter break, all 13 district administrators and directors randomly draw the name of one employee who works in his or her school or department.  Those lucky staff members earn a free half-day of personal leave!

Our staff love this event, and it makes for great photos when the leader has to go and cover for a position that may be a little out of his or her element (like when I had to fill in as a secretary last year!) 

Much more information about this program can be found here. 

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4) New Baby Onesies - Any employee or employee's spouse in your organization should be publicly recognized after the birth of their baby.  Talk about a life-changing moment for that person! Use this special moment to publicly recognize those new parents as well as reinforce the "family" culture. I heard many other staff members who have said they want a baby just to get a onesie (they are joking...I think!!). 

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​3) Birthday Emails to Staff Members -When it comes to birthdays, how many of you work in an organization where a boss simply gives you a card and signs their name?  This approach is so impersonal! I was "that person" until I heard Dave Ramsey suggest that leadership should consider sending birthday emails to every employee. 

I started to send a birthday email to all 250 employees on the day of their birthday. Of course, this takes some setup beforehand (such as having a secretary import all birthdays into you calendar) but the results are worth it! 


Not only have the birthday emails opened up a pathway for providing positive feedback (see below), but it has also allowed me to have easy follow-up conversations about birthday festivities with those employees once I see them in our buildings.

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2) Flower Deliveries to New Staff - A staff member's first day of work is a BIG deal! Do not let this opportunity to go waste. Connect with a local florist and get ready to send all of your new staff a plant on their first day of work. To take it a step further, make sure your delivery has a special school/school district themed item (we use a a flower pot with our district logo).

I don't care who you are, deliveries at work are fun and memorable. Create a lasting memory for your new staff and welcome them to your family by sending them a special gift on the first day of school. 

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1) Student Birthday Postcards - By far, one of the best decisions I ever made was to start writing birthday postcards for each student in our district. 


At first, 1500-plus personalized postcards a year might sound like a lot, but when you break it down that is only like three or four a day. To get the process started, I had my secretary generate a list of student birthdays and I purchased a couple thousand specialty postcards through Vistaprint.


I look at my list and write a personalized note to each student a few days before their birthday and then give it to my secretary who addresses and sends the postcard. 


It might take some time and costs over $1000 in postcards and postage ... but the dividends are well worth the investment! You would not believe how many conversations have started with students all over the district because of the birthday postcards. I would highly recommend this activity for any school leader!

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