Leadership Conversation: Why We Need to Get Inclusion Right
November 16, 2020
We recently sat down (virtually) with two of Lineage's Regional Vice-Presidents of Operations—Quyen Thompson and Jim Reynolds to explore how they think the company can get inclusion right and why it matters for Lineage's future.
Q: Why is Lineage making inclusion and diversity a company priority?
Quyen: It’s simple – because diverse and inclusive teams perform and deliver better results and create a workplace culture where differences are embraced and leveraged for the greater good. Inclusion of not only age, gender, ethnicity, but also diversity of thought and experiences allow organizations to generate more innovative ideas, solve problems more effectively and build engaged, highly dynamic teams.
Jim: Absolutely agree, Quyen. And it makes sense—if we want team members to be excited about and engaged in the business, we need to foster a culture where their perspectives are not only welcomed but also genuinely valued. There is also a strong case to be made that getting inclusion and diversity right will solidify Lineage as an employer of choice, retaining our best and brightest while also attracting top talent from outside Lineage and outside the cold chain industry.
There are so many benefits of having a team that feels they have a voice at the table and a real stake in the business’s success. It’s also worth saying that when our leaders fully live Lineage’s values—Safe, Trust, Respect, Bold, Innovation and Servant Leadership—they actually create the inclusive culture we are talking about. Putting the focus on these issues now is about ensuring our values are being lived as fully as they should be across the network.
Q: What is the difference between diversity and inclusion to you?
Jim: When I think of diversity—I think of what differentiates one group of people from another. And that often goes well beyond the “obvious” diversity characteristics that come to mind. For instance, when you’re building a team, it’s important to think about things like diversity of life experience, belief system, personality types, etc.
As for inclusion, I see inclusion as the way we harness that diversity to build a whole that is stronger than its individual components. In practice, that entails welcoming a diversity of experiences, thoughts and ideas.
Quyen: I think of diversity as the “what” and inclusion as the “how.” Meaning, in order to have a productive diverse culture, we have to first learn how to be inclusive. I’ve also heard this explained as diversity is being invited to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance to help explain this difference.
However you think about it, what it boils down to is that checking the boxes of each diverse category does not actually allow you to realize the benefits of your diversity unless you are able to be inclusive as an organization.
Q: How do we live inclusion within our day-to-day roles?
Quyen: Inclusion starts with being aware. In a work environment it often starts with the question do I have the right stakeholders in the room? If not, why? Then, how do we prevent that from happening next time?
On one level that awareness is as simple as just acknowledging and celebrating specific aspects of our diversity—things like Veterans Day, Fathers’ Day and similar occasions as a small way we can honor each other.
It’s also important to realize that acknowledging those differences doesn’t mean that we’re excluding ourselves in any way—it’s just about inviting others to be their whole selves and to bring their thoughts and perspectives to the shared table. When we’re open-minded servant leaders and empathetic to other people’s experiences, it helps us to level set our experiences and better serve our teams. If we understand our people and how to draw out their insights, we are better able to do our jobs as leaders. Coaches need to know their teams frontwards and backwards to ensure they put the right people in the right roles at the right time to get the best results. Not everyone can be, should be or wants to be the quarterback.
Earlier this year, Greg Lehmkuhl, our President and CEO, put out a powerful message of solidarity in response to the protests of racial injustice we saw in the US over the summer. When I saw Greg’s message, I immediately picked up the phone to thank him and tell him about my own experiences. It was clear to me – and so many others – in that moment that Lineage fundamentally cares about our team members. Greg and the entire leadership team did a fantastic job of saying to our team members who have experienced discrimination and injustice that our feelings are valid and demonstrating true empathy for our pain. That says a lot about what Lineage is rooted in.
Jim: That’s another great example of there being no gap at all between our leaders’ words and their actions. It’s gratifying to be part of an organization where its values are clear and its leaders authentically demonstrate them in everything they do. It inspires confidence across the board.
I’d also say that being an inclusive leader is about openly and consistently encouraging folks to speak out AND listening to what they have to say. Supporting team members with a military background strikes me as a good example in this case. As a veteran myself, I can confirm that it’s challenging when leaving the military to equate the things we did during our service to “real world” experiences.
With the lens of being intentionally inclusive, if I were a GM—and this could apply to any group—I would seek out those veterans and include them forcefully in facility goals and objectives while “mining” them for those unique perspectives. With the right guidance and support, you can help them connect their prior experiences to what they are doing now, and your team can then reap the benefit. As we make awesome and intentional strides to recruit veterans, we also have a good track record of effectively assimilating veterans into our business because of leaders and teams who have gone above and beyond to support these incoming veterans.
Q: How have you seen the value of inclusion/diversity in your own experiences/career?
Jim: Cross-functionality of expertise is inclusion at its best at the facility level – it ultimately saves a lot of time and money. We have incredibly talented experts at each of our sites, but many have never been exposed to other lanes or the bigger picture that connects what they do to the overall financial results.
When we bring the entire team to the table to helps guide the overall facility’s operations and strategy, you end up tapping into resources and uncovering opportunities you would have never come across otherwise. You are able to avoid having a situation where everyone just runs their own plays and that helps keep the entire team focused on the primary goal of driving excellent results for our customers.
Quyen: When we actively check our own biases, we open ourselves up to new possibilities. It can lead to difficult conversations at times, but those are the ones most likely to spark innovation and drive lasting positive change. In fact, it’s in those moments of tension that we are often able to go from good to great and from great to excellent.
One great example at Lineage is the General Manager/Sales Manager partnership model. Since Lineage brought in this customer-centered model from one of our acquisitions, we’ve seen a flurry of new ideas elevated across the network. In particular, I think our processes for onboarding new customers has improved dramatically as a result. Starting from the place of collaboration between operations and sales made it even more natural to bring experts from other functions (like food safety and customer service) to drive the optimal experience for the customer.
Q: Where are Lineage’s biggest inclusion opportunities?
Quyen: Recruiting new folks into the organization is one of our key opportunities to drive inclusion. As we backfill roles, are we looking for diverse “out-of-the-box” backgrounds that could complement our existing skillsets? Or do we look for things like dynamic leadership, excellent team building – even if the candidate’s experience is in another industry? It’s about being open-minded to the ways someone who is driven and passionate about an opportunity can transfer experiences from their own background and infuse our team with new ideas and perspectives as a result.
It’s also worth considering whether we are truly embracing and celebrating the diversity within our current team. Lineage is still a relatively young organization and we’re starting to build out our inclusion and diversity programs. We started with WILL—which is focused on our female talent—and we’re looking for additional opportunities to create employee resource groups for veterans, as well as Black and Latino team members. As these additional groups grow and develop, we will be better able to cultivate the best future leaders on our teams. WILL is helping lay that foundation.
Jim: All of that is spot on. And I’d say we need to also be deliberate about bringing the conversation to the facility level. If we are going to make “inclusion” into something real and tangible for all of our team members, it needs to be driven at the facility-level network-wide.
The culture of any team is ultimately defined by the worst behavior that the leadership will tolerate. Lineage's leaders want it to be crystal clear: inclusion is our baseline. And when inclusion is fully embraced by all of our facilities and teams, that’s when it’s really going to catch fire as a part of our culture. To that end, we need to talk about the need here until we’re blue in the face. Lineage’s CHRO, Sean Vanderelzen, always says that you need to communicate seven different times in seven different ways to make an idea sink in.
In all of this, it’s important to realize that our leadership team is being deliberate in everything we’re doing. And knowing that although building out this infrastructure and learning these new skills may take time, but they are a huge value-add to the company and to each of us as individuals.