TRUST IS THE CURRENCY OF LEADERSHIP
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
By Terry Tierney, CEO
Daiya Foods was started in 2008, and employs approximately 225 people. It produces plant-based foods in the natural products industry that are sold all over the world.
In 2017, the company merged with a larger food producer. It has become the fastest-growing plant-based food company in this industry. Its compound annual growth rate on top line and bottom line exceed 45%, which is rare in the food industry.
Terry joined Daiya in 2011 as a director, and has served as CEO since January 2014. He sees his strongest skill-set as being a people-oriented leader.
Before Terry became CEO, the organization struggled to find its coaching voice, process, and principles. In 2015, Daiya created a compelling vision that was based on having a feedback-rich culture. Coaching was a strong foundation of that emerging culture, and remains a cornerstone of its high-performance culture today. Later that year, Daiya certified its internal Vice President of human resources to begin the process of delivering The Heart of Coaching (THOC) to the company’s leadership team.
The central tenet of THOC coaching cultures is that feedback flows in all directions—up, down, and sideways. This feature absolutely resonated with our beliefs—that coaching can happen anywhere between anyone.
Daiya has consciously worked to integrate philosophies and tools from other bodies of work, combined with our existing high-performance culture habits, and the new ideas, frameworks and tools from The Heart of Coaching (THOC). We have ended up with a very effective organization that has become successful beyond our wildest imagination.
We have worked continuously to make the process of giving and receiving feedback absolutely a two-way conversation, and in those conversations reinforced strong cultural beliefs:
- It’s OK to make mistakes,
- Getting feedback is a good thing—truly a gift, and
- The first response of anyone who receives feedback is expected to be expressing gratitude to the provider—whether one agrees with the feedback or not.
These principles encourage the ongoing exchange of feedback, so we go out of our way to make sure the person who provides feedback also receives acknowledgment and appreciation. This clearly reinforces the action (which could have some personal risk associated with it) so that it continues.
Earlier this year, after being pursued by many large North American companies, we completed a merger with a Japanese organization. We are now part of a $16 billion Japanese holding company and, as a result, have a tremendous amount of resources available to us. That amazing achievement has been significantly impacted by the quality of the leadership team and their commitment to stay focused on continuous improvement in a feedback-rich culture.
One of the other concepts we incorporate across our culture is Zeno’s paradox. It dictates that moving halfway toward your goal still leaves the other half to accomplish. And moving halfway toward that goal still leaves another half to accomplish. We never reach perfection—we just keep getting better. It keeps us humble and focused. We always ask ourselves, “What’s our best capable of?” We have successfully moved our leadership team’s focus from simply motivating people to inspiring people to want to do their best.
We also apply our coaching conversations to a powerful four-stage decision-making process called the Freedom Ladder. This four-rung ladder framework involves focusing the team dialogue (with ample amounts of feedback) on achieving a solution to a problem. The process is extremely empowering and is well-supported by people using the tool. We are devoted to the principle that it is OK to make mistakes. Since we are collaborative and open to giving and receiving feedback, this tool works amazingly well.
We have created a culture that is moving beyond performance improvement toward cultural actualization. It reminds us of the bigger game we play as we work to completely fulfill our mission and our vision of a consistent and unfettered demonstration of our values. We have focused our journey with THOC (and our work with “vulnerability”) to be “heart centered” in how we work with each other.
We strive to level the playing field by embodying the famous Rumi quote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.” This reminds us of the spirit of collaboration and coaching, and how we want to treat people.
As part of our journey toward strengthening our own internal coaching culture, we have created an interview process that stretches over a period of time. After two or three sessions with different groups of people, we conclude with an all-day affair, beginning with a 7 AM breakfast and concluding with dinner around 9 PM. It is our experience that we really get to see who people are. This strips the protective veneer from both the applicant and us. We strive to bring people onboard who are going to fit into our coaching and leadership culture, and be inherently coachable. This process gives us a really deep and clear discernment into that potential mutual fit.
For us, it is a constant daily vigilance to maintain the open and willing tone required to receive feedback.
One of our leaders mustered up the courage to invite me into a meeting in our conference room where his team engaged in sharing feedback with me. I had been pushing them in pursuing projects and timelines and results—and maybe a little too hard. In this meeting they unloaded every ounce of frustrating storyline, impressions and fears. I made a conscious choice to not react angrily, as many had feared I would, rather to respond with gratitude. I affirmed their courage for sharing their feedback and concerns. The team was as touched as I was. This was a pivot point for our organization that was made possible by the team leader calling this meeting, and by the way I responded to the situation.
As a result of that session we made some adjustments to the project and timelines. That team and their work began to exceed expectations. The intensity of their passion and their devotion to wanting to do their very best work and how they show up made this a workspace to do exactly that. This was a powerful experience for everybody, including me.
Of course, we have had a few instances where a person’s leadership style did not fit our collaborative, coaching culture. Not too long after a new executive was hired as a VP, he received some project-related feedback. It was not well received. It took a few months, but we ultimately parted ways, principally because the state of vulnerability and transparency was impossible for this person to achieve. We ended up reinforcing our principle to not hire for skill and end up firing for fit, but to ensure that fit is paramount in the hiring decision.
We are very aware that the Millennial generation actually craves feedback—and if they don’t get it, they leave. Legacy management principles and the associated beliefs can cause some people to be unreceptive to giving or receiving feedback (positive or negative), so it is a bit more of a stretch for everyone to be comfortable in our feedback-rich culture.
In large part our success as an organization is the direct result of our feedback-rich coaching culture, supported by THOC. It is our X factor—our cultural advantage—that we continually fine-tune. It’s this simple: it comes down to giving real-time feedback to people who have the opportunity to adjust as they go, rather than getting hit in the face once a year in a dysfunctional performance review.
Here are a few specific suggestions that come to me as a result of my devotion to these principles throughout my career, and currently in my great experience with Daiya Foods:
- Remember that the definition and integrity of the culture starts with me—the CEO.
- Find the best answers by being open and willing to receive feedback genuinely and authentically. That creates the learning in the culture that leads to wisdom and perspective.
- The joy is in the human learning journey—that is what inspires people and makes it most memorable and worthwhile.
- Know the details—it is as important to understand the gross margin of your slowest-selling product as it is the name and birthday of your Vice President’s youngest kid.
- For life success, write yourself a note to be opened 10 years in the future. Make the focus NOT about what you want to accomplish, but about who you want to become.