At Flanigan Farms, the “Personal Goals Project” Pays
Attention to More Than the Bottom Line
BY RABBI ZVI B.HOLLANDER
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappo’s, the on-line shoe store, writes in his best-selling book, Delivering Happiness, an ominous warning. He says that everything a company does, from hardware and software utilization to business strategy, can and will be copied by its competitors. That is, except one thing—the culture it imbues in its stakeholders: employees, management, and investors.
Mr. Hsieh knows of what he speaks. By making the commitment to create a company “in the customer service business, which just happens to sell shoes,” he profoundly affected the nature of Zappo’s entire corporate culture, and in the process, its bottom line. Zappo’s became the first company to reach the $1 billion in sales mark by only its eighth year of operations.
One of the OU certified companies I visit, a natural and organic fruit and nut producer in Culver City, California named Flanigan Farms, won’t likely reach that milestone any time soon. But on a recent kosher inspection I saw first-hand how Mr. Hsieh’s idea of developing a corporate culture of positive values and growth in action, albeit on a smaller scale, can be duplicated.
Under the direction of President and CEO Monica Heeren, this family-owned business creates a reputation for quality and attention to detail in all areas of product handling, of course including its kosher certification program with the OU. One of the newest ways it accomplishes such branding is by investing in the personal growth of its staff of 15 or so employees. I witnessed a touching example of this last October, persimmon harvest time in California.
In a two year-old initiative called simply “the Personal Goals Project,” each staff member is encouraged to choose an area of personal growth. It may be taking a class at a local community college to develop a new skill, or, as in the example I saw, something more intimate, fundamental to the employee’s daily life both at work and home—increasing one’s proficiency in English.
It’s not often I walk into a packaging area, filled with a group of young, female employees whose first language is Spanish, prominently displaying signs which state, “Today’s Goal: English Only.” As I toured the plant for my Fall, 2013 inspection, my interest was piqued. “What’s up with the signs?” I wondered.
Monica, my host leading the walk-through and the OU’s kosher contact, promptly led me into Flanigan Farms’ nurturing culture of supporting its employees’ growth. Unlike other businesses that only care for the business metrics a worker can generate, FF presents a familial concern on a personal level. “Our project is open to any goal, as long as it meets two criteria,” Monica told me. “First, it represents personal advancement for our staff member; and second, it will positively impact our company. Then, we help employees reach their goal by weekly all-staff monitoring meetings and by quarterly support luncheons, where everyone has fun supporting each other’s progress.”
The popular dried persimmon product must be processed quickly when it becomes ripe, usually in the late fall. The pace in the packaging department can be frenzied. But for Eva (not her real name), the hubbub is a perfect opportunity to acquire greater proficiency in her adopted country’s tongue. This fluency positively impacts her own self-esteem, presenting a meaningful role-model for her family, all in addition to significantly increasing her value as a skilled team member. By supporting her in her quest to acquire a second language, Flanigan Farms is investing in Eva’s becoming a better person, sister, mother, wife, and, of course, employee.
But as this Rabbinic Field Representative “fly-on-the-wall” sees it, FF is doing so much more than that. It exhibits an extension of its “family-run” close-knit quality-focused ambience. Supporting the “Personal Goal Project” efforts, Flanigan Farms demonstrates the values of caring and loving encouragement that are at the heart of the quality-oriented business that it is. Tony Hsieh is right. You can’t copy that kind of culture. And I’m privileged as an OU representative to be “part of the family” too.
RABBI ZVI BORUCH HOLLANDER HAS SERVED AS OU KOSHER WEST COAST RABBINIC FIELD REPRESENTATIVE SINCE 2008. HE TRAVELS THROUGHOUT THE LOS ANGELES AREA, AS WELL AS SERVING OVER 75 OU CERTIFIED FACILITIES IN OREGON. HE IS MARRIED, FATHER TO FIVE CHILDREN AND BLESSED WITH FOUR GRANDCHILDREN. RABBI HOLLANDER ENJOYS HIKING IN THE CALIFORNIA MOUNTAINS AND ON MT. HOOD AND OUTRIGGER CANOEING IN MARINA DEL REY.