Culture and Love – Safety Leadership Lessons from a Supermarket Chain

Culture and Love – a story from 2014

As 2014 drew to a close last week many a news outlet spent time reflecting back on the highs and the lows of the past year. Whether framed as a “top 10 list” or presented more as the best and the worst, here in northeastern Massachusetts one particular story caught my ear.

This was the Market Basket Story, a tale of unparalleled employee unity and pride, and living proof that a small group of committed people can in fact make a difference.

If you’re unfamiliar with this particular tale, there was a real cast of characters; long-time feuding, wealthy family members, unfairly (some would argue) fired senior executives, passionate, committed employees, and deeply loyal customers.

Bottom line: local grocery-store chain CEO fired by cousin (hate each other) board member, employees (loyal is an understatement) outraged and walk off the job, stand-off ensues, employees rally for the fired CEO to be reinstated, customers stay away at the request of employees (and there are no supplies on the shelves) and eventually the fired CEO buys enough shares to take control of the company and is reinstated – celebrations all around and bonus checks for employees!

The news story that I heard a few days ago was celebrating the fact that the entire body of employees has been recognized as the Boston Globe’s “2014 Business Person of the Year”, and reflecting on the leadership of Arthur T. Demoulas, the reinstated CEO, making the statement “… he was reinstated along with his culture of generosity, kindness and caring.”

I love this statement! His Culture!

Think about the words, his culture. This is not an abstract, difficult to grasp concept – this is his, the way he leads, the way he works.

In our work to improve safety in healthcare the word ‘culture’ gets tossed around all too easily. It’s easy to blame the culture, almost as if doing so excuses the behavior. It rolls off the tongue as part of our standard vernacular, and is often the response to much of what ails us:

Q: “Why are some of your operating rooms using surgical checklists and others not?”

A: “That’s just the way we do things here, it’s our culture…”

Q: “What stopped you from speaking up when you saw your senior colleague acting in that rude, disrespectful manner?”

A: “That’s the culture on this team, keep your mouth shut and your head down…”

It strikes me that we cite or state culture as the root-cause of the problem because it creates the impression that fixing or changing it is nigh on impossible. That to tackle, change or create a new culture is a myth so complicated that we best not even try…

The Market Basket story annihilates this myth.

Health and care leaders listen up

Culture is the way we act as leaders. It is the tone we set, the expectations we communicate, and the behavior, language and performance that we tolerate.

Culture is the way we (you and I) do things. Do you want a communicative, fair, safe culture? Then communicate openly about the good, the bad and the ugly. Be fair with the people that choose to work in your organization, and with the way you make decisions (don’t interpret as treating everyone the same…), and model an environment where speaking up about your mistakes and owning them is celebrated not frowned upon.

Remember, if it is to be it is up to me.

His culture!

“His culture of generosity, caring and kindness.” The reporter goes on to interview Arthur T. (reinstated CEO) and he describes some additional tenets by which he runs his company, with fairness, justice, and connection to the human soul.

They’re running supermarkets people, and he’s talking about connecting to the human soul…

He nails it when he shares that the secret to this incredible story is to remember that they are, “… in the people business first, and the food business second.”

Health and care safety in 2015

People business first, medicine business second.

People is where our focus needs to be. Caring and healing our patients and their families, absolutely, it’s the calling that many of us responded to that finds us doing the work we do. But it needs to be more than this…

I propose that in 2015 we need our focus to be more on the people that provide this care – as leaders we need to make these people ‘the business that we are in.’ They will take care of their patients.

Commit to being in the people business first. The care givers; the nurses, the technicians, the physicians, the patient care attendants, the unit secretaries, the managers, the supervisors, the housekeepers, the pharmacists, the social workers and each other.

Provide the generosity, kindness, love, fairness and justice that connects them to their purpose, reminds them of their calling, and creates a safe environment for them to deliver the best care possible.

 

The reporter for the piece on Market Basket closed out the segment by suggesting that the Market Basket employee’s actions have presented other companies throughout the Commonwealth and around the world with a challenge of sorts – loyalty is one thing, these folks though clearly love where they work, and who they work for…

From loyalty to love!

Perhaps for 2016…

 

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One Comment on “Culture and Love – Safety Leadership Lessons from a Supermarket Chain”

  1. […] observable patterns of behavior in organizations. At the beginning of the year I wrote a blog about a local (north of Boston, MA) supermarket chain that had reinstated their president after […]


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