By Ryan Suchomel

On June 12, business leaders and human resource managers from up and down the Corridor gathered for the Workplace (R)evolution 2014 event at the DoubleTree by Hilton in downtown Cedar Rapids to discuss cultivating a positive workplace culture.

The goal, author Chuck Blakeman told the crowd, was to “make ‘Dilbert’ no longer funny.”

“What I hope they got out of this, is that they can choose to run their workplaces on freedom rather than fear,” said speaker Traci Fenton, CEO of WorldBlu, the largest global network of companies committed to “freedom and democracy in the workplace.”

“Fear is one of the greatest inhibitors of the progress we are seeking in this community,” she noted. “Ask ourselves what would we do if we weren’t afraid. That will continue to unleash the potential in this region.”

Ms. Fenton, a Cedar Rapids native, recently moved back to the area after spending 20 years in cities across the country.

“I never thought I would move back to Iowa,” Ms. Fenton said. “Then 18 months ago I started to get involved with the Creative Corridor and some great people, and it just feels like there is so much momentum and so much possibility.”

“You can come back here and really see the needle move.”

Ms. Fenton added that many big cities already have a set culture, but that the Creative Corridor was still being shaped and molded.

“I see lots of growth,” Fenton said. “Ideas that we’re just starting to let the valve off of, and ideas are just exploding. It’s a renaissance time, I think.”

The Workplace (R)evolution concept came from a group of community leaders who wanted to bring TED-style talks to the Corridor.

TED – short for “technology, entertainment, design” – is a global conference series designed to present “ideas worth spreading” from the worlds of science and business in a series of brief but engaging talks.

“Four organizations – Diversity Focus, Iowa City Area Development Group, the City of Cedar Rapids and Kirkwood – have been working on this idea of bringing the Creative Corridor to the forefront,” said Vanessa Solesbee of The Solesbee Group, one of the event’s organizers. “You hear about bottom line, but you don’t always hear about workplace culture.”

“It is a key part of retaining and attracting the best workforce possible,” she added.

Ms. Solesbee said the response was “amazing,” with over 340 people registered for the event’s luncheon talk, given by Steve Robbins, a thought leader and innovator in the areas of diversity, inclusion and cultural competency.

The keynote speech was delivered by Richard Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations and the author of “Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love.”

The morning featured five different speakers, including Michael Kutcher, the brother of actor Ashton Kutcher. He talked about being born with cerebral palsy, and working to overcome it.

“You are the only one that can overcome your own obstacle,” Mr. Kutcher told the crowd.

Cedar Rapids Prairie senior Kenzie Farmer asked the crowd to encourage young women and girls to aim high.

“Believe in them more than they believe in themselves,” Ms. Farmer told the crowd.

Chuck Blakeman, Gigi Durham, Christoff Trappe and Lisa Shufro also talked about the emerging work world, gender issues in the workplace, telling your own story and turning managers into leaders.

The event was emceed by Lura McBride, COO of Van Meter Inc. and Joe Tye, CEO of Values Coach Inc.

“There are a lot of companies that are stretching the boundaries, right?” Ms. McBride said. “How do we take their best practices, the stuff they are doing and share it so others can learn from that and take that first step?

“Van Meter is a huge believer in culture, the business benefits from culture, and creating a great workplace where people want to come and achieve their potential, and do the right things for our customers.”

More than just growth for her company, McBride wants to see the Creative Corridor become a thriving region.

“Everyone that comes to a conference like this is really looking for something different,” Ms. McBride said in an interview. “I think the theme is, how do we start to shift our thinking to take risks, take challenges and do something different for the betterment of our community and companies.”

Ms. Fenton said events like Workplace (R)evolution are helping the Corridor to stand out.

“People want to be part of success and we’re telling our stories of success in the Creative Corridor. I think success begets success, and we’re going to attract more and more people.”

“The goal is to make sure this conversation is ongoing,” Ms. Solesbee noted, “so we can recruit, attract and retain the workforce that we need.”

“We do so many things so well here in the corridor, why not have us be No. 1 in workplace culture in the country? Let’s reach for the top.”

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