Millennial Leadership in Action: Dandridge Floyd and HR as A Culture Change Agent


Have you ever found yourself with a serendipitous dinner partner? You know, one who enlightened and even delighted you? That's what happened the night I met Dandridge Floyd. We were guests at Detroit Society of Human Resource Management’s March HR Learn Event, where Dr. Szabla, head of the Organizational Change Leadership Program at Western Michigan University, presented “Understanding Resistance to Change: Its Processes and Sources.” Little did I know I was sitting next to a change leader, and better yet, she’s a Millennial! I soon realized I had as much to learn from Dandridge as I did from Dr. Szabla.

As a generational diversity consultant, I’m a huge ally and advocate for Millennials in the workplace. I am always hunting for signs of what Millennials bring to the leadership table. Dandridge’s story not only demonstrates overcoming resistance to change, but she heralds a new generation of leadership.

Dandridge Floyd, JD, SHRM-SCP, is the Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources for Oakland County Schools. Her intended career — a UAW labor attorney — was flipped by the industry plunge in 2008. She survived the recession by landing in a small firm that represented public employers in labor negotiations. Working the management side of the labor-management equation led to a full-time position in a local school district where she saw the intersection of legal and HR issues. Ten years later, here she is at Oakland County Schools.

Dandridge Floyd, JD, SHRM-SCP

Dandridge Floyd, JD, SHRM-SCP

Dandridge’s story fascinated me because of her knack for seeing obstacles as opportunities for creativity. I’ll let Dandridge take it from here:

As soon as I got on the job, I saw that HR has a perception problem. It is often seen as the “Department of No”, with the sole function of implementing mandates and policies, instead of an innovative, talent-driven locus of creativity. HR comes into the room and the mood changes.

Younger me was transactional. I would identify what was wrong and decide what I needed to do to fix it. I ignored the role culture plays in planning for change. Culture will trump planning every time. I failed several times, and this left some battle scars.

Finally, I was forced to reflect on what I needed to do differently to get a positive reception from employees. I realized the problem was me: It was time for me to trade in transactional leadership for a relational approach to making changes.

But how?

While reviewing the district’s insurance premiums renewal, I saw that our renewal rates were exorbitant. Our biggest claims came from chronic back issues. Our health insurance providers confirmed what I knew: In sedentary workspaces, prevention was the best solution. We needed a program to address the concern. More office mobility, even at one’s desk, would not only provide health benefits but may also attract and retain Millennials. It was time to face the truth: We will pay for employee health either through a targeted wellness program or insurance premiums.

Bad Backs = Opportunity

I knew if a mobility initiative was going to succeed, it could not come from HR; it would be too easy to resist.

So, who could help me achieve the goal of preventive back care and increased Millennial retention without HR as the perceived originator?

One thing I realized quickly is that the people with the most power and influence within an organization are not the ones you think they are. Rather than turn to executive leadership, I leveraged the Wellbeing Committee, comprised of a variety of employee classifications including department assistants and support staff. These individuals had the ear of executive leadership, assistant superintendents and cabinet members AND they had relationships with other staff members I did not.

If I had their buy-in and trust, we could move forward.

If I could cultivate a culture of cross-departmental innovation and strength in relational power, planning this initiative would take care of itself and succeed.

This multi-generational, cross-departmental group of interested influencers participated in a focus group about our mobility/health/retention challenge. I was transparent about our insurance premiums and concern about the wellbeing of our employees. Our Wellbeing Committee was transformed into a leadership body who would create tangible outcomes for the benefit of our organization.

Relational Leadership in Action

I knew the process had to be authentic. I could not use this committee to achieve any personal goals. Therefore I sought people who had credibility among their peers and the capacity and willingness to do the job. I deputized them to lead. Then I gave the group complete autonomy to choose the initiatives; this was an experiment, and they could let their imaginations and ideas flow.

My role was simple: I only needed to manage the budget and safety regulations (no bungee jumping off the roof!), work with the vendors and deal with the legal liability details.

The Objective: Design an employee health initiative that would make Oakland Schools a preferred place to work, as well as lower insurance premiums.

The Outcome: Within three months, members of the Wellbeing Committee made four recommendations:

  1. Walking treadmills for meetings.

  2. Bikes at desks.

  3. Standing desks.

  4. Ellipticals under the desk.

None of this is high-end exercise equipment, and it came at a low cost to the district through our wellbeing vendor.

The Process: During our pre-piloting process, we are test driving the equipment and deciding:

  • where to store the equipment.

  • how to move the equipment.

  • what meeting spaces will accommodate treadmills.

  • protocols for a five-day equipment checkout system.

  • maintenance and repair procedures.

We are working out as many kinks as we can now with the goal of launching the formal pilot Fall 2018.

Wait, There’s More

Providing mobility equipment was just the first of many health-related initiatives the Wellbeing Committee has launched. These include:

  • Summertime Dog Walks, through a partnership with Oakland County Animal Shelter, every Monday shelter dogs in need of human attention come to our beautiful campus, and there is never a lack of employees willing to grab a leash and get their steps in! This program also builds connections between employees who choose to walk together.

  • The Meditation Truck shows up monthly, providing employees a 25-minute peaceful time-out during lunch hour in a quiet space with a dedicated meditation facilitator. This was a huge success during Stress Awareness Month. I’m anxious to try it, but the slots fill up before I get to the calendar!

  • Hula Hoop Contests are a hit with employees, and our superintendent, Dr. Wanda Cook-Robinson, can hoop with the best of them!

  • Lose a Ton Challenge invites employees to form weight loss teams, support each other and strive to lose weight and gain recognition. The winner lost a total of 14.57% of their body mass and stated, “I have so much more energy and am definitely more ‘on’ than I’ve been in a long time.”

  • Financial Wellbeing resources expand the concept of self-care. In honor of Financial Literacy month, employees were encouraged to find ways to save 10% or more on a personal bill and earn a reward. This has created quite a bit of idea swapping around the water cooler.

Dandridge’s Big Wins

I am sharing leadership. Through this initiative, people who may not serve as formal leaders in the organization have become leaders in something they care about, enjoy and are equipped to do. I love watching employee confidence increase and bonds with each other strengthen. Not to mention, back health improves, which means fewer sick days and higher retention.

And there’s already an increasing sense that this is a fun place work.

Did I mention that before and during law school I was a social worker in community mental health? Early on I learned that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. My goal is to understand and have empathy for others so they can hear what I am saying.

Trust among our employees is something we care deeply about in HR; we want everyone to be successful. Health, engagement and retention are all part of that equation.

My Big Win

After hearing Dandridge’s story that night, I saw how the information Professor Szabla presented about resistance to change could be transformed into shared innovation.

I learned that we have an incoming generation of leaders who instinctively know that shared leadership and empowering others to use their strengths to launch initiatives results in authentic change.

Dandridge showed me that integrity trumps ego. I want what she has.

I can’t wait for our next conversation. I wonder what she’ll teach me next.


*  Creativia is here to help. I have the experience and insight you can use to build the relationships to make these leaders of tomorrow. I can help you manage change creatively.  I’d love to hear your stories and explore ways that I can help you overcome generational gaps.






Mary Cooney