Leading inclusive cultures that last: Zingerman’s co-founder Ari Weinzweig
Thursday, May 31, 2018
This is the second interview in a series about leaders who are truly inclusive. For part one, click here.
Inclusive leaders have clear strategies, take time to implement them and are driven by empathy for employees and the people they serve at all levels.
It’s my belief that no matter how long people are at work, almost everyone wants to feel part of something greater than themselves. They want to know that their work makes a difference to the organization, no matter what they do. We all have that need and thrive when we are part of a community.
Zingerman’s Community of Businesses is that kind of organization, and Ari Weinzweig and other members of Zingerman’s create that community of belonging every day for themselves and their customers.
Ari Weinzweig and his friend Paul Saginaw started Zingerman’s in 1982 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. What began as a Jewish deli with a handful of people has become Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, and includes a creamery, bakery, a restaurant, a farm, a mail-order company and more.
It employs over 700 people with almost no turnover. Zingerman’s has consistently been known as a great place to work from inception to growth.
In today’s startup culture, so many organizations begin as small, tight-knit cultures and then end up in chaos, dissension and high turnover as they bring on new people. That is not true of Zingerman’s, which continues be even more inclusive.
I spoke with Ari Weinzweig to discover what it is about Zingerman’s business model and leadership style other organizations want to emulate.
I found out that Weinzweig and Saginaw had a vision from the beginning.
"There are only two ways to build an organizational culture either with consideration and conscious intent; or, by contrast, to let the culture come together as it does, giving it little thought in the process," says Weinzweig.
When leaders start with a vision and culture strategy from the day they hire their first employee or bring on a partner, they are less likely to have problems defining roles or with duplication of resources, and more likely to spend time on innovation. They are also more likely to be able to adapt to change, stretch or expand, and be inclusive of new people.
When they just let the culture happen, it becomes a default culture without structure, and employees are more hesitant to make decisions, take risks or even approach leadership with new ideas.
At Zingermans, they believe in open-book management. That means that not only are the financials open to anyone who works there, they encourage everyone at every level to know about net operating profit, revenues from the week and costs of running the business.
Weinzweig said, "We view business as an ecosystem. People are not machine parts. It’s unnatural to dehumanize people and treat them like they are expendable or that they don’t matter. In our ecosystem we are all equal, from the leadership to hourly employees. There is no one thing or one person that makes the ecosystem healthy, it’s every part and person."
He compared corporate culture today to monocropping in agriculture, where you grow just one crop. It does great in the beginning but then the soil gets depleted and problems ensue.
"The same thing happens in business which then has to be propped up with more money. In the ecosystem, everyone plays a role, and we support the growth of all of our people."
I asked him what was at the root of their culture, why people love working there so much, grow with the company and achieve so much personal success. He told me, "At the core is our belief system and how we live our values. We start with the positive belief in human beings and their generosity. Everyone can get to greatness if you believe in them and support their success."
Weinzweig talked about the importance of self-management, "A good leader has to be at peace with themselves. Leaders that are not are the ones that don’t believe people they work with are creative or capable. They build hierarchies that are incongruent for people to thrive, and believe that only people at the top know what needs to be done. People learn by screwing up."
At Zingerman’s, culture, inclusion and diversity are not just words.
They have a defined culture that includes normally unwritten norms. Their vision is written along with the agreements they make. They know that if it’s not written down, everyone will leave with their own interpretation.
New employees are taught the culture and given the information and tools they need to succeed and be full participants.
Their culture is clearly defined, but there is also room to make changes, improvements and eliminate processes that are no longer working.
Ari said, "Culture is more than what we say, it’s what we do every day, and how we conduct our business."
It’s that belief in people, encouraging ownership, and expecting people to fully participate and share ideas that ensures the Zingerman’s culture will adapt, stretch and live on. And it’s the everyday practice of Ari, Paul and all of Zingerman’s of self-assessment, review and openness that embeds equality, inclusion and innovation into their business.
I’m inspired by leaders like Ari and Paul to keep working every day to help organizations build cultures that last from startup to scale.
Inclusive leaders are inclusive wherever they are and wherever they work. They have systems and processes for culture and inclusion, and know the science of creating culture. No matter what industry or organization they lead, they nurture, inspire and move people forward with love and care, which ensures unimaginable business success.
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