How intrapreneurship and the power of positivity changed company culture

Lisa Soderman is the Business Development Manager for the Dolphin Centre, a Darlington-based leisure centre that has taken a pioneering approach to intrapreneurship, and that has recently secured its status as an IOEE Enterprise Academy. Working with Lisa on her journey is SFEDI Group’s Executive Chair, Ruth Lowbridge MBE, and together they have developed One Outstanding Team; a programme that not only enhances company culture, but allows employees to work towards IOEE-accredited qualifications. This month we chatted to Lisa, to discuss The Dolphin Centre’s journey, the new programme’s launch, and how positivity is at the heart of everything they do.

With over 20 years of experience working with the Dolphin Centre, Lisa knows how important it is to adapt and change with the industry and the market in order to succeed:

“Although I’ve worked with The Dolphin Centre for a long time, it’s such a changing environment to work in. You’ve got to be able to adapt every couple of years as a new business challenge comes in, but this makes for a very exciting and addictive work environment. A couple of years ago, we were in a position to step back and revaluate again, and ask what is it that will take us to the next level – and realised that it had to be investing in the team. We needed to create a culture that was all about supporting business performance and encouraging our team to be entrepreneurs, to take responsibility and have that drive and passion to move the business forward – and this is what led us to create One Outstanding Team.”

Almost a year ago, SFEDI’s Ruth Lowbridge came on board to help Lisa develop this programme and to tailor the IOEE qualifications specifically to The Dolphin Centre, and Ruth delivered a series of training workshops to The Dolphin Centre Managers to develop their intrapreneurial skills. However, Lisa and Ruth’s collaboration goes back to 2007, when together they created and launched the company’s Code of Service, and Lisa says that this actually formed the foundations of One Outstanding Team:

“In many ways, the Code of Service from 10 years ago is where this all began. On paper, the Code of Service may look like a set of standards for customer service, but it was about much more than that. It was a strategy to show that we listen and respond to both customer and employee feedback about products and services, as well as what’s happening in the wider industry, and this created a positive culture shift within the organisation.

For example, we used our customer and staff feedback along with industry trends to build a new gym that would rival any private gym in the country – and this led to a growth in membership of around 175%. Listening to each other within our team gives us the power to be able to translate this information into business development – and we built on this Code of Service to get to where we are today.”

However, although One Outstanding Team embodies the values and vision of The Dolphin Centre, the programme is much more than that, creating opportunities for intrapreneurship to shine, and for employees’ to be recognised through IOEE qualifications. Ruth says:

“When we developed the Code of Service, we were developing the business as a whole. One Outstanding Team is about helping individuals to learn that they could become more enterprising, and that their skills and efforts are valued. Through the IOEE, we’ve created a way to validate that with IOEE membership and working towards qualifications. We held a launch on Monday 15th May and all of The Dolphin Centre employees are now registered and working towards a qualification, but even in the build-up we have seen real engagement and ownership, and everybody at The Dolphin Centre has truly embraced this.”

Whilst The Dolphin Centre employees are working towards their IOEE qualifications, there are many opportunities for CPD (Continuing Professional Development) along the way, and Lisa says that involving all levels of employees in meetings and workshops has a significant effect on team morale and business development, but that it can also lead to further professional qualifications too:

“I’ll invite colleagues to workshops that I’d be running anyway – so staff aren’t coming into a classroom learning environment and feeling like they’re studying their way towards their certificates. They’re contributing ideas in business meetings and having a voice. For example, we’ve listened to the industry, customers and our employees, and have decided to add Aqua Jogging and Aqua Circuits to our offering. As a result of that, we’ve put three of our staff on training courses; this culture of inclusion only creates more professional opportunities.”

Lisa says that at the launch event, there was a real buzz and sense of excitement for the new programme, but that positivity has also long been at the heart of absolutely everything that they do:

“There have a been a lot of challenges over the last few years. Lots of organisations have had to close their doors and local authorities have made many redundancies, but The Dolphin Centre has always maintained its positivity – and that’s why we’re still here. We understand that if we want the business to be successful, we need to look at the company culture as a whole, and at the individuals – as if you haven’t got a happy team, then you’re always working against it.

Positivity has to be part of your job too, rather than an additional ‘bonus’, and we feel it’s so important that we’ve introduced a Team Etiquette. Its values are – talk positively, engage and listen, good attitude, show gratitude, motivate, and inspire. However, if people didn’t know they were working towards a qualification – they wouldn’t know about it! This is just about creating an outstanding work environment, where people who are working their socks off have an opportunity to shine and feel valued – and to get a real sense of achievement and fulfilment from getting a qualification that serves as evidence of their talents and hard work. The launch was fantastic, but this is only the beginning of what’s going to be a very exciting year.”

Click here to find out more about the new IOEE Enterprise Academy.