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Considering Conscious Culture from an HR Perspective with Thembi Machaba — Virtual Gathering Recap

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On September 22, Thembi Machaba, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Freshpet, was interviewed by Senior Leader Network member Heather Whaling, President and Founder of Geben Communications, to share her knowledge from leading at a radically human organization. Expanding on how to guide teams to shared success, Thembi offered approaches to manage the distinct needs of diverse workplaces and how she supports and maintains a values-driven culture, especially given today’s climate.

From this insightful conversation focused on sustaining a people-first, purpose-driven workplace in a changing world, here are our three takeaways for considering Conscious Culture from an HR perspective.

Connect your people strategy back to the company’s core values

As Thembi put it, Freshpet’s “North Star” is to nourish pets, people, and the planet—so everything the company aims to do ties back to this Higher Purpose.

“From that North Star … we have five values and they certainly do show up in everything that we do, from how we shape our policies to how we reward and recognize employees, also in terms of how we operate as a business,” she explained.

The five values Thembi uses to shape Freshpet’s people strategy are:

Truth: Freshpet has a created a culture where employees can be their authentic selves and, in turn, can fully expect transparency from the company, too.

“It’s a very flat organization. We encourage accessibility; we want employees to feel that they can approach not just HR, but our CEO, as well,” Thembi shared.

Virtue: Simply put, people at Freshpet are encouraged to always strive to “do the right thing … in that, is the concept of making decisions with a strong moral compass.”

Passion: Tenacity fuels growth at Freshpet, according to Thembi. “We reward that and it shows up in our awards and recognitions,” she said.

Innovation: Because Freshpet places such a strong emphasis on diversity in their recruitment strategies, they encourage employees to offer their unique perspectives, ideas, and methods to advance the company’s growth.

Inclusion: The last value that drives Freshpet’s people strategy is to ensure, when possible, that everybody wins. While sometimes difficult in practice, Thembi always strives to encourage a “go for it” mindset within the organizations, but “not at the expense of others.”

Give your employees a voice

On the topic of collecting and acting on feedback from employees, both Heather and Thembi agreed on the importance of having both informal and formal avenues for open dialogue.

At Freshpet, Thembi has led and maintained efforts to do this through biennial engagement surveys and more regular pulse surveys.

The engagement surveys provide an opportunity for Thembi and other Freshpet leaders to identify overarching themes that span long periods of time. The survey they deployed at the end of 2020 provided insight into employee sentiment regarding safety, career development, and wages, which ultimately allowed the company to bolster their efforts in each of those areas amid the ongoing pandemic.

In addition to that, the survey also presented more clear opportunities to get creative about meeting their employees’ unique needs. Also from the 2020 survey, Thembi noticed a cohort of hourly workers, who all happened to be mothers, sharing the same challenge of struggling with 12-hour daytime shifts because they had significantly less time with their children. Working from 6am to 6pm, they were missing chances to see their kids off to school and be present when they returned home.

“…to the extent that we can support them, and ease the burden, see how we can put them in contact with resources, give them access to resources, we will do that, we will go above and beyond.”

Thembi’s team was able to then work with the working mothers at Freshpet to create new shifts that didn’t interfere with the short windows of time families have together. Some mothers gravitated towards the opportunity to work the nightshift, while others opted for shorter shifts overall. For Thembi, the engagement surveys can mean “trying to take very specific challenges and … differentiate [Freshpet] a little bit within the environment that we’re operating in.”

Leverage the sense of community within your organization

Oftentimes, your people can be your best asset in improving the culture of your organization.

Freshpet leverages a cross-section of employees who have volunteered to make up the company’s People Team to create open dialogue where peers can candidly share their concerns and feedback on culture-related matters.

At the same time, Thembi puts the onus on leaders to foster Conscious Culture from the top-down: “It starts with leaders, it starts with leadership. It starts with leaders recognizing that … people come to do the best that they can in the time that they’re here. So, to the extent that we can support them, and ease the burden, see how we can put them in contact with resources, give them access to resources, we will do that, we will go above and beyond.”

Want to continue this conversation with other Conscious Leaders and gain access to exclusive post-event discussion questions? Join our Senior Leader Network for more.


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