Ocean Spray: 2009 Winner of the Award for Excellence in Leadership

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Ocean Spray: 2009 Winner of the Award for Excellence in Leadership

HR Best Practices: Profiles of winners of Human Resources Department of the Year Awards

Ocean Spray was started nearly 80 years ago by three farmers from Massachusetts and New Jersey. They are an agricultural cooperative–owned by a large group of over 600 cranberry growers throughout North America and 50 Florida grapefruit growers. Ocean Spray is the leading producer of canned and bottled juice drinks in North America, and has been since 1981.

They posted fiscal 2008 gross sales of roughly $1.9 billion; and have more than 2,000 employees worldwide. There are eight primary manufacturing facilities across the United States–four are beverage facilities and four are food and ingredient facilities.

The largest and oldest facility, the plant in Bordentown, NJ takes the concentrated juice from the food and ingredients facilities in Massachusetts and Wisconsin; blends that juice with other ingredients; and packages the product into the products you see on the shelves at your local grocer. The Bordentown facility packages roughly one third of the 100 million cases of juice products Ocean Spray produces in a year. The Bordentown plant has 253 employees, and is the winners of the 2009 HR Award for Excellence in Leadership.

Scott Rosen met with members of the Human Resources staff of Ocean Spray in December 2009 to talk about winning the Award.

“We were pleasantly surprised that we were even nominated for the award, not sure how it happened,” said Tim Haggerty, Ocean Spray’s Plant Manager for five years and employee for eight years.

Ocean Spray received an email from the HR Department of the Year Awards committee telling them that someone nominated the company for an award. To this day, they do not know who nominated them, but they would certainly like to know. Teri Thomas, HR Manager, and Neal France, HR Generalist, tried to pin it down, but since they had just spent 12 months giving presentations on leadership training, it could be one of numerous people.

“There are a lot of seeds that were planted out there as far as what we’re doing here,” said Thomas, who’s been with Ocean Spray for four years and a human resource professional for 24 years. “A lot of people would come up and give us feedback and say, ‘Hey, there’s some really neat stuff that you are all doing’ and that ‘I haven’t heard any other organization doing those sorts of things.'”

Ocean Spray is a conservative company that is not much of a limelight seeker, but Thomas and her team decided that this was an opportunity that they could not pass up. She along with France and Kelly Collins, HR Administrator for two years, got together to discuss the nomination and next steps. They researched more about the Awards and saw that they could apply for the Excellence Award in Leadership–right up their alley.

“We’re just really excited about the award and to talk about this program that we have, as far as our leadership program,” said France, who has been with Ocean Spray for over three years. “We thought that most of the work, the body of the work that we were doing, was leadership and that was our focus.”

“I think the success story here is about the cultural change,” said Thomas. “It was not a very good environment at all, at any level. No turnover really to speak of because the employees loved it here. And really not be held accountable.”

Haggerty notes that he thinks the turnaround for the Bordentown plant happened when they introduced a performance evaluation system. He asked his employees when they had last received a performance evaluation. Their answers astounded him. They had never had one, and some of the employees had been there 30 years. He asked them how they know they were doing their job right. No one had told them they weren’t and that was suitable to them.

In response, he told employees, “We can understand and appreciate your concerns. We ask that you give us a little chance. Give us time to start turning it around.”

He realized the employees needed accountability and empowerment. Thus began the plans for a very robust employee engagement plan that started one-on-one meetings with every person in the facility. Haggerty conducted 311 of these one-on-ones, and to date that number is closer to 500. He also recruited the supervisors and managers to conduct one-on-ones, so everyone had a voice. The sessions became known as EPM, employee participation meetings, bringing together a cross section of employees from the entire facility to talk about policies and procedures.

“The genesis of a lot of this came out of those one-on-ones,” Haggerty explained. “The employees clearly said ‘We desperately need leadership in the organization. We want you to hold people and hold us accountable.’ Well, let’s make sure we all understand what leadership means and what accountability means.” He continued, “Why would I really bust my backside, you know, if Joe Bag-of-Doughnuts working right next to me isn’t doing anything, and is getting paid the same amount of money. Where’s our incentive, right?”

