|TRUE STORY: Twenty-eight years ago, one day I unloaded my baby and two toddlers from our minivan in order to do some quick grocery shopping. When we came out of the store, I was greeted by a totally flat left rear tire.
I can, in theory, change a tire, but the August temperature was well up into the 90s, and I could have stuck a fork into my three little ones because they were done.
Also waiting to greet me was a gentleman, who looked to be about 65 years old, wearing a Herr’s Potato Chip (Herr Foods) company uniform standing next to his product delivery truck. He asked if I had seen my flat tire. He told me he’d be happy to change it on the condition that I watch him for a refresher course. I gratefully and dutifully agreed. Fifteen minutes later my tire was changed, and he was drenched in sweat.
I thanked him profusely, asked for his business card, and on the way home I said to myself, “Sometime next week I’ll go over to my husband’s office and type out a really nice thank you note.” Yes, that was before we had a personal computer in our home.
After arriving home and unloading groceries and children, I felt a strong prompting to not put off writing the letter. So I tore a page out of my son’s drawing pad and hand wrote a letter to Jim Herr, president and founder of Herr Foods. I explained how his employee, Ray, had come to my rescue, that he was a wonderful representative of Herr’s, and that I would continue to be a loyal Herr’s customer for life.
A week later, I received a handwritten letter back from Mr. Herr. He told me that my letter had arrived in the morning mail on the day of the Annual All-Company meeting. Mr. Herr related how when it was his turn to speak, he stood up and read my letter to the entire company. He told everyone, “This is what we’ve built Herr’s to be all about.” And sat down.
PRINCIPLE: Never delay a prompting to do good or say a kind word. If you put it off, you exponentially increase the chances that you will forget your good intention. If you do remember later, there’s a really good chance you’ll say something like, “Well, it’s too late now.”
Here are a few tidbits about the Herr’s culture. At that time, the average tenure for a Herr’s employee was approximately 25 years. And that included the many ex-cons that they hired in their Second Chance Program. Their Freedom Fest Fireworks free event is the biggest and best July Fourth celebration we’ve ever attended. Their Christmas and Holiday Lights drive-through was a family tradition of ours for over 20 years. My family toured the inside of their manufacturing facilities many times, and not just for the serving of hot-off-the-line chips waiting at the end of their tours.
If you are not from the East Coast of the United States, you might not know that Herr’s is no small potatoes (I couldn’t help myself!), selling a wide variety of snack foods from virtually every grocery and convenience store from North Carolina to Massachusetts and yet, somehow they maintain a small company, family-type atmosphere.
How does a company like Herr’s instill such loyalty?
Company Culture. Not to be mistaken for image, brand, or reputation alone, culture is best defined by a culture statement, which is the consistent implementation of a combination of mission, values, traditions, and beliefs.
Culture has very little to do with pay or benefits; it has everything to do with human interaction.
It’s about how human beings treat other human beings; it’s about building trust, responsibility, quality, and kindness into every stakeholder’s workday and customer experience.
Herr’s written culture statements include:
- Good people, making good snacks for good times.
- Herr’s Forever Good®” is our written commitment of that goal.
- To always strive for integrity, kindness and authenticity in every facet of our company.
- Good transcends trends and outlasts adversity.
- As long as good is good, Herr’s will forever be Herr’s.
SHORTER STORY: I consulted at a sales firm that touted its company culture in trainings and framed posters around every corner.
They had a foosball machine, streamed sports in the break room, and placed jars of free snacks throughout the building.
They claimed to be all about their people-first culture. Oddly enough, though, the reality was cutthroat and disrespectful of others’ space, privacy, and level of comfort with pervasive juvenile behavior.
On more than one phone call with a high-level client, I was asked if I were calling from a party. I was shot in the back of the head a dozen times with Nerf air rifles (they hurt!). And when employees resigned, they were escorted out as though they had been caught embezzling funds with a desk loaded full of weapons and ammo.
The text in the photo below would have been fitting for their handbook!