Guest Post by Graham Williams.

Who doesn’t want growth? Growth seems a good thing for organizations. It marks the positive results of hard work. Growth unlocks doors to more opportunities. However, with this growth come stressful and demanding challenges. This was true for G-Wiz, a gymnastics organization in Cape Town, South Africa, but with some help, they were able to reach their happy ending, which is only the beginning. Let’s dive into this inspiring, real-life case to learn how to work with values and virtues.

G-Wiz (Gymnastics Wizards) is a Cape Town organization that has been serving communities, parents and children with scientifically researched gymnastics training for more than 15 years. They have served over 25,000 children at 25 schools in a very diverse population. Every child receives individual attention to maximize their physical, emotional, social and cognitive development. Through their G-Wiz Business Academy, the organization also offers training and coaching to gymnastic businesses around the world.

m_gymnast1Rapid growth brought G-Wiz to the point where there was pressure to install professional systems, and procedures, and to maintain safety, customer service, teaching and induction protocols, and to spread responsibility and accountability, relieving Tania Williams, the founder, of an impossible workload.

The challenge was that these growth pains had to be alleviated without the organization losing its vibrancy, quality coaching, and the personal touch. G-Wiz was on the cusp of either decreasing quality of delivery, or a new life of on-going success. They were at a crossroad. What would be their future story?

m_girl discussionIntuitively, Tania Williams, knew that the move to new systems and procedures was the relatively easy part. She was convinced that the only way to go – to retain and gain clients – was to establish a values-driven organization. No matter what the pressures were. The Halo and Noose consultancy firm was called in as facilitators of this change. The new adventure could begin.

How to leverage values for growth?

Cost is always a factor, especially in times of economic slow growth or no-growth. Although G-Wiz was growing, this transition required substantial spending on new systems and on training of ‘not-yet-fully productive’ staff.

Many organizations have a vision of who they are going to be Click To Tweet

Many organizations have a vision of what/who they’re going to be, and develop a set of values. But a library of stories exists where what is said is quite different to what is done. The values do not translate into daily behaviors.

There are many things that can go wrong. Often, the chosen and stated values are predictable, boring, imposed, confusing. Managers and staff don’t really know the difference between ethics, values and virtues. Nor do they understand the link to intrinsic motivation and engagement.
An organization may incorporate values into staff appraisals. But maybe the right organizational values (that ensure engagement and motivation) are missed. Or, the appraisal mechanism becomes more about compliance, than about voluntary engagement, self-control and due reward. Forced values do not become habits, norms, and embodied character virtues (which is a desired state far beyond mere organizational and individual ‘alignment’)

What we often see, is that the process of inculcating the values to the extent that they are lived voluntarily and spontaneously, doesn’t happen, especially in times of high stress.

Initially, certain individuals at G-Wiz had a tendency to lapse into academic, ‘left-brain’ debate about classical, religious, psychological, ancient and modern, older and younger generation, East and West, Euro-centric and Afro-centric values and virtues. They needed to see that the values and virtues that they selected had to relate directly to what G-Wiz was about, for the benefit of their internal and client community. (As it turned out, their chosen virtues have roots in the Leonardo da Vinci values of practicing love and being curious, and the Ubuntu value of creating group cohesion and harmony).

Preparing the values journey

m_gymnast3G-Wiz recognized that culture (the organization’s personality and character) is what enables resilience and nimble adaption, drives loyalty and results, sets a winning business apart – and that character consists of appealing and consistently displayed virtues. They also believed that talented people wish to work in virtuous organizations. We thought long and hard about how to design a process that was cost-effective, meaningful, smooth, engaging, and would yield not only a set of organizational and individual values, but a strong drive to live them, and convert them to daily virtues. This is how the intervention proceeded:

Flowing on the river(s)

We kicked off with a two-day, off-site workshop for key players – senior managers and coaches. Using experiential and interactive methods, we together examined the existing and desired state of the organization. This included facilitating an anecdote circle to elicit feelings and thinking. We explored the nature of people at work – including personal visions, beliefs, values, virtues and motivation, what it means to be values/virtues-driven, and making the core values explicit.

