How to Take a Team to Approach to Culture
By Marty Parker
Culture is built by leaders, but it’s based on a set of values and behaviours that are common and accepted within the organization. That’s why it’s important to engage the whole team in culture, and work to help connect individual purpose with organizational purpose and culture.
I sat down with Tim Lambert, CEO at Egg Farmers of Canada, to talk about that organization’s culture transformation process and what he’s learned about the role of teamwork and credibility in building a high performance culture.
The interview has been edited for space. You can listen to the full conversation here.
Tim, how, and perhaps why, has the culture evolved during your time with the organization?
Well, when I started, the organization was really focused on managing the egg supply in the country, it wasn’t really focused on growth and development; it was organizationally also very siloed. I know when I started, everybody did their own job. [They were] good people, that wasn’t a reflection of the people, but it wasn’t progressive, it wasn’t, growth-oriented, it wasn’t forward looking and proactive.
I remember when I first started, I asked to see the business plan and, if you can believe this, I was told, “Well, there isn’t one.” And I said, “That’s interesting. How the heck am I supposed to know what I and the team are supposed to be doing?” And they said, “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll be extremely busy. There’s a lot of issues that come up.” And I’m thinking immediately, Wow, we need to figure out what we’re about, we need to figure out what we’re trying to achieve, we need to figure out what we stand for, and we need to figure out how we create a high performing team (which is what this is all about) to help us meet those challenges.
And so, starting from that pretty humble beginning, it was then to create a transformation of how the organization functioned, how it looked at itself. And that’s been, an almost two decade long labor of love.
Well, talk a little bit about that journey, that transformation, and what high-performance looks like at Egg Farmers of Canada.
I would say I learned as much about managing teams through sport as I did through education and through business experience. And it’s simple in its own way: everybody has to be the best they can be, but everybody has a different role and every role is equally valuable. When you start with the philosophy of team and the philosophy that we’re all in this together, and that for us to have individual success, we have to then have a team that can execute. So, what does that look like?
Well, you have to know what you’re trying to achieve. So, clarity of purpose, I think is a critical piece. You have to know what your values are, what you stand for and that was, for us in some ways, maybe easier because if you just start right at the whole concept of food production, agriculture, and rural communities, there’s a huge premium placed on working together and a huge premium placed on community… And so, you start to frame out, what are the processes we need? What are the types of people we need? What are the skill sets we need? What are the attitudes we need? You can have people with all the technical skills in the world, but if they’re not prepared to work as a team, are not prepared to communicate, if they’re not prepared to share, you can’t win. So, just like a hockey team, you need everybody committed to the purpose.
And so, it starts literally with our hiring. With every candidate that we ever hire into Egg Farmers of Canada, once the hiring manager and HR team has completed their work on the technical skills, I want to interview them for fit into our culture, attitude, teamwork, communication, approach to collaboration. These are all things that are extremely important… It’s always nice to be successful in these things, but really we started out on that journey quite a few years ago, to learn from others, to learn best practices, to learn how to build a high performing team and how to inculcate a successful culture that allows you to execute properly, year over year. So, that’s taken a lot of years, but it’s exciting to see just the change, and it’s led to business growth. Our industry is probably 65 per cent or so larger than it was 15 years ago, which in a commodity, a stable commodity like eggs, is actually pretty exceptional.
But a big part of this for Egg Farmers of Canada, was your values and your core values of integrity, innovation, credibility, and compassion. Now, credibility, interestingly, isn’t a value that we see listed, highlighted very often. Why is it so important to your organization?
So, it starts right with what we produce. So, we produce eggs for Canadian consumers, and we supply probably 93 per cent of the eggs that Canadians consume every day in whatever form – from eggs in the carton to things people may not think about like mayonnaise or pasta making. And our commitment is that has to be the absolute, highest quality, safest product. We have to lead in things like animal welfare, we have to embrace societal expectations around things like climate change. How do we produce eggs sustainably? So, then you take those same values of being responsible, of being credible, we place a massive premium on building trust with Canadian consumers. And so, if building trust is important and if doing the right things the right way are important, then it’s equally true to apply that thinking to your internal corporate philosophy.
How do you build that same level of credibility and trust with your employees? And you’ve got to, as they say, walk the talk. How can you profess to have those values externally without living them internally? And there are businesses that do that, but that’s not what we’re about.
You talked about trust, but what builds trust is strong, transparent communication. And that, with credibility, go hand in hand. Talk about the role that communications, and particularly leadership communications, play at Egg Farmers of Canada.
Yeah, that’s a huge, huge component, both external, which we’ve been talking about… but internally we have a couple of groups. We have a group of young managers that we’ve put together and we want them to help us understand what’s driving engagement with their staff, right through the organization. Our engagement scores, I think for this were around 90 per cent, which is extremely, extremely high. And we have a group called the Employee Engagement Group, so [we] actually have a group of staff that cuts across business units, whose role is to identify areas for improvement, suggestions for improvement, how we can improve collaboration, information sharing, data sharing. So, we’re very deliberate about the process.
But I’ll give you a specific example… One of the things that young people in our organization really aspire to is to understand the connection between their job and the company’s goals. And so, we have a really rigorous performance management system where every year the board goes through the strategic planning process, we take that, break it down at the senior level, and then our next level of managers build out their work plans for their business unit, and then every employee has a work plan based on that. And one of the things we discovered through that pretty rigorous process is they liked the opportunity to engage with the people we serve, i.e. the board of directors. So, in a lot of organizations, the people who present to the board are the C-suite executives. Well, in our organization, we’ll have an analyst who is doing work on a project, we’ll have them give the presentation of their analysis to the board. If somebody comes up with a good idea and it’s something we pick up, I won’t be up at the front of the board table saying, “Oh, I have a good idea.” I’ll say, “Neil had a good suggestion,” or, “Stephanie had a great idea.” And then people see that when you talk about doing something and you talk about values and you talk about listening to people, they can see that you’re actually doing it.