In today’s job market, culture has taken center stage; with so much emphasis on Culture, it should be extremely easy to define and talk about Organizational Culture, right?  Wrong.  It’s a very popular word, not as easy to define or drive.  In its most basic terms, culture is the norms and values we share as a group in a large or small organization.  It is what drives how we interact with each other; what we hold true and close to the heart, what we are proud of, and what drives our interactions day in and day out.   The most important aspect of culture is that it starts with people and ends with people.  “People go the extra mile because they want to, not because they have to.” ~ unknown.  The Company is the people who are a part of it.  A successful company has a lot of people willing to go the extra mile to achieve a common goal, a shared vision.  This culture always starts with top leaders who set the tone and lead by example, who, as my dear friend and mentor, Kay Logterman, would say, “walk-the-talk”, who are inclusive, have open communication channels, share a vision, a goal and who continuously share the estate of the business, the plans, the objectives and they share with team members how each teammate can make a difference or how they may be impacted.

In a previous life, we grew the organization from a staff of 60 team members to over 2,000, producing over a million cases a week!  We overcame situations that would’ve shut down other organizations, and we thrived because of them.  I’ve been asked, “how, how did you do it”?   At the time, I didn’t know how to describe it. I was not savvy enough to say, “through our high achieving culture, which at its core believed that the sky was the limit!”   What I said was “one conversation at a time”.  In hindsight, we became a high achieving; we can do anything culture, through conversations, through shared meals.  At some point, I started hosting “Pizza Fridays”.  Each Friday, different teammates from different departments were invited to join the luncheon, featuring brick oven pizzas from our local favorite coffee spot.  Often, I invited department heads whom I knew had professional disagreements or who didn’t see eye-to-eye.  They were verbally invited and asked to join the off-site lunch as a favor; “can you please join me and others for pizza on Friday.  I’m asking for an hour of your time; you have to eat at some point, so how about a free meal?”  During “pizza Fridays”, I only had caveat (rule), no business talk.

The team got to know each other as people first and, in doing so, learned to care about each other as people, not our roles or departments.  Those “friendly” relationships translated to very successful operations. People that care about each other are willing to go above and beyond for each other.  If one of us had an issue, we all had an issue, and others, regardless of their title or department, would step in to help the team succeed.  Early in my career, I recall being in the parking lot with boxes of documents that I had to get to our office. An executive noticing my situation picked up a box and asked me where he could take it for me.  Did he have to stop what he was doing to help me?  No, I’m 100 percent certain he had other things to do.  The thing was, that was not uncommon for our team; 15+ years later, I still recall that small action and I smile when I think of my executive, who jokingly said, “I have no other talents but to carry boxes, so where do I put this”.  The team’s care for each other, for our Company, was most evident when people volunteered to take pay cuts to “save” the company during our most difficult time.   It’s been 7+ years since I left that organization, and to this day, when I share a meal with my old team members, we talk about how great it was to be a part of that team and how we will never have that team again.  It’s true; we will never have that same team again.  However, in our new leadership roles, we each take to our new organizations, the willingness to go the extra mile for our team, for our new home, and the amazing opportunity to contribute positively and help shape the culture.

“The most important aspect of culture is that it starts with people and ends with people.”

When it was time for me to find a new professional home, I developed three (3) must-haves in the organization I joined;  1) People I would enjoy working with, 2) a GREAT product I would be happy to serve my family, and 3) the opportunity to make a positive difference.  It starts with people.  Monterey Mushrooms, North America’s largest mushroom grower, with locations across the U.S., Mexico and parts of Europe, with approximately 4,200 teammates, meet the criteria.  It started with the team I met during the interview process, including the leadership team (it always starts at the top); kind, humble, human beings, looking to do GREAT things by putting people first.   There are a million stories I can share, however, I will share that one of the notable behaviors I see, is that leadership takes the time to check-in on the individual; a call from top leadership to a teammate that is hospitalized, or to their family, is not  unusual.  When we lost a member of our team, C level people were at the hospital past 10pm, just sitting with the family.  Being a part of Monterey Mushrooms, is more than a job; it’s being a part of a large family, it is our second home.

Are we perfect? No!  No organization is perfect; organizations are made of people, and people, by nature, are imperfectly perfect.  We have tremendous opportunities, we are humble enough to acknowledge that fact, and we work to get better every day.  When I’m at a frustrating point, I look at the card on my desk that says, “We Enhance People’s Lives,” and I think about the AMAZING people who are there to support me, to lift me when I’m down.  My door is open for my teammates (regardless of title) to lift them when they’re down.  To help think through a problem, provide feedback, or simply listen.  We are business partners; we are friends.  We support each other, and our team, and we look for ways to move forward.  Each day when we must make decisions about policies, procedures, and changes – the proposal goes through the People’s lens (being completely legal, of course), and the proposal made is the one that feels right, the one that supports our people.  Even difficult decisions, such as the decision to end an employment relationship.  The thought process includes how this would affect that individual, how it would affect the team, and whether the individual was provided the opportunity to change their behavior (if needed).  Is it ultimately the right thing to do?

It's also important to discuss subcultures, particularly with organizations with multiple facilities across diverse geographic locations.  Corporate culture does not automatically translate to all our facilities without effort.  Non-negotiables must be established, shared, and facility leadership must be held accountable.  A system of checks and balances must be developed, which is a way for teammates to report activities that go against company policy, the law, or just feel wrong.  Senior leadership must be willing to have direct involvement, and must “walk-the-talk”.  If a leader is not modeling the desired behavior, or allows undesired behavior to fester (such as yelling or mistreating people), a toxic environment will develop and it will negatively impact the entire team, which will translate to poor financial results.  A toxic subculture can tarnish the overall culture and it can make or break a Company.  On the other hand, an organization that respects the individual, is inclusive, supports healthy disagreement, listens, communicates, and celebrates together, can positively impact the bottom line.

Our Purpose is to Enhance People’s Lives, and we will fuel the vehicle which moves us towards our goal through healthy profits.  We have a lofty goal and a leadership, and broader team who are willing to go the extra mile, for our teammates, for our company, because we want to, not because we have to! Together, beyond the sky is the limit!