When Jodi Berg speaks at the orientation for new employees at Vitamix Corp., she asks if anyone was born yesterday ” that old idiom that ponders your knowledge and experience.
“This is really important: was anyone in this room born yesterday?” she says. “I have yet to have anyone raise a hand.”
So with all eyes and ears focused on her, Berg, president and CEO, makes her point.
“I say, ‘I’m going to assume that you’re coming to Vitamix with a great deal of experience. I’m going to assume that you’ve been using your brain most of your life and that you have a great deal of knowledge, wisdom and perspective.’”
Test your knowledge of the
These are the qualities, along with experience and education, Berg says, that the company is looking for when making personnel decisions.
“Next I say, “The reason we are who we are today is because we’ve taken all that and we continue to learn.”
“We passionately believe our future depends on learning and innovation,” she says. “We also believe in creating our future while embracing our past. So don’t turn the brain off when you get here.”
New employees receive a pocket-sized card listing the guiding principles of Vitamix.
“You get one of these, and your first assumption is that you will look through this at orientation, and this will be the last time that you look at it. Then you become very aware in meetings and interactions with other employees that it keeps coming up. And if people don’t physically pull it out, they at least refer to it.”
The first principle is, “We passionately believe in the world a better place.”
Berg tells employees that if they believe in that, the decisions that follow will be about making the world a better place.
“That’s your world, that’s our world, that’s our customer’s world, our community that we’re involved in,” she says. “Just make a choice every time you’re faced with a decision, which is thousands of times a day. Choose what makes the world a better place, and you’re making the right decision.”
Judging by the growth achieved by the manufacturer of the iconic Vitamix blender, whose roots go back to 1921, it seems evident that employees, management and the corporation have made a lot of the right decisions.
Here’s a look at how a Berg leads nearly 1,000 people who are smart, have a great deal of experience, have perspective, and can help Vitamix figure out how to do always do it better.
Align culture with a message
As a new CEO, everyone watches to see how you are going to manage the operation. It could be an opportune time to grab the corporate culture and see what falls out after you shake it.
Such was the case when Berg was heading up the Vitamix household division before she became president in 2009.
“We needed to find out how to create a world where we could attract people who really cared about making a difference and were passionate and inspired about things,” she says.
Berg realized that the Vitamix message from years ago “nutritional and natural foods prepared in your own kitchen” was being heard.
“I saw the shift in our society finally realizing that there wasn’t going to be another fad diet like a miracle fix-all. The message that we have been proclaiming from the hill top for decades was finally being understood.”
The Vitamix focus on the pluses of healthy living through whole food can be traced back as far as 1937 when Berg’s great-grandparents and company founders, William G. and Ruth Barnard, wrote about the benefits of fruits and vegetables and eliminating some processed foods.
Berg realized the opportunity to make the 21st century shift in how people thought about food was a sustainable one.
“We needed to grow pretty significantly,” Berg says. “So we really started working on our culture.
The first step to take is to figure out what you value as an organization. Depending on how open people are to change is a direct correlation of how successful you’re going to be with that change.
Berg used an appreciative inquiry process built by Prof. David Cooperrider at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. The process looks at what is being done right in the company.
“We interviewed all employees and asked what matters most about this company. What do you really value the most about Vitamix as a company” In essence, I was asking, ‘What do you want as your lifeline, because we’re going to change everything else?’”
Out of this effort came the values and principles that guide Vitamix.
“We asked, ‘What motivates you? What inspires you? What makes you happy? What gives you an opportunity to make a difference in this world?’” Berg says.
She assured employees that the company would hire other people who are also inspired and motivated by the same things and enjoy being a part of the same things and who like to make a difference in the world.
Berg then set out on her mission to make the Vitamix family much bigger so the energy off each other would create more energy and passion.