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Jillian Lukas Rodriguez

Chief Storyteller | Small Giants Community

May 26, 2020

3 Elements of a Great Culture that are Most Important Right Now

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Over the past few months, we've seen purpose-driven leaders across industries and around the world Stepping Up to protect their team members, serve their communities, and save their organizations. Putting people and purpose first isn't always the easy choice, but it's what matters most right now — and time and again, we're seeing that culture wins. 

Now, as Small Giant leaders position themselves for the future, we can turn to their stories to learn where we should focus our energy in order to bounce back. In this week's Stepping Up stories, meet two purpose-driven organizations that are focusing on transparency, innovation, and community to pull through this even stronger than before.

In this installment: 

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Stepping up: Tasty catering

3 practices to ensure your business comes back even stronger

“Businesses that are in this for the right reasons rise to the top. We’re a people-focused company, and we’re always going to put our people – our employees, their families, and our community — first”

 

Kornel Grygo, CEO of Tasty Catering, is not panicking. 

Despite being in an industry hit hard by the global pandemic, many of the decisions he’s made over the last few months have been surprisingly easy. 

Kornel may only be a year into his role as CEO, but he’s no stranger to Small Giants-style leadership. Tasty Catering has long been an exemplary Small Giant company and its founder, Tom Walter, is a respected expert in purpose-driven leadership. As Kornel worked his way up from delivery driver to Chief Revenue Officer, he was also learning what it means to be a Small Giant. 

Before stepping into his new role as Tasty’s CEO in 2019, Kornel completed a leadership certification program with the Small Giants Community. He was prepared to lead, but he certainly didn’t expect everything he’d learned to be put to the test so soon.

“This is when culture and leadership get tested,” says Kornel. “Businesses that are in this for the right reasons rise to the top. We’re a people-focused company, and we’re always going to put our people – our employees, their families, and our community — first.”

In normal times, purpose-driven processes create positive cultures and thriving businesses. In turbulent times, those same processes save companies, maintain livelihoods and lift up communities. Tasty Catering is a company that should’ve been forced to close its doors by now. But thanks to its foundation as a purpose-driven company, it’s thriving. 

Here are three aspects of purpose-driven leadership to lean into now to endure this crisis and prepare for what lies ahead.

Tasty Catering - 30th Anniv Party

Transparent Financials
Transparency builds trust and combats fear.

When there’s bad news in the workplace, purpose-driven leaders combat fear and misinformation with transparency, facts, and education. Tasty Catering is an open-book management company, so all team members understand the company’s finances and they’re used to taking charge to solve problems. 

This situation was no different: Kornel took the position that the more everyone knows, the more they can help out. From company financials to up-to-date information on the pandemic, the leadership team communicates with the entire team on a daily basis.

“Communication is critical,” says Kornel. “There was a lot of fear and uncertainty at first, but we have a lot of trust here. We’re open and honest with everyone: we will be here, we’re going to take care of you, day by day.”

The pandemic hit food businesses particularly hard, and by now, many of Tasty Catering’s competitors have closed up shop. Kornel had every reason to do the same — when Illinois’s stay-at-home order went into place, their catering business dried up nearly overnight. But the leadership team didn’t even consider it. 

“People depend on Tasty Catering for their livelihoods,” says Kornel. “It’s not just about us — it’s our families, our communities, and our partners. They built this company, and at the end of the day, we want to take care of them.”

Tasty Catering has nearly 200 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees, and they haven’t laid off a single person. Salaried team members are taking a ten percent pay cut, and full-time hourly workers are guaranteed at least twenty hours per week. Because they practice open-book management, every single team member understands why this decision was made, and it isn’t about making money.

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Staying open serves team members, but it also means they can keep delivering to essential workers who are in critical need of safe, nutritious meals. Their team is sticking together and working as hard as ever.

“Sure, we’re losing a little by staying open — but we’re taking care of our people and our community,” says Kornel. “We’re living our core values, and our team members are telling us that it feels good. We’re becoming a stronger, more innovative team. There’s no opportunity greater than that.”

Vulnerable Leadership
Vulnerable, honest leadership inspires team members to step up.

“It all comes back to the relationships we have. Combine that with extreme teamwork, and we were able to identify a need that allows us to live our core purpose."

When Tasty’s event catering stopped, it was all hands on deck to come up with new ideas for generating revenue. Tasty has a culture of ownership, meaning every employee is informed and empowered to make decisions for the company. The leadership team gives daily updates to all remote team members and the on-site production team, and they’re always open and honest about what they know — and what they don’t. 

“We’ve always operated this way,” says Kornel. “Being honest about not having the answers inspires team members to help. Outside-the-box thinking is critical, and our team is rolling up their sleeves and figuring out what we need to do to keep Tasty Catering going.”

Early on, one team member raised their hand to suggest boxed-meal and individual hot meal delivery. It was a safer option and bound to make people feel more comfortable. The sales team hit the phones and started calling all of Tasty’s connections to find out who was still working and might need meal delivery. They were each making up to 50 calls a day and uncovering opportunities to feed essential workers — from members of the National Guard working at a pop-up hospital to children receiving meals through Chicago Public Schools.

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“It all comes back to the relationships we have,” says Kornel. “Combine that with extreme teamwork, and we were able to identify a need that allows us to live our core purpose. Everyone is putting their full effort into coming up with new ideas and innovation.”

