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“Recognize the ‘plate effect’ to create a fantastic work culture” with Jodi O’Donnell-Ames of Hope Loves Company

Recognize the plate effect. If you were in a buffet line, you would sample a mix of food to complete a colorful, satisfying and enjoyable meal. Each of your team members brings different skills to the table. They have thoughts and ideas outside of their distinguished roles and job titles. Allow team members the opportunity […]


Recognize the plate effect. If you were in a buffet line, you would sample a mix of food to complete a colorful, satisfying and enjoyable meal. Each of your team members brings different skills to the table. They have thoughts and ideas outside of their distinguished roles and job titles. Allow team members the opportunity to share when brainstorming and listen to their suggestions. Not all ideas will parlay into action, but by listening, they are heard and respected. Our ED Laurie Kolano came up with the idea of adding a team retreat to our list programs. She was given the opportunity to run with it and it was a huge success!


As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jodi O’Donnell-Ames. She is a former teacher and massage therapist, member of Union Fire Co. and Rescue Squad, writer and tireless adversary of for Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). Most importantly, she is also the founder of Hope Loves Company, a non-profit organization committed to supporting children and young adults who love someone with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. She lives with her husband Benton in NJ and is the proud mom of three amazing adult children!


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

At 35, I was depressed. I had lost my husband of nine years to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), was a single mom to a wonderful eight-year-old daughter and I felt lost. I tried to remember who I was before life changed and wondered how I could return to that former self, who danced, read, laughed and dreamed, but I had no idea how to find her.

Then came 9/11, the world changed and with it, my perspective. I recognized the blessings in having 6 years to love someone unconditionally and fully. I recognized the blessings of having 6 years to show that love. I recognized the blessings of being able to say goodbye properly.

My grief morphed into energy and purpose and I learned to apply it in a very positive way. I allowed myself to live again and I was eager to use my experience and passion to help others. This positive energy brought me to my current husband, Benton, who also lost his spouse to ALS and to being a mom to his sweet children, Nora and Adam.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

So many incredible things have happened it’s hard to pick just one. However, getting invited to do a Tedx at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, NC was an amazing experience very cool! I got to meet New York Times bestselling author and co-founder of Marquis Jet, Jesse Itzler, and many other exciting entrepreneurs while there!

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are working on an after-hours support call line for those whose lives have been affected by ALS while raising children. People will be able to call, share concerns and learn about available resources. The line will hopefully help many families feel less alone and more connected.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing? An unhappy workforce is not an option.

Leaders need to make sure that their team is in a good place. Having an enthusiastic and happy team is paramount to a company’s success. When you have the right people (dedicated, focused and professional) and they feel appreciated, valued and supported, everyone wins. The result is united productivity and team success.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

Your TEAM matters: I am a nonprofit founder who feels proud of the team culture that we have created (especially difficult and not easy to achieve given the constraints of a nonprofit budget!). Recognize that your company relies on a great team. If that team consists of good people who are dedicated, productive and reliable, the rest is easy. Show gratitude to your team for showing up ready to work and for contributing each day to the progress of your organization. Write a thank you card (yes, people still do that!), bring in breakfast or order a new book for your team to show gratitude. Know and recognize each person’s contribution to the company’s success.

Recognize the plate effect:

If you were in a buffet line, you would sample a mix of food to complete a colorful, satisfying and enjoyable meal. Each of your team members brings different skills to the table. They have thoughts and ideas outside of their distinguished roles and job titles. Allow team members the opportunity to share when brainstorming and listen to their suggestions. Not all ideas will parlay into action, but by listening, they are heard and respected. Our ED Laurie Kolano came up with the idea of adding a team retreat to our list programs. She was given the opportunity to run with it and it was a huge success!

Recognize Limits

Deadlines. Holidays. Sickness. There will be days when a team player is not feeling or working their best. Without judgment, recognize that challenge by suggesting a temporary diversion. A walk to the mailbox, a coffee run, a thank you call to a client — these are all great ways to step back and regroup. Provide positive reasons for needed diversions. If the whole team is feeling stressed, we sometimes hold quick meetings outside. Getting outdoors and breathing in the sunshine can diminish stress and stimulate productivity.

Leadership time:

Having a business coach who can lead your team once a week in brainstorming, positivity, and productivity is a great way to stay focused and to feel valued. Spending a little money on your team’s health and strength is well worth it! We have a teleconference with our coach and guru, Dave Howell every Monday and it’s something to look forward to and a great way to begin the week!

Open Communications:

Recognize that the success of a company depends on each person and his or her role. All roles matter. Keep doors and minds open to communication. Ask your team if you can be of help. Ask if they enjoy their current project. If they are happy, they will be far more productive. If they are not, ask how you can help to improve that situation challenge.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

We are all human. We have problems and we make mistakes. We would all benefit in all that we do if people were less judgmental and more insightful regarding work cultures. Wayne Dyer once said, “Change The Way You Look At Things And The Things You Look At Change.” Example-An employee did not meet a deadline. First, ask if everything is ok. Then ask what needs to be done to effectively move the project along and if help is needed.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I am definitely a visionary who loves ideas and energized people. As a leader, I love to work with like-minded people who are dedicated to bringing those ideas (and more) to life through hard work and strategic thinking. As a manager, I make sure to bring no ego to the table. I know my limits and have no problem admitting to what I am NOT good at. It takes a team and every successful manager needs to know and value that fact.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have always had many ideas and good problem-solving skills but there are three women who have given me the courage to create and build Hope Loves Company. My mentors, Wendy Sitzler, and Barbara Hill inspired me to not only go to college but to be myself. They encouraged my leadership skills and my individuality at a time when there wasn’t a whole lot of awareness around supporting those who learn and think differently. My girlfriend Linda Cassidy was excited about Hope Loves Company and was kind enough to listen to my crazy ideas (from the start) whenever I sought advice and guidance. My husband Benton is patient, organized and detail -oriented which makes us a wonderful team!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I believe that I have brought goodness to the world through the creation of Hope Loves Company, the only non-profit in the United States with the mission of providing emotional and educational support to children and young adults who have had or have a loved one living with ALS.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote: “I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that, and then I realized, I am somebody, ” by Lily Tomlin. When our three children were grieving the loss of a parent I wondered why there were no resources in place to help them cope and heal. I vowed to create those resources one day and I have. We now offer free programs such as Camp HLC and Hugs of Hope care packages to ALS families across the nation!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would love to see FREE brainstorming and resource exchange meetings for nonprofit leaders. Even when we join organizations and pay fees to join these informative networking groups, most charge additional fees for attending their meetings and events. I believe that there should be a group called HOST- Helping Organizations Succeed and Thrive. We could take turn hosting meetings and presenting the information. We could gain information and resources when we combine our experiences and knowledge!

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