On this past Sunday, hundreds of thousands of fans gathered in downtown St. Louis to celebrate their World Series Champions St. Louis Cardinals with a victory parade.

They cheered and snapped pictures as the Budweiser Clydesdales led a ticker-tape parade, followed by Cardinals team members and marching bands from area high schools.

And yesterday, coffee shops and water coolers across the entire city were buzzing with prideful baseball chatter in a sea of red hats and red Albert Pujols player jerseys.

But that winning feeling won’t last. Why? And what does have to do with you and your workplace? 

In a couple of days, or at least by next Monday, the buzz will be nearly gone around most water coolers and coffee shops. Again… why?

Because, like most corporate cultures, “we go back to the way it used to be.” Change — that “winning feeling” — is hard to sustain beyond the emotional high of a seven-game series, even a World Series season.  

Sure, there are those diehard fans that have attended and watched most of this seasons’ 162 games and will chat for years about the 2011 season. And win or lose they will always support their beloved Cardinals. But what about the majority… the rest of us?  Why don’t most of us carry this energy after “our team” wins, after the playoffs?

When I heard the NPR Newscaster announce that this World Series championship has “united a city,” I instantly thought of two times I’ve personally seen a uniting of neighbors and workplace colleagues…and both were very different circumstances from a sports victory: they were because of hurricanes. 

The first was hurricane Charlie. Charlie hit Central Florida with a wallop in 2004, while my wife was eight months pregnant with our first child. Tornadoes caused by the hurricane tore through our neighborhood, knocking down huge oak trees, ripping off roofs and shutting down all electrical power. Thankfully, our house had minor damage (compared to most). After the storm, I, along with all the local inhabitants of the neighborhood, left the safety of our windowless (sometimes roofless) homes and walked the tree-strewn street to survey the damages.  Within an hour, 10-15 homeowners had united in the middle of the street with handshakes and a common vision, a common focus: “Let’s make sure everyone else is okay!”  

We split up with assignments and went door-to-door asking safety and power questions, returning with a report out. Within an hour, we had complied a list of all the collective equipment and expertise we had onhand that might be useful. We then went about helping each other, house by house, even after emergency equipment and professionals arrived.

So what?  The so what was, until that day I didn’t know 95% of my own neighbors! I worked 7am to 7pm and after work and weekends spent time with my wife and friends. Sure, I waved at faces and cars driving by, but I never went door to door introducing myself. 

Why? Well, nobody welcomed me and my wife when we came to the neighborhood. As neighbors, this was an “a-ha” moment for us, and we celebrated the rebuilding of the neighborhood with an all-hands barbecue.  We really got to know each neighbor and we made a commitment that from that point on, we would formally welcome each new neighbor to the neighborhood. But it probably never happened, however. We were moving three miles up the street to a larger family home, and nobody was willing to champion this cause after we left. I am sure the commitment to welcome new neighbors died and things went back to the way they always were.  How sad.

The second hurricane experience that I witnessed uniting people was Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. On Friday and Saturday, August 26-27, 2005, I co-hosted a physician and leadership retreat for the Ochsner Clinic Health System at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Canal Street in New Orleans.  This two-day retreat was focused on how to create a new exceptional service culture that would be physician led, modeled and owned. Recent patient research confirmed that patients wanted more than good clinical healthcare… they wanted “healthcare… with peace of mind.”  

To create, lead and operationalize this type of culture, there would, of course, have to be clear benefits patients, family members and other visitors, and also benefits to workforce that that supports the MDs, PAs and mid-levels… all of the staff as colleagues and partners in care. On Day One of the retreat, the greatest barrier identified to this new patient-centric culture was that Ochsner realized it had, by its own admission, “created a culture of NO!”  As physicians, they realized at this pre-Katrina weekend retreat that they had developed a habit of saying “no” much more than they said “yes” to their patients, staff and colleagues. To truly create “healthcare with peace of mind,” they knew they needed to change things and create a “Culture of YES!”

Because the hurricane was narrowing it’s focus on New Orleans, we decided to cut the retreat a half-day short and committed to “Providing Healthcare with Peace of Mind, by Creating a Culture of YES.” One physician stood up at the end of retreat and said, “To do this right, shouldn’t we start this after the hurricane blows over?” Ochsner’s CEO, Patrick Quinlan, M.D., stood up and calmly approached the microphone to reply to the question and said: “I have waited seven years for us to make this commitment. I think a hurricane is a perfect time to put it to the test. And if we do not do this now, I am leaving!” You could hear the “gasps” throughout the room. “But…” Quinlan continued,  ”… not before I take you out first!!”  He was serious and everyone knew it.

Over the next few days of the hurricane that turned into the worst flood in US history, physicians led the way to “provide healthcare with peace of mind” by creating a culture of YES. When they needed volunteers to work down in the cafeteria serving hot dogs, surgeons manned the grill!  Over the next 24 months, as New Orleans dried out and rebuilt, the Ochsner Clinic gathered heroic and not-so-heroic stories of a culture of YES. With a little help from ILS, they were able to build a formal service culture around the end in mind: “healthcare with peace of mind” and the way to get there: “by creating a Culture of YES!”

For the past seven years, the Ochsner Clinic organization has made this tagline their “True North” of their guiding compass and has woven all of their recruitment, onboarding and performance processes around it, so they may build the exceptional patient experience and deliver of the promise of that True North tagline. There are plenty of organizations that provide healthcare in the greater New orleans area, but only one that provides Healthcare with peace of mind by getting 8,000 plus employees to create a Culture of YES.

It is important to win championships, awards, top customer and employee satisfaction status, but after winning the award… why doesn’t that winning feeling USUALLY last?

Because, naturally, people will go back to the way it used to be and simply wait for it all to just blow over. Unless you take action.

Do you have an important, relevant call to action for all of your employees to believe in and live day-to-day? More important, do you ALSO have the support system around it to operationalize your tagline and make it “business as usual” instead of “random acts of kindness” that pop up about as often as a World Series championship or a hurricane?