G-Wiz recognized that culture is what enables resilience and nimble adaption. Click To Tweet

We had conversations about what change journeys entail, and what participation was required on the common road ahead. We used The River Set. This is a flexible tool, enabling work from a single card depicting a section of a river, to continuums of cards – with different continuums representing the complete river: past and future, real and imagined. The River set is produced by Gali Salpeter, an Israeli storyteller, drama and narrative therapist.

Following this workshop, the entire G-Wiz staff worked at identifying a set of core values that characterized their desired culture. For each value, they generated a list of behavior indicators: actions that indicate clearly when the value is displayed.

They avoided typical, boring values espoused by most organizations, which ought to be in place anyway – threshold values. They also confined themselves to just 4 core values. Inherent in these values are other values. For example, their Team/Family Spirit value contains the sub-values of collaboration, belonging. And values such as authenticity and integrity ‘arrive’ when the chosen core values are lived consistently.

Their value proposition became:
Join the Gym Wizards family on a journey filled with laughter, loads of fun and a rich learning environment. As a team filled with diversity we are aware that you are all unique, and will take care in acknowledging the whole person. We Pride ourselves in being there for you and serving from the heart.

G-Wiz values: Make Their Day, Keep Laughing, Team Spirit, Fun Click To Tweet

Their four values were Make their Day, Keep Learning, Develop Team/Family Spirit and Create Fun.

m_balance beamMake Their Day- meant: I will aim to make someone’s day every day- whether it is a customer, parent, schoolteacher or fellow staff member. I know that taking time to talk and listen to customers before and after class, teaching enthusiastically, boosting children’s self-esteem and preparing for my lessons will help me make my customer’s day!

The associated behaviors entailed (a.o.):
– Talks to parents before and after class- meet, greet, give feedback
– Takes time to listen carefully to staff, kids, parents
– Is aware of the physical, social, emotional and intellectual state of the child
– Adjusts lesson according to individual children – does not teach as a group
– Maintains firm but kind and fair discipline
– Uses fun games to start, fun new warm ups, fun ending activities
– Teaches enthusiastically & energetically
– Gives great demonstrations and teaching: break movements down
– Reinforces and builds confidence (Uses Positive feedback sandwich when teaching)
– Is vigilant about safety
– Clearly defines the objective of the lesson to the kids at the start of lesson
– Knows children’s names
– Finds solutions – takes initiative (makes Tania’s day!)
– Birthday cards given to kids
– Takes pictures and videos for Facebook/website

A Game…!

A few weeks after the first workshop we were in a position to run the second “implementation” workshop. During the time in-between workshops we searched for a way to combine performance, motivation, reward factors in a way that required minimum effort and cost, and yielded maximum impact. The solution? A game. A game can engage and invoke voluntary participation. The intention was to create a climate where participants build behaviors into habits, and habits into character virtues. Virtues that project what G-Wiz is all about.
The game incorporated social connection, finding meaning in something bigger than oneself, having the experience or hope of success, and providing satisfaction. A virtuoso (male) or virtuosa (female) is a person who is honored for displaying dazzling skill and living the values. The G-Wiz Virtuoso Performer Game rewards those who best display the G-Wiz values in action. Each participant gives and receives Appreciation Cards based on what they are seen to do in terms of living the values. Points are also allocated from various records such as internal records of attendance, payments, class growth, indemnities, email and other endorsements received, as well as information from regular customer feedback surveys.

This giving and receiving is a collaborative behavior – and brings into play the principles of the well-known Johari Window.

People strive to become virtuoso performers by reaching their values Click To Tweet

People strive to become virtuoso performers by reaching the highest level at all values. Mystery gifts are awarded as participants reach each level and big points are awarded for certain activities critical to G-Wiz performance, for example: Recruiting a new coach, 90% of fees paid by third week of term, Helping a peer improve their performance (outside regular class time), 80% retention term to term, Class numbers grow over the term by 10% and/or: 75% of their kids compete in G-Wiz competitions.