Along with gaining trust from their employees, they needed to explain accountability and disciple so everyone understood the expectations. The Performance Impact Workplace (PIW) program grew from this need. PIW is Ocean Spray’s review process which includes a journal of performance. Where before the focus was on discipline only, they trained supervisors to have an even hand approach and log good and bad events. This helped give a fair an accurate assessment at review time.

The team was concerned that long-time employees of the company with take issue with the new policies, but it was quite the opposite. They welcomed the change and it enhanced their performance and increased their productivity.

“They were also extremely supportive of the change which also made a huge difference because they’ve been here so long that they had such influence over some of the other employees,” Collins said. “It was easier to transition, if you had their support.”

They asked the employees to tell them if there is an issue or when they make a mistake, instead of hiding it. Thomas tells of an employee who accidentally ran a forklift into a steam pipe and recognized that it could cost the company money since he knocked a line down. He called security and told them what happened, and had them call the fire and police departments. He called the safety manager, the plant manager and the maintenance manager to report the issue. He took a taxi to the hospital to take a drug test; and, upon receiving negative results [meaning no drugs or alcohol], took a taxi back to work to prepare a report and complete his shift. He was recognized by the plant leadership for doing the right thing and being accountable.

“It’s not about why didn’t he get a write-up,” France said. “You only get write-ups to change a behavior. If you have the correct behavior, why would you get a write up? It’s silly. You’re trying to drive the behaviors. We want an environment where there is no discipline because we all do the right thing. ‘I did this. I made a mistake. And, I fixed it.’ So that’s the type of environment we’re creating.”
Ocean Spray Employees are reviewed and also recognized for their achievements publically. They created an Eagle Award which is handed out both quarterly and annually so positive actions are visibly acknowledged. They also trained supervisors in informal recognition. Ocean Spray created a High 5 Awards program, which focuses on peer-to-peer recognition; and Spot Awards, where a manager can stop and tell an employee that they did an exceptional job on a particular project or issue.

“I think we do a very good job of recognizing our employees and advertising and letting them know, ‘Hey, we do see what you’re doing out there and we are recognizing that you’re doing a great job,'” said France.

“And we also publish all of that information,” Collins added. “We do a quarterly newsletter so this way all that information is also published so that everybody can also see who got what for the quarter.”

“We actually have a recognition wall over on the other side on our DC side where we have pictures,” France pointed out. “Ithink that’s really important part of the HR programs.”

Once they had empowered their employees to “do the right thing”, they needed to make sure their leaders were effectively managing their staff. When Haggerty started in Bordentown, he brought with him a Leader-In-Development [LID] program that was not widely accepted or appreciated. Haggerty and Thomas put their heads together and realized that this program needed to be revamped. Through the efforts of both Thomas and France, the ‘new and improved’ LID was launched just about 2 years ago. They felt that the issue was in the way it was being facilitated, so they stopped it to take the time to find the right people to run the program.

With a new team in place in May 2008, Thomas and her team presented a new Leadership in Development (LID) program for the hourly work force. The program originally started with 17 employees that held the title of “Lead” for their respective departments. The program was such a success that non-titled employees requested to participate in the training. The program quickly grew to 51 hourly employees.

“People heard about it from another hourly employee or supervisor and asked if they can join and we said anybody can join, you don’t have to be a formal lead, everybody is a leader,” Thomas continued.

The first few training sessions consisted of personality testing. They added to the program by bringing in guest speakers, such as professional performance coaches. In August of 2008, the program embarked on a one year in-depth study of John C. Maxwell’s, 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, culminating with a graduation in September 2009.

The curriculum for the one-year program was prepared and taught by another new management program, the Good to Great (G2G) council. The G2G council, based on Jim Collin’s best seller, is headed by Haggerty and comprised of managers, supervisors, leads and hourly employees. They meet weekly to discuss chapters of a selected leadership books. They also serve as an advisory council for Haggerty.

