How Sanitarium fast-tracked breakfast
Supermarkets first started selling new gluten-free Weet-Bix in July, less than six months after staff at Sanitarium Health Food Company first came up with the idea. Behind the new product is a story of how a very old company tackled its leadership and cultural problems to innovate in record time.
Sanitarium is unusual. It is 116 years old and 100 per cent owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
It shuts down every Friday at midday until sunset on Saturday and these days about 20 per cent of its staff are Seventh Day Adventists, as is Saunders.
It also has incredibly low staff turnover – averaging 0.6 per cent a year compared with the industry average of 8 per cent a year.
Saunders says staff tended to be risk averse and operated in functional silos. He says many managers and technical experts specialised early in their careers rather than gaining broader experience. They tended to focus on their functions rather than managing for an outcome.
But business was still booming in 2011, when Sanitarium rolled out a controversial leadership and cultural change program, starting first with the senior leadership team and then working down to everyone else.
As part of the program, the company used a Human Synergistics tool that asked leaders to rate their styles of behaviour as blue (being constructive), red (aggressive) or green (passive aggressive). Then people who worked with that leader got to have their say. The results showed that from the senior leadership team, right down to line managers, “some had very little or no constructive behaviour".
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