All three c.e.o.s believe engaging with employees is key to building a positive workplace.

CHICAGO — Chief executive officers from three very different baking companies weighed in on developing workplace culture during the closing general session at the American Society of Baking’s (A.S.B.) BakingTech 2018 conference in Chicago.

Cordia Harrington, The Bakery Cos., Nashville, Tenn.; Allen Shiver, Flowers Foods, Thomasville, Ga.; and Josh Skow, Canyon Bakehouse, Loveland, Colo., all weighed in on the importance of their companies’ cultures and the lessons they’ve learned in successfully implementing.

“Culture is based on the company’s values,” Mr. Skow opened with. “We need to know who we are and where we’re headed.” 

And it’s disseminated from the top down, he said. That proved true whether the bakery is a younger, smaller operation or the second largest baking company in the United States.

“Plant culture comes down to the local leadership,” Mr. Shiver said, echoing Mr. Skow’s sentiment. “They protect Flowers’ culture and make sure it grows.” 

All three c.e.o.s expressed the value of engaging their employees, using third parties to poll employees about the companies’ policies and culture. But the key to high engagement, Mr. Shiver and Ms. Harrington said, was knowing that engagement was a two-way street. 

“The key is the follow-up meetings we have with employees so they know that we heard them and we can address what we’re going to do about it,” Mr. Shiver said.

Ms. Harrington said they see such high engagement with these surveys, up to 90% of employees respond, because of this feedback.

“Because they know we’ll respond, they engage these surveys,” she said. 

An unavoidable theme in conversations about workplace culture is the multi-generational workforce, often three generations, and how those groups communicate and work together effectively.

“We have all three generations in our business, and it’s a trick,” Mr. Skow said. “But being conscious of it is the first step.”

Millennials have driven all three companies to communicate more with employees and in new ways, implementing more progressive technologies, and give more continuous feedback.

“Feedback is very important to millennials,” Mr. Shiver said. “Our high-performing millennials want continuous feedback on their work, they want the bar continuously raised and a clear career path.”

And no conversation about workplace culture would be complete without discussing how companies engage their employees in a little fun, something Ms. Harrington discovered was important to employees through the feedback survey.

“I thought they might see those fun activities as one more thing they had to do for work, but I was surprised to discover they really enjoy those activities,” she said. 

The Bakery Cos. engages employees in social activities all year round through holiday parties, picnics, family pool parties and other smaller events.