By Mark Smucker
I want to tell you about one of my favorite parts of the day. It’s late. The house is quiet, and I walk up to bed. As I lie there, I inevitably think of . . . something. It’s a cliché, the worries that keep us up at night, but this isn’t a time of worry for me. It’s a time of quiet reflection. And one topic I often find my mind drifting to is my company’s culture.
A few years ago, we introduced a new J.M. Smucker’s corporate brand identity, trading the basket of strawberries and ribbon of gingham (don’t worry, the Smucker’s brand logo and iconography remain intact) for a mark more reflective of who we are today—a Fortune 500 company with leading brands competing in three major categories: consumer foods, coffee, and pet food/pet snacks. As we discussed this important decision, I remarked on how everything about our business has changed over the years—except our values. That’s a source of pride for me, but it can create a sense of stagnation where culture is concerned. While our values are enduring, our culture, and how we live those values, must evolve.
This has come to life for us in countless ways, but the most recent, and significant, example of our evolving culture is the update of our Basic Beliefs.
Changing the foundation of our culture was . . . intimidating
Our company’s Basic Beliefs are the principles that provide the foundation for everything we do, from key strategic decisions to our daily interactions. Our original Basic Beliefs, first drafted by my father and uncle more than 40 years ago, were based on the principles my great-grandfather held when he started the company in 1897. While Jerome Monroe (J.M.) Smucker’s principles were well-known by employees, he never fully articulated them. And so, in the 1980s, my dad and uncle decided it was time to write them down and teach them broadly. Our original Basic Beliefs, “quality, people, ethics, growth, and independence” were born—and they have been the center of our culture ever since. So, when we began discussing an update to these sacred principles, it was not without a little hesitation.
However, in the same spirit of necessary evolution that catapulted us from berries and gingham, I felt it was critical that the “we” modernized the very foundation of our culture to reflect who we are and more importantly, what we expect of ourselves. With this in mind, we developed our new Basic Beliefs: “Be bold, be kind, do the right thing, play to win, and thrive together.”
Employees want more than words on a page
I am pleased with how these have evolved, how they build on the original Basic Beliefs while offering an update that is actionable and inspiring. But more important than the ideas are the actions we must take to live them. And to me, that is how we realize the tangible value from the continued investment in our culture.
A great example of this is the “play to win” Basic Belief.
We are in business to succeed, to win. And we know that to achieve our objectives we must work together. Simply put, to win, we must be competitive externally and collaborative internally.
Admittedly, we have always been seen as an organization that is friendly. We still want to be that, but we are also passionate about our work and, bluntly, we want to be the best and deliver with excellence. This new Basic Belief is an acknowledgement of this and a way for us to clearly articulate that a competitive spirit is not in conflict with who we are—in fact, it’s central to our values. It’s a reminder that together we can continue to win, and do it our way.
The importance of evolving culture today
We have always known the importance of having actionable values and clarity on culture, but this has become even more critical in the current environment.
A recent Gallup piece on the power of culture related that 6 in 10 U.S. employees do not strongly agree that the mission or purpose of their organization makes them feel their job is important. This lack of connection to a company’s core values will ultimately create a disconnect with the company’s culture. And with that disconnect, it becomes even more likely that employees will begin to think about what else may be out there.
Additionally, a study commissioned by Glassdoor found that 77% of potential applicants consider a company’s culture before applying for a job. This statistic underscores the importance prospective employees place on culture and offers a reminder that it is critical to how they evaluate employers.
So, simply put, to retain and attract the best workers we must prioritize culture and how we bring it to life.
But why now?
As we went through this work, one question we asked ourselves was, is this the right time? Our employees continue to operate in a constantly dynamic environment and face myriad challenges posed by external issues. Would this change, on top of all that, be overwhelming to them?
We determined that now was actually an ideal time to announce this change as it emphasizes our commitment to evolve our culture as needed, and our recognition that the last few years have fundamentally changed every aspect of our lives. Additionally, I have to admit, I was inspired by our company’s history. When we have faced challenges, we have always risen to the occasion, and a key to that has been a commitment to our roots: the values that differentiate us as a business, a partner, an employer, and a community member.
For us, a solid foundation has always been the way forward, and no matter what happens around us, it always will be.
This effort has provided clarity to me on a few key points:
- The retention of values and evolution of culture are not in conflict, rather you can’t have the former without the latter.
- Our employees crave clarity on who we are as organizations. They want to understand our vision and that their work truly matters. That starts with investing in culture.
- And, lastly, while it can be daunting to make changes at any time, especially in such a dynamic environment, the world is constantly evolving around us, and we must keep up with it.
I hope these insights, curated from one of my enjoyable bouts of insomnia, offer some value to you as you navigate and keep your workforces supported, engaged, and inspired.