Weaving a New Corporate Culture

How a carpet maker stemmed turnover by believing in its workers.

Hiring managers tend to select applicants who think like them, but that often fails to create the best group chemistry, notes Lynn Chambers, Beaulieu’s director of employee development. “The hiring teams do a much better job of picking people,” Chambers says, “and you’ve got people surrounding that new person who want him or her to succeed.” In fact, no new hire now joins the company based on only one person’s approval, and supervisors don’t have the final say.

As a bonus, says Bingham, hiring teams are adept at identifying problems that cause turnover. If the team members pick someone they thought was terrific, and that person leaves the company because of a supervisor who doesn’t communicate well and orders people around, “you can bet [the team] will show up in the office of that supervisor’s manager or director.”

The other big contribution from HPWP was a five-day boot camp to immerse leaders — 24 at a time — in high-performance workplace concepts. The consulting firm facilitated several such events in the first year; after that, Beaulieu leaders opted to tailor them more specifically to the unique aspects of carpet manufacturing, and to appoint employees, rather than HPWP, as facilitators. Bingham worked with a team of six from Beaulieu to create the new program, called Beaulieu Leadership and Success Training, or BLAST.

The program consists of nine modules spread over a five-day off-site. Newly hired leaders and those promoted to supervisory roles take the entire course, while hourly workers not regarded as candidates to become supervisors take a two-day version that covers five of the nine modules. So far, about half of the hourly workers have participated. Beaulieu has expanded its roster of facilitators to more than 100 employees, from every level within the organization.

Most of the nine modules incorporate some notable twists on the way companies usually do things. For example, in a traditional management style, “personal accountability” often boils down to how blame is assigned. In the Beaulieu culture, it requires only honesty and impartiality when doing a self-evaluation, says Land. “We tell folks that you are never totally responsible, and you can never totally escape responsibility. You should be honest enough to recognize what your responsibility is and assign it to yourself.”

Another module emphasizes that if you make positive assumptions about the people you work with, or who work for you, their performance will improve dramatically. One company precept, for example, holds that “everyone is trustworthy until they prove they are not.” Discarding the old documentation-required bereavement policy is a tangible example of putting positive assumptions to work. “People will do almost anything for someone who values them,” says Bingham. “For too long the culture in management has been that you should [just] be glad you have a job.”

A module called “High Expectations” prescribes something many companies would be loath to do: letting employees at every level set their own expectations. But time and time again, says Chambers, Beaulieu has found that people expect more of themselves than the company expects from them.

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