Seven Miles CEO, Jenny Willits, explains the importance of her firm’s core value – ‘the courage to progress and the importance of kindness’ in building a winning work culture
that benefits the whole organisation
"Everything we do is in the passionate pursuit of exceptional coffee. It’s the glue that unites us." – Jenny Willits, Seven Miles CEO
Seven Miles Coffee Roasters has recently put considerable focus into creating a values-based company, one focused on our people. The result has seen a thriving culture, the best customer feedback we’ve ever received and double-digit growth in a company that’s just celebrated its 50th
year of business. So, we know we’re onto a good thing.
But how can businesses develop company values that profit the entire organisation? Thinking about your own values as a person is a good place to start. They were likely influenced by your parents, friends or teachers at school. For me, that influence was my mum who always told me to “act with courage and be kind”. What she meant by that was to show heart, to believe in yourself, back yourself, and to do it all with kindness. At Seven Miles, we’ve adapted the phrase and we call it ‘the courage to progress and the importance of kindness.’
Derived from the Latin word, ‘cor’
(heart), courage is even more relevant today than it’s ever been. Change is as inevitable as death and taxes – think about the constant change around us with new technology, disruptive business concepts and the myriad of challenges we face as human beings every day. You need more and more courage to simply stand tall and progress in today’s ever-changing world.
As for kindness, I believe we have a choice to make every time we respond to a situation. You can choose empathy and respect or not. What you respond to positively in a personal relationship should manifest in the way you treat others in a professional relationship. Who isn’t going to enjoy being treated compassionately and fairly in a company that regards them as a person? By focusing on employees and people you can set your business up for long-term growth. Here are seven insights how.
1. Create unity through purpose
Ensure everyone understands why the company exists. There are many studies on the importance of purpose – EY, Millward Brown, Jim Stengel, Simon Sinek – they all say companies with purpose dramatically outperform the market. Peter Drucker observes the most successful company is “not the one with the most brains, but the one with the most brains acting in concert”
Seven Miles has been through tremendous change. When I joined in October 2017, the business had taken a big decision a year prior to change its name from Belaroma Coffee Company to Seven Miles Coffee Roasters. The business wanted to future-proof itself and maintain its relevancy, but you can’t simply change a name. We needed to understand what it meant to be part of Seven Miles and that was my first job, to create cohesion and clarity.
Everything we do is in the passionate pursuit of exceptional coffee. It’s the glue that unites us, the guiding decision-making tool, one derived from conversations with all of the employees and therefore one they can own with authenticity.
2. Outline what is valued
As a prospective employer or employee, it’s important to understand how people are going to fit in with the culture. This doesn’t mean encouraging cookie-cutter mentality – Seven Miles has a hugely diverse employee and customer base. Instead, it means establishing values and principles that unite how we come together and sets the expectations re behaviour. We encourage our team to come to work and abide by them as how they live up to them is discussed during performance conversations.
Integrity, empathy and kindness – they’re not revolutionary words but they are mightily powerful. We also value the courage to progress – to turn up, to evolve and adapt to change, to back yourself and move forward. At Seven Miles the courage it sometimes takes to turn up on a difficult day due to personal circumstances is valued equally as the courage it takes to develop a new strategy or tackle a new business problem – and I think that courage is fantastic.
"We’re a coffee roasting business committed to roasting the very best coffee, and we’re also very focused on our customers – we want their experience to be exceptional each and every time"
3. Understand how you go about business
Companies spend a lot of time promoting their purpose and values. But it’s also crucial to understand areas that define your business and how you run it. For us it’s simple: We’re a coffee roasting business committed to roasting the very best coffee, and we’re also very focused on our customers – we want their experience to be exceptional each and every time.
We also embrace change and wisdom. That’s why we established our Coffee Science and Education Centre, which ensures all the latest and greatest developments in the world of coffee are examined and verified as useful to our customers.Importantly, we also back our team. We’re lucky to have the team of brilliant people we do who turn up to work every day. We make sure they can grow and thrive, that they’re successful and feel good about coming to Seven Miles.
4. Relentlessly cheerlead
As the CEO, I am responsible on behalf of all our employees and their families to ensure we have a thriving business. It’s also my role to clear the path ahead, allowing the team to move forwards and to know where they’re heading. That takes constant cheerleading of our ambition and strategy, of our people to help support and guide them.
A lot of rhetoric says great leadership is about standing at the back and encouraging your people forward. I agree in part, but I actually believe great leadership comes from adapting your leadership position depending on where your company is on its journey. Sometimes that is from the back to encourage the team to move into our new adventure, but it can equally be from the front leading the cavalry charge or side-by-side, holding their hands.
It’s also vital to spend time out in the field. How can you know if your business is fulfilling a need if you’re not out there listening to your customers? That’s why I spend a lot of time with my team out on the road. It’s a great way better understand what customers need from us – listening to them and the team provides me with an opportunity to also update them on new initiatives and how we’re responding to previous feedback.
5. Align your leadership team
The CEO is one person, but the broader leadership team also need to be aligned to the journey we’re on to ensure the path ahead is clear across the entire business. Together we’ve done a lot of work defining our purpose, values and ambition, but one of the most important things we’ve done as a team was breaking down personal barriers.
This involved getting people to discuss all the things they didn’t quite see eye-to-eye on. It was quite confronting, but it was also incredibly powerful because people said ‘ok, I get it, I know how I’m going to work with you’. It created better cohesion within the leadership team, which sets a vital example to the rest of the company. You cannot expect employees to believe and deliver the company vision, or customers to understand what your business is about if your leadership is not aligned.
"We have employee performance reviews that revolve around regular, powerful conversations, rather than meeting just once a year"
6. Generate employee value
This means making employees feel positive about why
they’re working at your company. When I first joined Seven Miles our job descriptions were derived from a large FMCG company and they just weren’t relevant. So, we began simplifying them to make our roles easier to understand and therefore easier to generate value from. What we added was a second page that asked employees to tell us about how they are best managed. We wanted to hear about those exceptional managers, so we could learn and get the best from our team. We also ask them how we can help them achieve that nirvana of work/life balance – be it flexible hours, leaving early to beat traffic, study breaks etc. We then agree what that is and signed-up together as part of our first catch-up.
We also have employee performance reviews that revolve around regular, powerful conversations, rather than meeting just once a year. Holding regular check-ins to discuss how people are feeling is a great way for me to get feedback on how the company can make sure they succeed. We’ve also introduced new employee perks, such as gym membership rebates, a day off for your birthday, regular food trucks to break bread together, all aiming to show our care as an organisation and generate employee value.
7. Expect growth
This isn’t strictly an insight, but rather what will happen as a result of the first six: by focusing on your people you can expect growth. I’m not saying we all sit around singing songs and making daisy chains – there are very clear strategies that are implemented and executed. I am a relentless and ambitious CEO with an equally driven leadership team but we act with humility, vulnerability and kindness. It’s this good citizen approach to our people that is absolutely at the heart of propelling us forwards in ways we’ve not been able to do in years.
By understanding what makes my people tick, I can make the company tick. I can generate top-line and bottom-line growth, I can make shareholders and the board happy – and it’s achieved by focusing on our employees.
I want my legacy at Seven Miles to be that that the business is thriving for the next 50 years, that we have happy employees who love working at Seven Miles and who know what that means. That by backing ourselves, by acting with courage, we can create a business that is happy, has soul and bends and flexes to change readily and without fear, that will thrive in the long-term for your employees and for you. Have the courage to progress and please remember to be kind.
Jenny Willits is CEO of Seven Miles Coffee Roasters, Australia