New Orleans’ Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Launches Employee-Owned Innovation Lab

August 10, 2021

While many entities have been stumbling over major hurdles with employee retention and engagement throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, New Orleans’ Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (ENMCC) strode forward—by leaps and bounds.

The center, already decorated with several “Top Workplaces” awards, including two this year, launched the Innovation Lab in July, aimed at even further improving company culture and, ultimately, customer satisfaction by placing ownership of the initiative in the hands of employees.

Employees will set goals, provide timelines and drive strategy and content for the Innovation Lab, which is the culmination of the Culture Project, a collaborative effort between trepwise, a local growth consulting firm, and ENMCC employees. The overarching goal is to develop a culture that is fueled by accountability and collaboration and then driven by employee engagement, feedback and recognition.

“By letting our employees steer the ship on this project, they find better ways to collaborate and communicate, which will create better feedback tools we can use to reward innovation, creativity and risk-taking,” said ENMCC President Michael J. Sawaya. “In the long term, this will improve customer satisfaction in a hypercompetitive environment, supporting our vision to be a leading-edge organization known for innovative delivery of exceptional event experiences in a world-class destination.”

Through trepwise’s “Design Thinking'' process, ENMCC employees created the Innovation Lab with three teams as solutions to reaching their goal: Belief Biologists, Communication Chemists and Recognition Researchers. 

Belief Biologists determine the organization’s values system, guiding principles and how performance reviews are conducted.

Communication Chemists create a weekly content plan and determine lines of communication and updates between the executive leadership team and employees.

Recognition Researchers determine how to reward and recognize staff and create an engagement strategy for recognition across the organization.

The project leads for the teams were selected from front-line employees and mid-level management positions and provide an opportunity for them to grow their skills and demonstrate the ability to lead and transition into higher positions.

A fourth group, Test Technicians, consists of impartial employees who will pilot new software and processes created by other Innovation Lab members.

The Innovation Lab is a win-win for everyone involved, including the employees, event organizers and attendees, according to Tim Tumminello, ENMCC Director of People Services.

“By letting our employees [lead] this project, we feel they will take ownership with their respective positions, giving them the opportunity to make decisions that will ultimately lead to improved internal and external customer satisfaction,” Tumminello said.

While there has been some skepticism among employees when the convention center embarked on similar projects in the past, according to Tumminello, the partnership with trepwise has been a game-changer. 

“[It] has put us in a place to create the vehicles that will allow our employees to build on an already award-winning culture,” he said. “Therefore, that skepticism has turned to excitement and optimism due mainly to the trust and respect that our employees have for our executive leadership team.”

In June, ENMCC was honored with the New Orleans Top Workplaces 2021 Award by The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate—the fifth year it has received the honor. 

The award is based solely on employee feedback gathered through a third-party survey administered by employee engagement technology partner, Energage. The anonymous survey uniquely measures 15 drivers of engaged cultures that are critical to the success of any organization, including alignment, execution and connection. 

Meanwhile, the 2021 National Top Workplace Award was bestowed upon ENMCC in January, and the center has also received Best Places to Work awards in 2018 and 2020 from New Orleans City Business

According to Tumminello, employees feel inspired and engaged at ENMCC out of a desire to see a smile on the face of every person who comes through the door of the center. 

“Our employees act as representatives of not only our facility but [also] stewards of the city of New Orleans,” he said. “We are proud of our employees for always being customer-minded and dedicated to serving our internal customers, so they passionately serve our external customers and display the spirit of NOLA.”

ENMCC also received the 2021 National Top Workplace Award due to its leadership throughout the unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic and its ability to adjust the facility to suit the needs of the community. The center was able to retain its complete full-time staff with little attrition. 

While working on its company culture through the People Project that led to the creation of The Innovation lab, employees were engaged in providing emergency services to the community and helping make capital improvement projects a reality as part of the center’s $557 million, five-year capital improvement plan.

“Each employee’s hard work aided in the improvement process, leading to the creation of one of the top meeting destinations in the country and an outstanding workplace in the New Orleans community,” Sawaya said. 

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