In 2016, Jeff Kenton came on as Acme-Hardesty’s new president. A distributor and supplier of oleochemicals, as well as a developer of bio-based, renewable solutions, Acme-Hardesty, based in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, was at a growth point.
Kenton saw, immediately, an opportunity to identify and then gain consensus around desired results. There was a new learning curve, though, about cultural beliefs — and the function they would have in propelling the organization toward results.
“Beliefs weren’t something we were talking about yet, exactly,” remembers Steve Kulchin, then head of HR and now VP of Human Resources for Jacob Stern & Sons. “We weren’t using that terminology, but we were certainly all thinking about how to get aligned around the results we wanted to achieve as a company.”
In the first quarter of 2017, Acme-Hardesty held their first off-site meeting expressly for the creation of their first cultural beliefs. It was the first time they had stepped away to give time and space for this essential part of activating culture change. Culture Partners led this meeting with the team leaders.
The result was nothing short of impactful.
“When you have multiple levels of people in the organization meeting together in a room, a big part of it is how safe people feel and how much trust is there,” recalls Steve Kulchin. For two days, the organization met and determined what they needed to to keep in their culture, and what they needed to discard. They came out of shared experience aligned in new beliefs that would drive them toward clear results.
“It was exciting and scary — and we were able to produce beliefs and create a sense of ownership around them,” notes Kulchin. “We still talk about that 2017 meeting, especially from the standpoint of how we have evolved.”
“Nothing is ever perfect.”
Fast forward to June 2022: the pandemic shaking up every work culture, and Acme-Hardesty deciding to take another look at their desired results and new beliefs they developed in a virtual leadership gathering at the onset of the pandemic.
As it had happened in 2017, Kenton decided that it was necessary to meet together in one place as an organization again to talk through new results, revise or create new cultural beliefs, and have cross-department focused feedback sessions. In the sessions, people worked to reconnect — actively seeking and giving each other authentic feedback — a requisite skill in any Culture Journey that takes practice to internalize and really put to use.
“Nothing is ever perfect,” notes Guy Kalbach, Human Resources Manager. “But the cultural beliefs that Acme-Hardesty had prior to the pandemic are what got us through the pandemic. We realized coming out of that that we were a different organization. We had a brick and mortar kind of mindset pre-pandemic – you do good work, you show up to your job – and there were a lot of well-intentioned intelligent people who disagreed about what our new work-from-home world would look like. But we landed in the right space because of the way we could orient ourselves in our cultural beliefs.”
Acme-Hardesty’s 2022 Cultural Beliefs
I am considerate, empathetic, and professional in all interactions.
I optimize A-H processes and align with the enhanced processes to improve our efficiency.
I invest in myself and others through education, technology, and collaboration to embrace and drive the changes we will encounter on our growth journey.
I proactively exceed the expectations of all my stakeholders.
I build trust and alignment while collaborating with everyone to achieve Acme-Hardesty goals.
I am accountable to execute my individual responsibilities to ensure the collective success of the entire organization.
In the last few years, Acme-Hardesty has experienced phenomenal financial results: the company’s key financial metric tripled from 2020-2022. The reason, according to Acme-Hardesty president Jeff Kenton, is culture.
Beliefs: far from “touchy-feely” stuff
As two human resources leaders deeply involved in Acme-Hardesty’s Culture Journey, Guy Kalbach and Steve Kulchin see the development of and daily coaching around cultural beliefs as essential to that financial growth and success.
The tendency around the word “belief” is to think of something vaporous and intangible. Beliefs, formed by day-to-day experiences in culture, are actually the solid building blocks of that culture on its way to the all-important bottom line.
Guy Kalbach utilizes beliefs with every team:
“There is nothing wrong in our organization about going to someone and saying ‘Hey, I need to see more of this cultural belief from you.’ What I love about this is that our cultural beliefs work like a constitution. We all adhere to and abide by them. If I’m giving someone feedback that ties back to one of our beliefs, it takes away the risk of someone taking that very personally. It’s more about helping each other get better at what we do, together.”
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