The combination of the LID, G2G and the existing front line supervisors DDI (Development Dimensions International) training programs culminated in one leadership forum. With momentum in leadership development gaining, Ocean Spray decided to create a Leadership Boot Camp in April 2009.

Twenty-four employees went off-site for two 12-hour days and one 6-hour day for leadership discussions, physical training sessions, drill and ceremony practice, speech preparation and nutrition consultation. The camp more than met their expectations as better relationships were forged; appreciation grew for all levels of organization; healthier life styles emerged; and confidence improved through communication.

With such positive results, they held another Boot Camp in June 2009 with 29 employees, and there are two more scheduled for 2010.

“We started to develop a ground swell of trust,” Haggerty explained. “Do you have trust in the leadership within the facility? From that, and with all the work that these folks have done as far as the training and development of the employees, and the empowerment of the employees, is a huge piece. It’s no longer, ‘Oh, gee. This is a management decision.’ No. This is what we all think is in the best interest of the organization going forward.”

“There’s a real big part of business that managers and supervisors miss and it’s your hourly nonexempt workforce,” added Thomas. “We have far more of them than we have managers and supervisors, yet we make all those great business decisions because we’re so smart. If you really want to get the work done and at a high quality, high production, and engagement, tap into your resources. They’re right there and as soon as you make them feel like you appreciate them, you trust them. We need them more than they need us.”

“We interview a lot for leadership,” Collins said. “We get your technical skill. That’s the price of admission. You’re an engineer or you’re an accountant, or you’re a…whatever you are. You’ve got to have that. And people need to like you, it’s important.”

Collins added, “You’re either a team player or you’re not and this was a perfect opportunity to show that not only were we talking the talk but we were now walking the walk and we truly were one team, one goal, one vision.”

“I think [our story] really ties into our vision for the HR Department.” France said. “Basically, we’re strategic partners with the organization. Making that a part of the business plan. The people side, so that’s how we’re able to do some of the things we’re doing. We have the leadership that empowers us to do these things.”

Due to a misunderstanding of whether their application was accepted for nomination, Ocean Spray’s HR team did not attend the awards ceremony. In the days leading up to the event, the event management team attempted to contact the team, but was unable to make a connection. The event’s Master of Ceremonies, Bill Henley–NBC 10’s respected meteorologist and “10! Show” co-host–accepted the award on their behalf.

Thomas was contacted the next day to let the team know that they had won the Award for Excellence in Leadership. The following week, the actual award was hand-delivered to the team.

“Knowing what we know now, definitely we would have been there with bells on,” Haggerty said. “We would have had our corporate communication people in the loop with it as well.”

Even though they were not there for the event, they are proud that their excellent work was in the spotlight that evening and they will always be listed and celebrated as the winner of the 2009 Award for Excellence in Leadership.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the three of these individuals,” commended Haggerty. “I see the work that they do every day and sometimes we really have to force ourselves to take a time out, step back and go ‘Wow’. That’s a lot of work that you did on that. We’ve shared it across the entire company. The folks here received a number of kudos from everybody up and down the entire chain of command. So there have been some really neat things. We’ve got a great trophy that we’re going to add to the room.”

Actual application answer
Please tell us why your team is exceptional and should win the Award for Excellence in Leadership.
Our HR Team may be small, only three individuals, but we have made a tremendous impact on our organization. This team is much more than an administrative function; we are a strategic partner in the success of our organization. Our employee development programs have become the model and benchmark for others within our cooperative to emulate. Our organizational communication plan keeps all levels of our organization engaged and well informed. Our people care programs are exceptional, morale is high and the work force is engaged. With over 20 years experience in the HR field, this is by far the most professional, high performing and results oriented team I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Team Bordentown, as we call ourselves, is definitely deserving of the HR Award of Excellence.

© 2010, The Rosen Group Newsletter. Reprinted with permission by The Rosen Group, specializing in Human Resources Solutions and HR Staffing.