Leaders Training Leaders at Foster Farms

The people of Foster Farms poultry processing farms and plants are dedicated to providing the highest quality products to the consumer.  Family owned since 1939, they understand how creating a work environment where people can thrive improves their corporate culture, enhances the lives of their employees, and allows them to produce a wide variety of the best selling fresh and frozen chicken and turkey products.

Part of the success of this family organization stems from their commitment to provide leadership training to all managers and leaders. “We had trained Situational Leadership® II for several years,” says Marty Jakosa, manager, human resources and organizational development. “When the product was updated, I have to admit I wasn’t initially thrilled. But I took a deeper look at the design and realized the new method of learning was even more impactful. So we decided it would be the perfect time to change how we approached the rollout of the new program to our employees. We wanted to improve the learning experience to match the design of the program and make sure that people applied the skills outside the classroom.”

Jakosa realized the importance of getting senior leaders engaged in the training initiative and came up with a creative approach to get them intimately involved. “The first step was having Ken Blanchard come to our headquarters and make a presentation to the entire company. The session was broadcast to our other locations as well, so everyone was exposed to his leadership philosophy. Then Ken met with senior leaders to discuss mission, purpose, and values. It was an invigorating way to get everyone on board and excited,” Jakosa explains.

Jakosa took it a step further when training the top leaders in the new design of The SLII Experience™. He asked each senior leader to pay special attention during the workshop and select a portion of the program to become a subject matter expert in so that they could teach a portion of the class to other leaders and managers in upcoming sessions.

“Ken taught us that the best way to learn something is to teach it. So I thought it would be great for senior leaders to select one section to teach to others. For example, our CIO loves the concept of one-on-one conversations, so he joins me to teach that part.”

Having senior leaders teach a segment during the workshop has a strong effect. When participants see the senior vice president of marketing, the COO, and even the chief counsel join Jakosa to train a portion of the class, it cements the fact that these leadership skills are an important part of the Foster Farms culture. But the most surprising part is how much the executives love the teaching aspect. “Initially there was a little apprehension, but I worked closely with each one to develop their portion of the training. It quickly became intoxicating for them. They are all experts in their own field—such as marketing, finance, and IT—but this gives them the chance to learn completely new skills and operate outside a comfort zone. Over time, I have watched their confidence soar.” Jakosa says.

This technique has also been a great way to sustain learning as each leader takes responsibility for integrating the skills back into their own departments.

The Learning Experience

According to Jakosa, “The concepts taught in The SLII Experience are simple and easy to use, but they are hard hitting.” The activity that provides the biggest aha moment for participants is the role play exercise where people sit face to face for conversations. “People get to experience the different development levels and leadership styles firsthand. That’s where they get the big takeaways from the class,” he explains.

Participants also have access to several online support tools for SLII through a platform called Blanchard Exchange. The tools include worksheets to help with goal setting, conversation starters for planning one-on-one meetings with staff members, and checklists for assessing the effectiveness of their communications. Managers will also find articles and videos they can share with their teams to further their understanding of SLII, as well as an app that allows them to diagnose direct reports’ development levels on specific tasks or goals. “As everyone leaves the workshop, I remind them about the incredible tools they have at their fingertips. When they leave the class and the real world is just outside the door, I’m there to help them, their colleagues are there to help them, and the Blanchard Exchange materials are there too.”

Jakosa also teaches Situational Self Leadership to direct reports so that they will be able to work more effectively with their managers. He knew if he sent the managers back to their work environment with new skills and terminology, there would be a gap in understanding if direct reports couldn’t use the same leadership language. Knowing the model enables them to ask for the kind of leadership support and direction they need for each task. And using the two training programs together helps improve the conversations managers have with their direct reports. In fact, communication is improved throughout the organization. “I hear conversations between managers in the hallway every day about diagnosing a development level or offering up the right leadership style. Being able to use a common language builds camaraderie among all of our people—managers and direct reports alike.”

There are more than 900 managers and leaders at Foster Farms. The goal is to train everyone in the concepts and skills of The SLII Experience. Jakosa says he is a big fan of The Ken Blanchard Companies and the programs they provide. “I see what a positive difference these materials can make in an organization. My big question to everyone in the training field is: why would you NOT do this? You can offer a program that improves communication, builds trust, and increases engagement. Doesn’t every organization deserve that opportunity?”