“Rules of the Playground”: Culture Change at Crayola

July 22, 2018
For over 115 years, Crayola has helped parents and educators raise ‘creatively alive’ kids. What Crayola stands for is refreshing — they celebrate children’s originality and self-expression, encourage wonder, adventure, and dreaming. Simply put – “inspire everything imaginable.” What’s also refreshing is that this authenticity carries over internally, and Crayola recognizes the culture they create with their people is the key to making what they stand for a reality.    At ALI’s recent Strategic Internal Communications conference in Boston, Karen Kelly, the Executive Communications & Employee Engagement Manager took us on a journey through Crayola’s culture over the past few years. She talked about how they have driven behavioral change at the company. What stood out to me most of all during Karen’s talk is how wonderfully Crayola “owns” who they are and how they strive to bring a playful, creative spirit to everything they do internally.   A brief history of Crayola’s culture In 2009, their cultural behaviors felt like words on paper — lengthy and hard to remember. Their CEO challenged the team to adapt the cultural behaviors to reflect who Crayola is and what they stand for (hint: kid friendly and playful). The result? “Rules for our playground” were established that set cultural behaviors that were genuine, easy to remember, and provoked child-like wonder. Examples include: 
  • Play nice and share (collaborative and team-based) 
  • Be brave (innovative and risk-oriented) 
  • Best friends forever (obsessed with consumer needs) 
“Rules for our Playground” were brought to life in highly visible ways. A few examples include painting office buildings in various Crayola hues, updating employee badges, installing photos of kids playing with Crayola products around the offices, and designing new business cards.  Fast forward to 2015 with the rise of e-commerce – the landscape was changing and the company was changing, too. The team recognized that the “Rules for our Playground” needed an upgrade to foster future growth and so they embarked on “Playground 2.0.”   Renovating Playground 2.0 Through research — they brought in cultural anthropologists — and a careful review of current behaviors, they sketched out (pun intended) revised behaviors that felt true for who they aspired to be — and eliminated behaviors they felt that they were already doing well. One of the biggest changes was to incorporate transparency. They found that employees were reluctant to bring up issues or challenges and oftentimes would try to handle these themselves. Through this new transparency behavior, they encouraged a “test and learn” mindset, reassuring employees that they were not alone and that taking risks were welcomed. In addition to revising their behaviors, they also crafted leadership competencies focused on developing leaders who are innovative and inclusive, outcome focused, committed to improvement for themselves and others, and of course demonstrated these cultural behaviors.  Getting the word out to Crayolians So, how did they drive awareness and adoption among employees? Karen talked about their comprehensive communications plan, which included:  
  • Ensuring executive leadership alignment. 
  • Educating managers on the new behaviors and leadership competencies. 
  • Sharing the revised behaviors and leadership competencies at an all-hands meeting (Something I personally loved is how they gave out a box of four crayons with the leadership competencies on the crayons’ labels at the meeting.)  
  • Leveraging digital and physical channels where they could continue to reinforce these behaviors and educate employees on why these are important, such as their company newsletter (including hard copies for manufacturing employees), intranet, digital signage, and posters. 
  • Creating tangible reminders in true Crayola fashion. Think colorful t-shirts with the culture graphics, clever environmental branding in conference rooms and offices, and peer recognition boards to acknowledge cultural behaviors.  
These cultural behaviors were also woven into recruitment practices and performance reviews to help ensure Crayola was recruiting candidates with the right cultural fit, and that current employees were evaluated according to these behaviors.  The impact of an authentic, aspirational culture Their employee engagement survey results showed that these behaviors were resonating, and creating a positive impact throughout Crayola’s offices and facilities, with 65% of their workforce measuring as “engaged” compared to 50% the year prior.  Thanks, Karen, for giving us a peek into your world, and kudos for driving a positive (and fun!) employee experience at Crayola!    Read more bite-sized brilliance on our LinkedIn and Twitter.
Becky Sennett

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