Catalyzing your company for change

August 8, 2018
8 minute read
Last updated August 8, 2018

HR leaders can and should think of themselves as catalysts for change in their organizations, but they can’t and shouldn’t have to do it alone. 

The data coming into, and being thoughtfully analyzed by, groups like McKinsey show that companies today are far more likely to over-perform if they are committed to three things:

  1. Making a difference
  2. Acting boldly
  3. Doing things the right way.

This fits the description of what I call a change-the-world company.

This blog post offers a possible model for lighting a loving fire under your company’s backside. (Or, as we prefer to say at MegaFood, “acting with responsible urgency.”)  I want to take up each of these elements one by one, talk about how they shape us at MegaFood right now, and challenge you to think about how they might apply within your organization. I invite the HR professionals reading this, in particular, to see where you might step up to take a leadership role in making similar kinds of impacts within your organization.

Workers at MegaFood

Make a difference

At MegaFood, we source, make, market, and sell high-quality, whole food supplements. It’s what we do. However, it’s not who we are or why we exist. We exist to nourish a world in nutritional crisis. We envision a world without nutritional poverty—a planet where everyone is truly nourished. We work hard and take bold action to ensure that vision becomes a reality in our lifetime.

What inspires you more in the above paragraph, the “what” or the “why” of MegaFood?

Now ask yourself whether your mission statement tells the world why you exist. If it doesn’t, maybe your senior leadership team should watch Simon Sinek’s groundbreaking Ted Talk about how great leaders inspire action. Your company’s leadership team, and especially your CEO, has to set the standard for wanting to make a difference. Otherwise, grassroots efforts will only take you so far. The good news is that employees want to make a difference that goes beyond earning a salary or boosting the bottom line.

MegaFood offers paid time-off to volunteers, a policy made possible by the hard work of our Culture Club, a company-wide group that fosters employee development, and our People Team. Recent volunteer projects include the creation of a community garden in a local city neighborhood and hiking trail maintenance at one of New Hampshire’s most famous mountains.

On a larger scale, we’ve dedicated ourselves to doing right by people, planet, and profit by becoming a Certified B-Corporation, an arduous but incredibly rewarding achievement that, once again, was spearheaded by our social impact leader and vision activation manager working collaboratively with our People Team and dozens of contributors throughout the company.

Happy employee at MegaFood

We’re proud as hell of our B-Corp status. B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. It tells the world (and reminds us daily) that we’re committed to the well-being of our stakeholders–our team, partners and suppliers, consumers, and the planet that sustains us. It redefines success as a long-term proposition involving more than simply moving product. How inspiring is that?

And it’s all the sweeter knowing that so many on our team believed in its value and got us over the finish line.

I keep a library of quotes from world-changers who’ve inspired me through years. Two of my faves are, “The time is always right to do what’s right” (Martin Luther King, Jr.), and “It’s the ultimate luxury to combine passion and contribution. It’s also a very clear path to happiness” (Sheryl Sandberg). I have them at the ready whenever I’m feeling in need of a little boost.

The one trait all my heroes show or showed during their lifetime is boldness, a willingness to put their visions out there and to risk, and even court, failure — all in the pursuit of what Steve Jobs believed to be our duty in this life, which is to “put a dent in the universe.”

Act boldly

I’ve spent the better part of two decades leading businesses or coaching business leaders and feel comfortable saying that scarcely 25% of us dare to act with boldness. That’s a pretty bold claim in itself, so let me tell you what audacity has meant at MegaFood.

The vitamin and supplement industry needs to play a huge role in nourishing the world, but our purpose has met resistance in the public’s mistrust of brands and their suppliers delivering on their promises of making wholesome and nutritious products. Rather than whine about the injustice of it all, MegaFood devoted itself to lead by example and become the most trusted supplement brand in the nation. We dubbed this effort “Big T Transparency” and with it, we became the first brand to open up our facility for all to see by live streaming our manufacturing process 24/7. We posted (unedited) the results of industry audits on our website and introduced our customers to the farmers who produced the food going into our ingredients.

We became industry leaders, acknowledged in a Nutrition Business Journal forum as an example of “a premium company that humanizes its brand by being transparent and vulnerable” while showing a commitment to “taking active control of the dialogue” about our industry strengths, weaknesses, and future direction.

At the same time, we saw the sea changes taking our industry by perfect storm with the rise of e-commerce and global challenges to our food systems. So, in the relatively short space of a single year, we switched our business model from selling wholesale to retailers to omnichannel, putting us on the front lines of understanding and delivering on the needs of consumers.

Moreover, if that sounds pretty bold, we did something even more brazen and created an industry-pioneering incubator we call MegaFood Blue. This small and nimble team of entrepreneurs, operators and doctors is exploring the intersection of next-generation, disruptive technologies and health and wellness delivery systems.

Do it right

I’m not a fan of disruption for disruption’s sake. If you’re going to be bold and turn things on their heads, do it for a good reason (striving for industry leadership and improving lives are ours) and do it right. HR leaders can do a lot in this regard by helping to foster a culture that can meet the significant challenges of making a major strategic pivot like the one we’re making at MegaFood.

At MegaFood, we set up some rules of engagement we call the MegaFood Way to connect our mission—nourishing a world in nutritional poverty—with a specific set of values we hold close and behaviors we deploy to help get us there. In a nutshell, the MegaFood Way goes like this: “We are brave, trustworthy, grateful, and fun. We understand, act, and evolve with responsible urgency to advance our cause.”

Line worker at MegaFood

The MegaFood Way isn’t a piece of fluff we throw on our website and forget about; to the contrary, we’re relying on it to guide our adoption of a scaled-down version of holacracy—a matrixed business model that gives teams and individuals more autonomy and decision-making power. Using a holacratic model means that rather than cascading our decisions “down” to our employees for yearlong implementation, our senior leadership team will grant teams the power and means to make decisions not once a year or quarterly, but on the fly. The goal is to make us infinitely more responsive to our workflows and valuable to our customers.

It’s too early in the process for me to report out on the success of our experiment with holacracy, but I will tell you our employees are already starting to rise to the occasion, flex muscles they didn’t know they had, and announce the arrival of a new type of accountable leadership based on contribution rather than job title.

The message in all this that strategy and culture ought to go hand-in-hand for change-the-world organizations. I’d love to hear what you’re doing in your companies to catalyze change within your HR area or the wider organization.

This is a guest post from Robert Craven, CEO of MegaFood. Robert’s mission as CEO of the original whole food supplement maker has been simple–to nourish a world in nutritional crisis. Under Robert’s leadership, MegaFood has focused on making a difference through transparency, unwavering commitment to high quality, and bold storytelling on behalf of the company, the natural products industry, and consumers around the world.