Buying in
By Sam Gazdziak, Senior Editor

Corporate culture starts at the top, but the best processors make sure it resonates throughout the company.
The management team of any company does more than day-to-day tasks. It also must determine the overall growth strategy, focus on long-term goals and set forth a corporate culture or identity. But what does any of that mean to the hourly workers?
Line workers and other hourly employees are one of the most important assets that any company has. Because of their close contact with the meat that goes through the plant, they are one of the key factors for preserving food quality and safety. The problem comes when they are not treated as a valuable company asset or are overlooked in favor of the people in more “glamorous” positions. When the job becomes just a paycheck and nothing more, job satisfaction can plummet, and with it quality. The best companies know how to prevent this from happening.
“At Pilgrim’s Pride, we have always referred to our employees as ‘partners’ to emphasize their important role in the success of our company. Our partners are our most valued asset, and they deserve respect, fair compensation, meaningful work and a safe work environment,” says Ray Atkinson, director of corporate communications for the Pittsburg, Texas-based chicken processor. Pilgrim’s Pride employs 55,000 people across the country in total.
Pilgrim’s Pride makes each new partner aware of the company’s culture from Day One. “We believe it is important to share our purpose, vision, values and mission with all of our partners before they begin working with the company, because we want them to understand the company’s history and management philosophy before joining us,” Atkinson says. New hires complete an orientation program when they start working to learn more about the company and the work rules for their location. They also are partnered with an experienced partner to help them get acclimated, and complex managers often meet with the newest workers or take them out for lunch.
Communicating the company’s values and mission is not just a one-time thing. At Willow Brook Foods in Springfield, Mo., the company publishes a “Turkey Times” newsletter several times a year. In the newsletter, Mike Briggs, the company’s president, writes about the company’s direction and what’s important.
“People enjoy that,” says Jim Peacock, cookside superintendent. “They know the president took time to let them know the direction the company is going in. Mike shows a concern for us, and I think by letting people know that, it makes a great difference.”
Willow Brook does its best to keep a family atmosphere in the company, says Art Burnett, health, safety and security director. “We have people on our floor who have been with us for 30 or 35 years,” he says. “We’re a company, we’re a paycheck, but we’re also a family. That has worked out very well as far as people caring and being a part of the company.”
Giving employees a sense of ownership and the awareness that they can bring changes to their job is another solution to getting them enthused about their job and the company as a whole. Atkinson says that Pilgrim’s Pride maintains an open-door policy, so that its partners can bring any job concerns to management.
“We encourage them to bring to the attention of their supervisor and work-related situation they believe is affecting their performance, ability to perform the job or the general atmosphere of the work environment,” he says.