Creating and Sustaining Culture: The Case of the Smallest Cool Company in America, Zingerman

 

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Organizational culture, as defined by Robbins & Judge (2013), refers to a system of shared meaning held by members that distinguishes an organization for other organizations. In another words, organizational culture can often be the key elements that allow the organization to stand out from the array of organizations that seemingly selling the same service or product. One such organization that has successfully established a strong culture that set them apart in the saturated food market is Zingerman.

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Figure 1: 5 steps of Zingerman’s Organizational Culture

Zingerman, started in 1982 as a food retailer with Zingerman’s Delicatessen, and in 2013, it expanded into Zingerman’s Community of Business (ZCoB), a Partner Group with eight independent operating businesses with 16 managing partners alongside. Zingerman’s prides itself on their constant strive for greatness in serving and maintaining a positive and appreciative attitude throughout the organization. Its culture is expressed through their espoused values and artifacts. Since 1993, Zingerman has adopted the Five Steps of Zingerman’s Organizational Culture practice to sustain their unique culture of great service in the organization Figure 1. As mentioned in the textbook, after a culture is created, it is important for the organization to maintain and sustain it throughout the organization. It was mentioned that three forces helps the sustainability of the culture. They are the selections practices, actions of top management and socialization method.

 

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In my opinion, by selecting the right people for the right job and organization, half the battle is won. Technical skills can be taught easily over a period of time, but attitudes and their personal culture can often be hard to change and they can’t be ‘taught’ easily. Similar to Zappos, Zingerman hire staff based on the degree of alignment they have to the corporate values and identity. In an interview, the CEO mentioned that if the candidate doesn’t smile during the interview, it jeopardize his/her chance of getting the job. They believe in hiring people with positive attitude to serve. Additionally, they implemented ‘Trial Shifting’ scheme, which they will pay the candidate to come and work for the company for a few days before they decide to hire them as staff. This is to ensure that a proper evaluation and assessment can be done on these potential candidates’ working attitude, and so to ensure a culture fit.

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Figure 2: Zingerman’s Staff Guide

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Figure 3: Message found on Zingerman’s Hiring Website

 

 

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As mentioned in the textbook, the behaviors and words of top management can often affect the culture of the organization by molding and establishing organization’s norms (Robbins & Judge, 2013). For Zingerman, they believe in ‘living’ the culture. Quoting the founder of Zingerman: “By how we handle failure, by who we hire and who we fire, and by who we reward and who we don’t” (Weinzweig, 2010). From Zingtrain (2014) website, in article written by Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of Zingerman, he said, “True appreciation can create an organizational culture in which appreciation and positive energy are the norms rather than the exceptions, a culture in which people feel valued for their work and help those around to do the same. Leading with appreciation creates a positive culture.” Zingerman instills the notion of ‘appreciation’ in every employee, both the leaders and the followers. Zingerman made it a point to include three to four minutes at the end of every meeting for public acknowledgement of appreciation to others, present in the meeting or not (William Davidson Institute, 2013). Also, Zingerman’s monthly newsletter features a few pages of appreciations submitted by employees to thank co-workers for specific actions (William Davidson Institute, 2013).


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Socialization refers to the three stages process that aid new employees to adapt to the organizational culture (Robbins & Judge, 2013). The first stage, prearrival, acknowledges that new workers arrive to the organization with their set of values, attitudes, and expectations about both the work and the organization. Robbins & Judge (2013) proposed to capitalize on prehire characteristics in socialization through the use of the selection process to inform prospective employees about the organization as a whole. Zingerman puts the company’s mission statement front and center on their employment applications, together with a message stating that employees would be expected to make “a serious commitment to learning about great food and great service; to helping to create an exceptional workplace.” This is to ensure that candidates get an idea of what is valued by the organization and thus, use it as a way to gauge if there is a culture fit. During the encounter stage, new employees have just entered the organization and there might be a possibility that their expectations differs from the reality. This discrepancy can often result in unhappy workers. During this situation, the support provided by co-workers and friends can be a great help. Although there is not much evidence to show how Zingerman deals with this situation, I assume that the fun and family-like working environment can serve as a form of support mechanisms for such new employees. Finally, the metamorphosis stage occurs when the new employee work out the issues discovered during the encounter stage.  This entire process of socialization can be seen as complete when new members have internalized and accepted the norms of the organization and their work group, high self-efficacy, and built trust and support with by their co-workers (Robbins & Judge, 2013).

 

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In the textbook, the authors highlighted a few dysfunctional aspects of having a strong organizational culture. For instance,  it can become a barrier to diversity. In my opinion, by hiring only those with positive or optimistic outlooks in life, it can narrow the type of employees Zingerman employs. This may result in groupthink or even limits the creativity. Issue of sustainability and hiring.

Additionally, what about the potential problem of emotional labour causing emotional dissonance? Even the most cheerful employee can face issues in life that make him or her to experience negative emotions. If Zingerman’s employees are to maintain the level of positive energy everyday, it can not only be mentally draining but can also ultimately lead to job dissatisfaction caused by emotional dissonance.

References:

Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2013). Organizational behavior. (15 ed., pp. 511-525). United States of America: Pearson Education, Inc.

Weinzweig, A. (2010). Building a better business. Ann Arbor: Zingerman’s Press.

William Davidson Institute. (2013). Zingerman’s (a): a recipe for building a positive business. Retrieved from http://www.globalens.com/DocFiles/PDF/cases/inspection/GL1428861I.pdf

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