Educating and Engaging Your Employees to Create Clarity and Purpose Around Your Vision

Nelson Longenecker
Vice President, Business Innovation
Four Seasons Produce, Inc.

Founded more than 36 years ago, Four Seasons Produce, Inc. prides itself on providing a high level of service and top-quality produce to meet the varied and large volume demands of our customers. We are committed to growing ideas and producing excellence. A deeply ingrained dedication to innovation and excellence is what makes us one of the top independent produce distributors in the United States.

Four Seasons regularly checks in with our employees – who we consider to be “associates” – to ensure the company’s core values and mission are top of mind. We have deployed surveys on a consistent basis, every two years, to gain feedback directly from our associates. The last several surveys provided some interesting insight, showing us that we needed to make some changes.

Trust? Yes! Understanding? No!
Confidence and trust in our senior leadership has never been an issue. It is clear from our surveys that our associates respect our executives and believe in their ability to lead the organization. However, when we dug a little deeper, we realized that our associates did not, in fact, have a solid understanding of our vision and strategies for the future. Without this understanding, we knew they could not truly engage in their work or in our collective pursuit of that vision. Our associates’ general lack of understanding was further complicated by the fact that the organization has grown to have many different facets. There are multiple companies operating within the family of companies, with many associates having a limited grasp of what the other companies do. We realized that we needed to help our workforce better understand our separate businesses, where the company was going, and how it would get there. Most importantly, they needed to see how they impacted each other and the overall success of the company.

Two Prongs Are Better Than One
Right around the same time we had this insight on associate engagement, we did a customer study. The result was a good competitive look at why people choose us over others in the market. It showed that we were meeting or beating our competition on every important measure. We were very pleased with the results, but we had not yet identified ways to build on these strengths or communicate this valuable information to our people. That, combined with the desire to better articulate the company vision, led us to create a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. After taking a long hard look at the end result of that analysis, we decided on a two-pronged approach to engage and align our associates.

  1. We brought in a strategy consultant to help our executive team lay out a clear vision and strategies
    for future success.
  2. We brought in Root Inc. to help us fully engage our people in the vision.

We wanted to communicate with our associates but didn’t have a clear picture of their understanding and perceptions. We engaged Root to conduct qualitative interviews that would produce information such as:

  • How our associates interpret the business strategy and the gaps in perception that may exist between leaders, managers, and individual contributors about the strategic direction and the execution imperatives within the business today.
  • Specific anecdotes behind the 3-5 engagement survey scores that are of primary concern.

If You Map It, They Will Come
We think of ourselves as an innovative company, so we needed an innovative way to engage our associates. We needed a solution that would not only educate and inform our associates, but also instill passion and camaraderie. When we saw Root’s Strategic Learning Map® module, we were sold. It was just the vehicle we needed to speak to the hearts and minds of our associates.

We wanted to understand our associates at every level, including hourly employees from packing and the warehouse who were not used to being interviewed and some who did not speak English.  Root created a set of tools that helped all interviewees effectively explain their perceptions and opinions.

With Root’s help and the feedback from two associate focus groups, we finalized a visual that illustrated our vision of “Driving Healthy Distribution.” We provided facilitated Strategic Learning Map® experiences to more than 400 associates at a variety of levels. The materials were also translated into Spanish, and we facilitated groups in Spanish, Creole, Russian, and Hmong in an effort to reach as many associates as possible.

The experience provided Four Seasons with:

  • Imaginative and custom visual metaphors to drive in-depth discussion using data and provocative, open-ended questions.
  • A method for small groups of six to ten people to discuss important issues, while informal facilitation helped keep the conversation on track and productive.
  • A way for associates to align on priorities and share a unique experience all in about 90 minutes.

Understanding Breeds Passion
Our associates gave rave reviews about the Strategic Learning Map® process. While they initially struggled to see how other arms of the company were important to what they did, Root dramatically altered that perception by visually showing growth in different parts of the company. Once people saw and understood how their own success was tied to the family of companies, they were instantly more understanding and supportive of what had to happen to be successful. Beyond revealing the biggest gaps in understanding, interviews also revealed that the organization could better leverage their managers to work across the organization and deliver the messages of strategy without having to rely on the very most senior leadership. The Strategic Learning Map® experience provided success in many forms and resulted in a renewed energy and passion. Here’s what we saw:

  • Our associates achieved a greater understanding of the reasons behind the formation of additional companies,
    and quickly became committed to all our customers.
  • Our associates came out of group sessions with a much better understanding of the needs of our different companies. Mixing the groups across the entire organization exposed people to different perspectives.
  • People looked across the table at associates from sister companies and recognized the same commitment to excellence that they possessed. The passion was contagious and has begun to build better teamwork throughout the organization.
  • People walked out of these meetings with their heads high because the experience reaffirmed the great job they do for our customers, and clarified our vision and core strategies.

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Following the Strategic Learning Map® experience, Four Seasons now has a newly energized workforce. Our people are more fully engaged and invested in the company’s success. We cannot think of a more effective way of engaging people around our vision, and we are committed to maintaining that momentum. Four Seasons came out of the process as an organization that is more skilled at engaging our people in what our vision and strategy is all about.

In his present role, Nelson oversees strategic projects, information technology, and facilities and energy. Nelson gives leadership to sustainable business efforts and champions other key initiatives. He leads efforts to use information and analysis to improve organizational decision-making, and also supports the organization’s efforts to create a winning culture. For more information on Four Seasons Produce, go to