The innovation is streaming in from all levels. On their way back from deliveries, Tasty drivers are pulling over to take notes on which office parking lots are full of cars and may need meal delivery. Everyone on the team is calling each and other and sharing leads. 

“That’s the success of our mission and culture at work,” says Kornel. 

Inspiring Innovation
Listen to your people to creatively plan for the future.

By sticking together as a team, Tasty now has the time and brain power to strategically position the company to bounce back when the stay-at-home order is lifted. Kornel is using this time to inspire his team to think about what food service will look like as the economy reopens. Sixty percent of Tasty’s business is events with staff on-site, and it will be critical to adopt different styles of service. 

“We don’t have the answers, so we’re listening to our people,” says Kornel. “We don’t want to box ourselves into one service, so we’re using this time to be proactive and think creatively.”

Thanks to ideas from the team and input from their partners, Tasty has already started making plans for new ways to safely serve their customers at in-person events. Along with their meal delivery service, Tasty is planning for boxed and individual meals for events. They cater many corporate outdoor picnics, and one team member came up with the idea of an on-site team to cook and box individual meals. Other team members are already at work building sneeze guards and prepping their kitchen for large-scale, individual meal orders.

“We’re ready to go,” says Kornel. “We’re not tied down to one thing. We’re two steps ahead of our competitors. We’ve got time, so let’s try some new things. We’re not just going to make it through this — we’re going to come out even better than before.”

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Stepping up: HOOK

Massive PPE SHORTAGES PUSHED THIS MAKER-CENTRIC AGENCY TO GET CREATIVE

"Hook has a real strength for prototyping, testing, and refining. We know how to create something that can be replicated hundreds, or thousands, of times. It was a real blending of values."

When Nick Watts gave his eight-year-old son a 3D printer for Christmas, he didn’t expect him to do much more than tinker around with it and maybe make a few small toys. When his son used the machine to mass produce dog figurines for a school project, that was impressive enough to justify the purchase. 

Fast forward two years later, and a lot has changed. At the height of a global pandemic, Nick found himself with a critical resource sitting in his garage. 

While most of us likely don’t have the materials for additive manufacturing lying around the house, it’s no surprise that Nick does. Nick Watts is Chief Design Officer at Hook, a creative production agency for ads and branded content. Hook has a maker-culture: its team members are naturally curious and they love hands-on work. When the COVID-19 crisis began impacting the lives of those around him, Nick’s first instinct was to figure out how he could make something that would help.

“I was hearing from family members and friends who were feeling the panic of not having enough personal protective equipment,” says Nick. “I started researching the 3D printing of face shields and figured out how to replicate the model at home.”

Nick smoothing out face shields

First, he printed and sent face shields to his sister-in-law who works as a nurse in Los Angeles. Then his colleagues at Hook started putting in requests for their family members and friends who were in need. As the number of requests increased, the team agreed that Nick should take Hook’s two 3D printers home and use them to increase his production of face shields. 

“After that, we wanted to expand to helping the friends and family members of our team get supplies to their loved ones,” says Nick. “Hook has a real strength for prototyping, testing, and refining. We know how to create something that can be replicated hundreds, or thousands, of times. It was a real blending of values.”

Although Nick had not planned on making thousands of face shields from the makeshift factory in his garage, he quickly found himself on the path to doing so. They shipped face shields to the University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor, Detroit Medical Center, Mount Sinai in New York, and to hospitals in Los Angeles, Maryland and Colorado. 

“One of our team members sent face shields to a friend who is a doctor in the intensive care unit at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx,” says Nick. “He sent us a letter thanking us and said that the face shields were no doubt the reason he hadn’t gotten sick — they arrived at just the right time.”

Word got out about their efforts, and Nick connected with a local organization in Ann Arbor that shared his mission: Operation Face Shield coordinates volunteers in making and distributing thousands of face shields to those in immediate need.

"We have a people-first culture, and we all stepped in to take on Nick’s work so he could focus on face shield production."

“Once we teamed up with Operation Face Shield, we were going nonstop,” says Nick. “Hook stepped in to buy two more 3D printers, and I had four machines going at all times. As quickly as we could make them, they were going out.”

Now that they had a partner for large-scale distribution, Nick was not only printing face shields, he was mentoring new volunteers and helping to improve the design and printing process. Pretty soon, he was working 8am to midnight, 7 days a week. 

"We believed in what Nick was doing,” says Business Development Director Sara Frey. “We have a people-first culture, and we all stepped in to take on Nick’s work so he could focus on face shield production.”

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Over the last two months, Hook has helped Operation Face Shield deliver 16,000 face shields to essential workers. Luckily, face shield production by large manufacturers has increased, and corporate donors have started funding the efforts to ensure equipment is readily available to hospitals and medical facilities. Nick has been able to slow down his production and start getting back to work. Even as they return to normal, Hook is still finding ways to help others in every way they can.

“We’re donating the extra 3D printers to the Ann Arbor Arts Center and the Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor,” says Nick. “The Neutral Zone is a community center for teenagers that we do a lot of work with. We’re going to teach the kids how to use them. It’s a way for us to promote curiosity and invest in the makers in our community.”

Read even more stories of purpose-driven leaders stepping up.

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About Jillian Lukas Rodriguez

As our Storyteller, Jillian finds what makes Small Giants special and shares their stories with the world. Jillian is also the .gif-wielding voice behind Small Giants on social media.