Defining a company’s culture is one challenge; the next is getting employees to adopt it. Winning over the workforce is a combination of buy-in from every layer of management and shaping programs and structures around it.

“Developing a deep culture certainly doesn’t happen overnight,” said Allen L. Shiver, president and chief executive officer of Flowers Foods, Inc., Thomasville, Ga. “For nearly 100 years, Flowers managers have lived and reinforced the Flowers culture on a daily basis. During that time, we’ve enjoyed many successes along with our share of challenges and changes. But we’ve always stayed true to what we stand for. That’s how strong culture is formed and becomes the glue that binds everyone together.”

Buy-in is critical to the success of implementing a new company culture. Without transparency and support from the top, culture won’t stick.

“The ownership, leadership has to live out what the company is supposed to be,” said Josh Skow, CEO, Canyon Bakehouse, at a panel on workplace culture at the American Society of Baking’s BakingTech conference this year. “Hypocrisy kills culture and companies. It’s a snowball effect if you get the right people together.”

Buy-in isn’t limited to just the very top of the company. Managers at all levels need to be on board with the new values and direction. They carry the culture through all areas of the company.

At Flowers, strong leaders support and mentor their team members, which creates an environment where employees can be successful.

“We’ve been fortunate to have insightful leaders with keen business sense who fostered a culture of respect and appreciation for every team member,” Mr. Shiver said.

This is especially true of baking companies that span multiple plants. Tyler Wilkinson, human resources leader for The Bakery Cos. spoke of the value of local leadership at each of the company’s facilities. A manager in Nashville brought safety to the forefront simply by being present and engaging employees during their shifts.

“We went from safety being a part of what we do to safety being our top priority,” he said. “The manager accomplished this by talking with people and celebrating positive behaviors.”

The plant manager in Dickson, Tenn., a rural community, makes an impact on his team by engaging in the community.

“He lives in Dickson, goes to the same barber and knows their families,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “People relate to that in the bakery environment.”

More Than A Bakery’s vision of community and cookies completely undid preconceived notions of leadership and schedules and employee programs. When establishing the company culture, Bill Quigg, president, More Than A Bakery, wanted to keep making cookies and crackers safely a priority. He also wanted his employees to feel valued and like part of the family. The company refers to employees as Family Members and mandates that everyone wears a shirt sporting their name, eliminating preconceived notions about class and value.

“We noticed in the hiring process, we kept getting people who would say ‘I was just an operator,’” said Felicia Quigg, vice-president, Family Pride, More Than A Bakery. “There’s this mentality that being an operator was bad, so I decided no one is going to be called an operator here.”

Culture also gets legs by influencing company programs. Values influence performance reviews, professional development and pay scales, as well as benefits. To promote lifestyle balance, the Quiggs implemented a four-days-a-week, 12-hour-shift schedule at their new bakery.

“Certainly, it’s a long day,” Mr. Quigg said. “but people like having Fridays off.”

The company also offers additional holidays. Every employee is encouraged to take a family/community day. People can use these to volunteer, attend their children’s field trip or spend time with family, as long as they are investing themselves in their families or community. Employees are also allowed to take their anniversary or birthday off. This is all a manifestation of the company vision statement to encourage people to have purposeful and balanced lives. Putting these programs in place encourages that balance.

Related ReadingMore Than A Bakery also worked a wellness program into the health insurance benefits it offers. The program is 100% voluntary, but as those who participate reach higher levels of participation, they receive a bigger discount on their health insurance premium, up to 100%.

“We’re asking you to go to the doctor or get your teeth cleaned,” Mrs. Quigg said, describing ways Family Members can take advantage of the program. “We’re asking you to get a biometric screening — the finger prick — to check all those levels like cholesterol and lipids. We’re asking you to do a 15-minute online assessment. We ask you to have some health coaching and go to a couple of seminars we bring here. It’s not difficult to do, but you do have to make a bit of an effort.”

Workplace policies and programs can also encourage employees to pursue a career with the bakery instead of seeing their work as “just a job.” When employees see a path for professional development, they tend to stick around. The Bakery Cos. has made this a priority through its Pay for Skills program. For hourly employees, this program incentivizes them to learn new skills and grow in their position by basing the pay scale on professional growth, not just longevity.

“Previously, our compensation structure recognized baseline employment expectations,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “Now, associates can work through five levels of skillsets pertinent to their position. For example, a mixer operator will progress from knowing about absorption at level on to teaching others the mixer at level four and preparing for a leadership role in that area by level five.”

The next step in investing in their workforce includes plans to start a Bakery University where its employees can learn additional baking skills. The first class will start at the end of this year.

“Our goal is to develop associates into leads and then into supervisors through education, internal promotions and career development,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “We believe in investing our time and resources in our associates’ professional growth by Creating opportunities, Making a difference and Impacting lives.”

And all these programs and buy-in are only sustainable through constant communication from the top down and bottom up.

“The key is the follow-up meetings so employees know that you heard them and what you’re going to do about it,” Mr. Shiver said during the BakingTech panel.

Culture unifies and guides. It shows what a company values and where it is headed.

“Culture is a remarkable thing,” Mr. Shiver said. “It is the core of any high-functioning team, providing its members with respect, balance, direction, stability, confidence, mutual appreciation and a sense of value, belonging and accomplishing something worthwhile.”