A multi-national food products company looks for a way to turn its values into principles for action, convinced those values could spur enterprise-wide transformation and breakthroughs in performance.

The Challenge

Company values come in many flavors. Like a shot of espresso, some companies express their values boldly to consumers and employees and those values become part of the business fabric. Other organizations may sprinkle values lightly into the marketing mix.

For almost a century, a European-based food products company with a global reach had innovated the market with fresh products and a commitment to healthy food. Its values — openness, proximity, enthusiasm, and humanism — stood as sentinels to the company’s origins.

As the enterprise expanded into new categories and regions, it lost some of the unique flavor it was known for. Profit and growth was also a critical issue, exacerbated by the recession. As new units launched, leaders got promoted, and new companies were acquired, the core values were not enough to guide behaviors and attitudes.

From sales to manufacturing, not everyone knew or understood how to leverage the values within each business unit or role.

And as the organization expanded globally, it faced a challenge: Executive management wanted to continue the company’s de-centralized structure, which empowers business leaders in its various markets to be autonomous. At the same time, it wanted to create a feeling of unity behind the brands by better communicating and infusing the company’s core values into action and behavior in each unit.

Yet as this purveyor of food products knows, a little yeast worked through the dough makes the whole batch rise. Conveying the values in a new way and incorporating them into each business division’s standard operating procedures could have the same effect. The company believed the values themselves and what they represent held the key to business transformation.

The Insigniam Impact

To spur this cultural shift and enterprise transformation, Insigniam developed a “leadership college” that brought together executive management in cross-operational areas on multiple levels. The “coursework?” A set of principles developed by the company’s senior executives that they called “leadership ingredients.” These key qualities were represented by the acronym CODE —Committed, Open, Doer, Empowered.

Sharing the recipe for transformation with other managers was an equally important task. To begin, the executive management group saw each country’s business unit (CBU) as an independent opportunity for improvement and growth. The culminating effect would result in overall transformation.

The program helped headquarters build strong rapport with the general managers at each CBU, starting discussions from the individual unit’s mindset and priorities.

By coming together for conversations and training, leaders created a strategic framework to help various units and managers reach strategic alignment. These managers now had actionable tools to craft a turnaround within their unit. Breakthrough thinking allowed them to view themselves not only as in charge of a business, but as ambassadors of a new culture. They would now act as cultural referees, watching their employees perform their roles and encouraging them to take on new attitudes, change limiting work habits, and the like.
Developing leaders and increasing profitability

Insigniam consultants speaking French, Spanish, English, and Chinese developed over 6,000 leaders around the world, either directly or through local volunteers in their local environments, over the course of 28 months. The leadership program led to the turnaround of at least three business units, increasing growth and profitability. And for the past three years, units that went through the leadership program scored higher on an internal survey that measures employee engagement vs. those units that didn’t participate.

How do such results translate into everyday business activities? Here’s an example.

Keeping calm and carrying on

At one French business unit, a major supermarket chain stopped carrying the company’s products. That meant 15% of the business unit turnover were written off. Instead of panicking, managers collaborated on a new strategy for meeting yearly sales goals. To do so, they relied on CODE — committing to their goal in spite of adverse circumstances, declaring the breakdown, looking at solutions unique to their locale, involving all concerned, and empowering employees to find and implement solutions.

Rather than concede the loss in revenue and goals for the year, they looked for different ways to launch products faster so they could generate new revenue streams. At the same time, they worked to restore their relationship with the supermarket chain, but didn’t factor sales in the chain’s stores into the sales goals expected for the year.

This success story shows CODE in action — the very goal the executive management sought at the start of its leadership training initiative. They transformed the food products company and returned it to expected profitability by elevating its leadership culture.

Putting it in perspective

“The CEO said the leadership program was the most transformational initiative that his company had embarked on in the last 10 years,” Katerin says.

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