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  • Conference
  • Open Office

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  • Performance Environments: Change Management

The internationally recognized Vancouver Aquarium is a self-supporting, nonprofit society dedicated to conservation. Established in 1956, it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year with educational programs and activities encouraging people to recognize the beauty of aquatic life, the impact they are having on it, and the choices they can make to ensure this beauty is here for future generations.

So in 2004, when they began working with an architectural firm to create a master plan for a major two-phase expansion, including an all-new discovery learning centre, they were determined to "walk the talk" of sustainability. "As a conservation organization, we wanted to become a LEED Gold building and fill it with the greenest furniture we could find," says Aquarium President John Nightingale. And that's what led them to Herman Miller.

Dr. Nightingale had just begun working with Herman Miller Corporate Business Manager/Vancouver Carla Maruyama and Joan Kraayvanger, RID/BID, Herman Miller Workplace Resource, when the two suggested that Dr. Nightingale and his team take a trip to Zeeland, Michigan, to learn more about Herman Miller's commitment to sustainability—and about the many solutions they offer for the way people work today.

"We thought, 'We have this opportunity to create a whole new work environment for people. How do we want to organize it?'" recalls Dr. Nightingale. "We wanted to get people working together in certain, specific ways, which was less formal and much more collaborative. Our trip to Herman Miller narrowed everything down to a much clearer focus for us and confirmed that we were on the right track."

"Because of budget constraints there was no design professional involved in the final selection, planning and application of furniture, so we provided very comprehensive design services right from the start, which the client really appreciated," says Kraayvanger.

Herman Miller Services helped with another challenge: getting the employees on board with the many changes that were going to take place as they moved to an open office. "We knew there were going to be issues around privacy and storage, so our message had to be strong both in terms of the content and in how we delivered it," explains Andrew Martin, the Aquarium's VP of Human Resources.

"Having an effective work environment is more than having the right furniture," agrees Tracy Brower, Herman Miller workplace knowledge consultant. "It's about engaging people and helping them understand why the changes are taking place."

Mr. Martin says the Workplace Change Management plan Brower provided "really helped us zero in on the key issues," which included:

1. Explaining why we were moving to an open office. "We took every opportunity to communicate this message because it was so important."

2. Getting management and key staff involved in the decision making. "Managers gave us good information, plus it's also much easier to sell the concept to the rest of the staff once you have management's buy-in."

3. Developing new protocols. "We needed to determine how to conduct ourselves in the new open offices. Herman Miller provided us with an initial document to work from, and our staff and managers helped us finalize it."

4. Asking people to be flexible. "We told them nothing was going to be set in stone, that we could change things as needed, which is another great thing about the Herman Miller products. So that calmed a lot of fears."

5. Clarifying details about the move itself. "There's always a lot of tension around that: When is it happening? What am I responsible for? We made everything very clear and that made a big difference."

Herman Miller Services also created a document called "Environmental Synergy" that explained how Herman Miller could help the Aquarium meet its sustainability goals, which was a big help to Board members and others not familiar with all the "green" issues.

And now that the staff has settled in, everything is working out beautifully. "People are realizing they don't have to send an e-mail to someone who's 13 feet away; they can actually talk to each other, which is exactly what we wanted," says Dr. Nightingale.

"Even those who were skeptical have become supporters," adds Mr. Martin. "Just the other day one of the managers said to me, 'You know, this is great. I've got my staff right around me and I can give somebody a nod and he comes right over. It's just so much more efficient than it used to be.'"

Dr. Nightingale adds one final note: "Herman Miller's sustainability focus was key in our decision to go with them. But in the process, we've developed a wonderful relationship with them."

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