Leading a successful cultural transformation, calls for creating a firm foundation of relationships throughout the organization.

Leading your company from this kind of people-centered commitment while being transparent, establishes the real trust needed for culture work.

Conceptually, this seems straight forward enough. Yet when you step up to create a new division or to change the business model in your organization, the work of shifting an entire culture can seem daunting.

The work of culture change demands a unique kind of leadership—being unusually open and responsive. It calls for leading so that your employees know that they are valued allies, and the heart of the company.

At Hershey’s, people-focus leads to breakthrough results

When Hershey’s Jeff Kemmerer, VP Global Shared Services, accepted the challenge to increase service to international customers, he approached the work with exactly this kind of open and responsive leadership.

Kemmerer’s charge: handle the inefficiencies and redundancies in their infrastructure and operations and attract new customers globally. (Insigniam Quarterly, Spring 2015)

He soon understood the metrics, processes and systems needed, but the human factor, he realized, was the actual key. It was they who would determine the success or failure of this work. To create a new shared services operation he would need:

  • People to embrace the vision and make crucial changes.
  • A large restructuring and cultural change.

Once people got wind of the restructuring they were naturally concerned about who would still have a job.

This is where Kemmerer immediately showed a transparent style that built trust: he let people know, “I don’t know. I need your help to figure it out.”

Shifting skepticism to enthusiasm during culture change

Kemmerer took specific actions to prepare for the culture change. He focused especially on the people who were ambivalent by:

  • Setting up lunches with 15-20 people at a time.
  • Letting them know he truly wanted their input.
  • Listening deeply and committedly.
  • Persevering with his solicitations for input after of no initial response.
  • Taking action on many of their suggestions.


People-first orientation and transparency, even in hard times, pays off.

When employees asked how many people would be laid off he let them know—30-40 positions. When they asked if they could tell others, he paused, then said yes.

Of course, Kemmerer was immediately concerned. However, this approach worked in his favor. His openness soon neutralized and displaced the negativity and people began to ask questions about the new culture and make suggestions.

“Employees are your most important assets, and you have to act that way even when you make difficult decisions, like letting a person go,” he says.

Kemmerer’s leadership has paid off. GSS has helped to grow Hershey’s international business at Hershey’s from 5.3 billion in 2009 to $7.4 billion in 2014. They are aiming for $10 billion now, and the most growth has come from outside the US. Hershey’s now has its products available in 70 countries.

What conversations can you have this week to build relationship and trust through greater transparency?

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