New Orleans’ Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Launches Employee-Owned Innovation Lab

August 10, 2021

While many entities have been stumbling over major hurdles with employee retention and engagement throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, New Orleans’ Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (ENMCC) strode forward—by leaps and bounds.

The center, already decorated with several “Top Workplaces” awards, including two this year, launched the Innovation Lab in July, aimed at even further improving company culture and, ultimately, customer satisfaction by placing ownership of the initiative in the hands of employees.

Employees will set goals, provide timelines and drive strategy and content for the Innovation Lab, which is the culmination of the Culture Project, a collaborative effort between trepwise, a local growth consulting firm, and ENMCC employees. The overarching goal is to develop a culture that is fueled by accountability and collaboration and then driven by employee engagement, feedback and recognition.

“By letting our employees steer the ship on this project, they find better ways to collaborate and communicate, which will create better feedback tools we can use to reward innovation, creativity and risk-taking,” said ENMCC President Michael J. Sawaya. “In the long term, this will improve customer satisfaction in a hypercompetitive environment, supporting our vision to be a leading-edge organization known for innovative delivery of exceptional event experiences in a world-class destination.”

Through trepwise’s “Design Thinking'' process, ENMCC employees created the Innovation Lab with three teams as solutions to reaching their goal: Belief Biologists, Communication Chemists and Recognition Researchers. 

Belief Biologists determine the organization’s values system, guiding principles and how performance reviews are conducted.

Communication Chemists create a weekly content plan and determine lines of communication and updates between the executive leadership team and employees.

Recognition Researchers determine how to reward and recognize staff and create an engagement strategy for recognition across the organization.

The project leads for the teams were selected from front-line employees and mid-level management positions and provide an opportunity for them to grow their skills and demonstrate the ability to lead and transition into higher positions.

A fourth group, Test Technicians, consists of impartial employees who will pilot new software and processes created by other Innovation Lab members.

The Innovation Lab is a win-win for everyone involved, including the employees, event organizers and attendees, according to Tim Tumminello, ENMCC Director of People Services.

“By letting our employees [lead] this project, we feel they will take ownership with their respective positions, giving them the opportunity to make decisions that will ultimately lead to improved internal and external customer satisfaction,” Tumminello said.

While there has been some skepticism among employees when the convention center embarked on similar projects in the past, according to Tumminello, the partnership with trepwise has been a game-changer. 

“[It] has put us in a place to create the vehicles that will allow our employees to build on an already award-winning culture,” he said. “Therefore, that skepticism has turned to excitement and optimism due mainly to the trust and respect that our employees have for our executive leadership team.”

In June, ENMCC was honored with the New Orleans Top Workplaces 2021 Award by The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate—the fifth year it has received the honor. 

The award is based solely on employee feedback gathered through a third-party survey administered by employee engagement technology partner, Energage. The anonymous survey uniquely measures 15 drivers of engaged cultures that are critical to the success of any organization, including alignment, execution and connection. 

Meanwhile, the 2021 National Top Workplace Award was bestowed upon ENMCC in January, and the center has also received Best Places to Work awards in 2018 and 2020 from New Orleans City Business

According to Tumminello, employees feel inspired and engaged at ENMCC out of a desire to see a smile on the face of every person who comes through the door of the center. 

“Our employees act as representatives of not only our facility but [also] stewards of the city of New Orleans,” he said. “We are proud of our employees for always being customer-minded and dedicated to serving our internal customers, so they passionately serve our external customers and display the spirit of NOLA.”

ENMCC also received the 2021 National Top Workplace Award due to its leadership throughout the unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic and its ability to adjust the facility to suit the needs of the community. The center was able to retain its complete full-time staff with little attrition. 

While working on its company culture through the People Project that led to the creation of The Innovation lab, employees were engaged in providing emergency services to the community and helping make capital improvement projects a reality as part of the center’s $557 million, five-year capital improvement plan.

“Each employee’s hard work aided in the improvement process, leading to the creation of one of the top meeting destinations in the country and an outstanding workplace in the New Orleans community,” Sawaya said. 

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. 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Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.