Collaborating – The Ben & Jerry’s Way

Who but Ben & Jerry’s — that hippie ice cream maker in Northern Vermont — would bus sixteen customers to their manufacturing plant to show these customers how they fixed their complaints.  BUT, that was not enough.  The plant managers and staff further checked with these customers to see if the solutions really solved the problems.  And like a Willie Wonka tour the customers got to walk the plant, see production first hand, and drop in a pound or two of cookie dough in a blender.

Long term employee Lisa Wernhoff said it was the “odd kind of thing Ben and Jerry would do.”

Odd?   Probably. Many companies would not venture to invite customers, especially complainers to their plants.  Yet, from the day they opened in a re-furbished gas station, Ben & Jerry listened and responded to their customers — on product issues and social issues.  The Collaborative Culture they established continues…

 What does it take to Create a Collaborative Culture?

Attitude – not just toward customers, but toward customer feedback.  Think about it — that bus of dissatisfied customers walked into the plant that made the ice cream and talked to the managers and employees that made the mistakes.  “Over-roasting the peanuts!”  “Ucky cookie dough.”   To meet customers face to face requires:

Openness – to ideas and opinions that may differ or challenge.  Think about it — here is a company that experiments & creates flavors based on suggestions from customers.   Inherent in the culture is an openness to what customers have to say.  To keep that openness requires:

Focus – on what it takes to satisfy and keep customers.  Think about it — the founding customer philosophy still permeates the company.  Three words from their mission statements reflect that ongoing focus:  Fantastic – Sustainable – Innovative.  To keep focus managers, supervisors, employees and customers continue to:

Collaborate – on product missteps and innovations, on continued growth and challenges, on feedback and pushback.  Perhaps the “&” in the company name symbolizes best the ongoing nature of the company &  its customers.

What is also evident:   a collaborative culture, sustained over time, must establish and live its core values.

Want to create a more collaborative environment?

Don’t look at the mission statement on your wall — check your policies and practices.  Do they support or defeat collaboration?

Don’t ignore the importance of ongoing training — check the content and inclusiveness of participants.  Does content forward collaborative skills and innovation? Do all levels participate?

Don’t assume yesterday’s systems meet today’s needs — check communication flow within and without.  Do ideas and suggestions move freely?  What new methods or systems are used?  What are response times?

Don’t let your 3 year strategic plan mesmerize you — check innovations within and without your industry.  What ideas can you adapt to create more collaboration?  How can you respond to changing demands and meet your mission?

No easy answers.  No packages off the shelf.  Lest you forget – Humor Helps.  Just check the Ben & Jerry’s web site  Better yet take a tour!

About mcgntr

About Ann I was lucky and grew up in the beautiful Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts surrounded by the arts, industry, literature, and family. I had a great education-- undergraduate work at Caldwell College and my masters at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where I began business life as Training Assistant. Returning east, I continued in the training profession, and ‘fell’ into Human Resources - first, Recruiting and Employment, Director of Human Resources and finally Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Training. I bowed out of the corporate world with the white collar layoffs in early ‘90s – and started a new venture McGill Enterprises: HelpQuick Human Resources Advisory & Training Services. I have enjoyed great opportunities - publishing 3 training books, mentoring HR professionals, creating a wide variety of training programs, writing scripts, and becoming an adjunct professor.
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