When the required virtuoso level is reached: the participant is awarded a gift of their choice that carries the G-Wiz virtuoso performer logo. They have ‘bragging rights’.
The game is not based on compliance and emphasizes encouragement and reward. It is a behavior modification mechanism.

On this second organizational values workshop (again experiential and interactive), we looked at how to maintain the virtues under stress conditions and use techniques for self-stress management. We developed the scoring spreadsheets and mechanisms. There was no resistance to the proposal. Instead, the enthusiasm and commitment was overwhelming.

The Happily-Ever-After Begins

Our intervention process mirrored the new G-Wiz organizational values/virtues of:
• making their day
• building the family spirit
• new learning
• fun.

m_childThe Virtuoso Performer game has proved to be an elegant solution. There is a new dynamic in the organization. G-Wiz is becoming virtues – driven. Although mainly collaborative, there is a competitive aspect – in the main, individuals competing against themselves to improve their own best practice.

They now have a total quality system that works, a shared purpose and responsibility. The leader has ‘space’ to nurture new leaders within the organization. No longer does she have to stand-in as a coach, for example. She says: “Contingent on a set of values, I now lead with those in mind. The operation has become self-regulating/ peer-driven.”

The four core values have become a statement of ‘how we do things around here’. They are also a value proposition for customers.

Innovations to processes and supporting technologies are happening. New software to generate attendance records, invoices is installed. A web portal for parents is being developed. As is a profit-sharing scheme. A request by one school to supply a gym achievement badge to be worn on school blazers, is implemented. An internal salsa dance program was organized as a family-building program. The bookkeeper embarked on an advanced accounting course. Writing of blog contributions by staff happens spontaneously.

Performance against the values are highlighted by the behavior indicators, and staff are volunteering their own perceived weaknesses. Training to upgrade to identified skill shortages (including giving powerful presentations, how to innovate, time and energy management, assertive communication, business writing, storytelling, leadership) is in place. G-Wiz goes from strength to strength. They grew by 53% year-on-year 2012 to 2013.

Exceptions have been a coach (from a previously communist country) with a resistance to self – reporting of her own achievements, perhaps a result of cultural upbringing. And another staff member is facing an impending divorce, battling with financial pressures and not ready to participate fully. These needs are addressed on an individual basis. The leader is getting to know each team member and spends freed-up time on coaching and encouraging those who lag behind in earning game points.

The Road after Happily Ever After

m_roadPeople respond to leadership that provides nurture and meaning. True leaders let go of a reliance on hierarchy, control, rules, and forced compliance mechanisms. Instead, they provide direction and are clear about HOW to get there. This HOW is well-served by being values-based, and setting in place mechanisms to convert values to virtues and daily behaviors. IF these values and virtues are shared, role-modeled and become imbedded in the culture, then leaders can move away from being authority-based, and their influence and connection to their staff increases.

Virtues in organizations can create a motivating climate. Their indicators might include the tolerance for difference, display of love, generosity and a level of respectful and humorous exchange in conversation. The Ubuntu concept of ‘I am because we are; we are because I am’, is where individual and organizational virtues intersect.

Has G-Wiz become a virtuous organization? By focusing on a few critical core values and introducing mechanisms to facilitate their transition, they are well on the way. The end may still be a way off, but a solid beginning has been made, and the quest is laudable.

To grow is changing without losing the heart of the business Click To Tweet

To grow means to make necessary changes without losing the “heart” of the business. For G-Wiz that meant coming up with true core values and translating them into virtues: daily behaviors. Everyone was enticed to adopt and embody those virtues, using a game that was engaging and voluntary.

m_vituosa organization book

  • What is your takeaway from this case?

This article is a shortened version of Chapter 9 of the Book “The Virtuosa Organisation” published by Graham Williams, Dorian Haarhoff and Peter Fox.

Graham Williams is a certified management consultant, thought leader, business narrative practitioner and author based in Cape Town, South Africa. He can be reached at

Marcella Bremer is an author and culture & change consultant. She co-founded this Leadership & Change Blog and

Leave a Reply