A Non-Traditional Response to Address Failing Workplace Strategies

October 31, 2018 by

Rex Miller has become a household name in workplace wellness circles and is well-known for three books on organizational culture: The Healthy Workplace Nudge, Humanizing the Education Machine, and Change Your Space Change Your Culture. Miller is an esteemed expert in the field of organizational culture and is respected for asking the probing questions that management often doesn’t like to ask: What’s actually working? What’s not? Why?

What positioned Miller to lead the pack in such an evolving industry and how did his life experiences unweave a larger question – why do workplace strategies fail?


The Bumpy Road to Success

Miller took what many would view as the traditional contract interiors path. He started working his way through some of the major manufacturers, holding key titles that helped advance his career. He then transitioned to the distributor side moving his family to Texas to work as VP of Sales for a distributor. He had a healthy ten-year contract, positioning him to retire right at 55.

Everything was shaping up nicely, and Miller and his family moved to a wonderful executive neighborhood – complete with a sizeable mortgage – and his children transferred to a new school. The year was 1999. Given that date, we can predict what happened to Miller’s perfectly executed future. The dot-com crash resulted in his company losing 70 percent of its revenue. Then came 9/11. One day, Miller came into his office and the owner gave him two choices: leave today, or go back into sales. “We don’t need a VP of Sales, we need sales,” Miller recalls his boss saying.

There he was, with a fresh mortgage, recently uprooted family, and no VP salary to support it all. Miller had to reinvent himself. It took seven years to rebuild, and while this process may have seemed like the worst possible scenario for many, this bumpy road led Miller to the success he’s experienced in the wellness industry today. He became what he calls “an accidental author” after an interview with Leadership Network transitioned to a book on the topic of emerging tech-savvy leaders. From there, he continued his path to uncover the mysteries behind workplace strategy and shares tips that translate to the wellness industry and workplace design today.


Don’t Be Afraid to Explore Change

During Miller’s journey to reinvent himself, his research as a subcontractor discovered 70 percent of capital projects he worked on came in late and over budget. Additionally, more than 50 percent of the cost associated with traditional project delivery methods went to waste or non-value-added activities. “My gut instinct knew these problems were unnecessary, but we just needed a willingness to explore them,” shared Miller.

Shortly thereafter, Dick Haworth came to town to see one of the projects sold and installed by the company Miller worked for. After the tour, Miller approached Haworth and boldly stated, “I think we can sell this product better if we shift the thinking and habits in the industry.” Haworth asked for a proposal. Miller’s experience teaches us that we must stick with our gut, and don’t be afraid to speak up when we see an opportunity for improvement.


Focus on Mindshift

Once we recognize there’s a problem, we must look at the ability to drive change. Miller said that one of the most powerful tools he uses when working with an organization is the concept of Mindshift. As he explains, “Mindshift is a process designed to tackle complex problems that seem perpetually stuck by creating the necessary willingness to set aside assumptions and explore the worlds of outliers.”

If you look at his path and focus on workplace culture, Miller applied his own approach to personal reinvention. When his position came crashing down due to the economic conditions, he surrounded himself with trusted collaborators and some high-tech tools to help others climb out of similar circumstances.


Think Long-Term

Miller suggests that one of the biggest problems with workplace strategy is its lack of long-term thinking. His research uncovered a common problem with standard workplace wellness programs – for example, they don’t address chronic disease. He cites research stating 50 percent of the population has a chronic disease, and that number is raising about 7 percent each year. What’s even more alarming is the fact that we have not seen a dent made in reducing this trend in the past 50 years.

Chronic disease primarily is driven by lifestyle choices: substance abuse, smoking, unhealthy eating habits, sedentary lifestyles, and unmanaged stress. Yet the results of these choices often take 15-20 years to manifest. “Unfortunately, traditional wellness programs focus on short-term interventions that fail to slow or reverse the long-term effects of chronic diseases. We found it is not even a question of “doing wellness better.” The top expert and advocate in the field workplace wellness explained why less than five percent of companies are even capable of implementing an effective wellness program,” explains Miller.

Miller’s most recent book focuses on steps that can improve these long-term health conditions at much lower cost than annual wellness programs. The key? “Shift behavior through nudges, focus on a healthy environment, and reduce the friction points that create stress in the workplace.” And if we take to heart the lessons of Miller’s life, perhaps we can add to that list the ability to reinvent even in the bumpiest of roads, because success often lies at the end.


This article was originally published in The Business of Furniture, a division of Bellow Press, on October 24, 2018. It is reprinted here with permission.

About the author: Giselle Walsh is a corporate trainer, sustainability guru, and avid researcher with an innate ability to communicate technical details to an audience conversationally. Giselle’s background in sales leadership makes her an intellectual asset for CEU training and presentations.