March 17, 2018

Strengthening Company Culture…One Mindset at a Time

The clock strikes midnight and disagreements continue to hold strong. The realization that they just missed a crucial deadline is slowly starting to sink in among the management team at agtech startup SWIIM System. Gradually, dissent about how the project should have been carried out dissipates, but one glaring fact remains: the company’s culture has to change.

“When we were building our management team during the development stage of the company, we brought together high-caliber professionals who all had different expertise and personalities,” said Kevin France, CEO of SWIIM System. “Though these were all high-quality individuals, they just couldn’t execute to their full potential because they were constantly kicking and fighting each other.”

The lack of agreement and collaboration began to foster low morale among the staff at SWIIM. France, in frustration, expressed that his 15-person startup needed a significant culture overhaul during the company’s board meeting in December 2016. A solution soon emerged.

“Dave Puglia (WG executive vice president) told me about a training resource that Western Growers offered relating to the Arbinger Institute. He said that the program focused on changing the mindset rather than changing behavior,” said France.

At first, France was skeptical, remembering the countless leadership development and management training sessions he had participated in previously. Trainings that involved the equivalent of holding hands, singing ‘Kumbaya’ and then forgetting all of the lessons learned immediately after leaving the session. France knew something needed to change or his budding company would not prosper. He understood that a healthy workplace culture drives positive business outcomes.

France signed up each of his employees—located in areas throughout California and Colorado—for the two-day workshop, where Karen Timmins, WG senior vice president of human resources and resident Arbinger trainer, traveled to the company’s headquarters in Colorado to share the principles of Arbinger.

“The training brings to light what is wrong at the company and how to fix it. It’s especially helpful for organizations with challenging work environments,” said Timmins.

France started to notice a change among his staff, especially the leadership team. Many of his team members saw how they previously treated others as objects rather than people and had a self-focused—or inward—mindset. Lightbulbs started going off for team leaders, and they began to accept and adopt a culture where they held themselves accountable and stopped dehumanizing others. From there, a healthier and more collaborative work environment started to develop within SWIIM. Now, France finds ways to keep the Arbinger approach alive and well throughout the year, including an annual Arbinger-based retreat each year for his team.


Adopting the Arbinger Approach

The idea to focus on creating a workplace environment that fosters creativity and goodwill began in 2002 when Tom Nassif took the helm of WG.

“Any significant change within an organization has to start from the top,” said Timmins. “Through Tom’s leadership, we adopted the principles of Arbinger and integrated this program company-wide.”

Every employee hired at WG goes through the program, learning about the principles that drive a constructive work environment and receiving the guidance needed to thrive in their personal careers. Timmins explains how the workshop has successfully taken people out of their comfort zones by forcing them to focus on changes needed within themselves. This has resulted in positive change throughout the organization and has given managers the tools needed to be more effective in understanding how to help their staff grow.

Seeing the success of Arbinger within the association, WG made this training a member benefit in 2007. Throughout the years, WG has provided training to many members seeking to reform and recalibrate company culture, including Ocean Mist Farms, The Growers Company, Bolthouse Farms and Five Crowns Marketing. In fact, several member companies—JV Smith Companies, Reiter Affiliated Companies and Monterey Mushrooms–were so inspired after the workshop that they sent their own staff to the Arbinger Institute to be certified as trainers.

“We were looking for a development program that would be sustainable through time and not just a flavor of the month,” said Joaquin Garza Jr., operations manager at Monterey Mushrooms. “After Karen conducted a pilot with our executives and selected team members, we immediately knew that this was something we could use long term to change leadership.”

The methodology was a completely different way of thinking—a change that the organization needed at that time. According to Garza, team leaders were no longer afraid of confrontation and were able to talk openly about challenges they faced with each other. They also began focusing on helping others achieve their goals prior to completing their own, as well as exploring different methodologies to drive impactful change at a higher level.

“We saw a big difference in the team and eventually started to see change throughout the company,” said Garza. “This isn’t a training. It’s a journey, which makes it even more special.” Now, with Garza certified to conduct Arbinger, Monterey Mushrooms has provided training and development to nearly its entire management staff who oversee the company’s 6,000 employees.

To better serve members, WG added a second resident trainer in 2017 and is now helping ag-related businesses enhance their employee performance review process. Through the 3A+ performance review method, Timmins said, the script is flipped and employees are now encouraged to take initiative and speak with their managers about their progress. Timmins heads back to Colorado later this month to help SWIIM implement this new review system.

For more information about Western Growers’ training resources, contact Karen Timmins at (949) 885-2295.