Blog – The Power of Trust is a Journey

By Melissa Jones

The recent 2023 Annual Culture and Leadership Conference was Human Synergistics 25th such offering in both Sydney and Melbourne and the first held live and face-to-face since the disruption of Covid and its subsequent fallout.

With guests from an array of different industries and backgrounds we were inspired by our keynote speakers and panelists who shared their insights and real-world experiences of CULTURE reformation and the acknowledgment that it is never an END GAME, but rather a GAME in constant pursuit worth winning.

Our first guest speakers were Todd Saunders (Executive General Manager) and Peter Hartnett (Head of People and Culture) from Sanitarium, The Health Food Company.

A long-term focus on Culture has had a profound impact on the way Sanitarium go about everything in their business, and the way they lead their people. Their insights highlighted that a continued push to keep refining your whole business response to Culture is crucial as the fulfilment of an organisation’s purpose is constantly changing.

At 125 years young, Sanitarium (dedicated to nourishing Australian families with affordable, healthy food since 1898) has had enough time to ponder the relevance of Culture as a living, breathing and dynamic life form. The idea that the same Culture that got Sanitarium to where they are today, is not necessarily what is going to drive them with the same success going forward.

In this account Todd and Peter share the Sanitarium story, touching on themes such as trust, competitive advantage, the impact of leaders, and how culture has driven the way they recruit and retain their people.

“For 12 years now we’ve asked people to get on the bus .. or off the bus” according to Todd. That they hired to be PEOPLE FIT over SKILLSET FIT ensured they weathered the Covid storm, and ultimately came out stronger. “Culture is very important to us, it’s an enabler of our strategy and many of the 13,000 employees believe it is now our secret sauce.”

Sanitarium has been a big believer in using the Human Synergistics diagnostics as part of getting Culture right. “We’ve invested a lot in Culture development and the tools to support it; LSI’s, OEI’s, OCI’s, LI’s, MI’s and CSS’s”.

When the Pandemic hit, Sanitarium had been investing in Culture for 9 years, they wondered if their investment would one-day pay off. They would not have to wait long to find out. “In 2020 we saw our Culture walk out the door, along with the entire company supply of toilet paper. We had to start having conversations around working from home arrangements, and how to support the promise they made to staff they’d get through this together”.

They developed this promise through three lenses;

After the panic buying subsided, Sanitarium managed to crank up production by teams leaning into each other. As a result, output lifted by 25% (15% above their rated capacity) they split up factory by moats, separated departments for health and safety, office workers went to the gym and packed groceries for people who couldn’t get into the shops, everyone went above and beyond.

The result?

As the teams leant into new work arrangements, Sanitarium found it had grown operationally, gained new employees, even if this meant they wondered how they would immerse them in the ‘Culture’ when they were not all in the same place. “We developed a comeback plan”, says Todd. “We were intentional about Culture and flexible work packages – employees were surprised and delighted by what they encountered”.

Their NON-DAIRY AND CAFE team were subsequently recruited on ‘character’, with the idea that they can always be taught the technical and sales skill as part of their onboarding, but learning to adapt and behave quickly was more critical. Any issues and problems were dealt with quickly, some people were asked to get onboard, others were asked to leave, because in Todd’s own words “the standard you walk by, is the standard you accept”.

He believes that 12 years of Culture investment means there is a direct causal link in the Culture outlay as a strategic enabler to their commercial successes which has seen them take up number 1 position in the breakfast aisle.

“Culture is incredibly to difficult scale to the edge of your organisation, particularly when you bring on people in large numbers, it can be diluted. You need to get the recruitment right, it does make a difference, that and a strong focus and continued investment in Culture – it’s the biggest privilege you’ll be entrusted with as a leader”.

Peter Harnett (General Manager, People and Culture) agrees that the importance of leadership helps reinforce culture and thus refine performance. Their 4 leadership principles centre on creating clarity, building capability, modelling the way and delivering success. These principles bolster our development and they are expected from all our leaders. Good Culture doesn’t happen unless it trickles down from the top!

Focusing on the LSI provides an ability to set an expectation of leadership at an individual level that comes with a common language. This level of self-awareness as a leader is where the magic happens. When a leader instils trust in their team, this is when and where we see significant levels of change in Culture.

Peter finishes off by saying that Culture is a compelling business dynamic for Sanitarium, it goes a long way to making up their DNA and drives forward business decisions. “After each Culture measure we always start again, of course we celebrate the wins, look at where we need to go deeper (particularly at sub cultures within the business) and go about building and maintaining trust through leadership.”

There is one saying by Farncis Frei that resonates with us a company “you have to believe there’s always a better version of around the corner”.

Watch their presentation below.


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