"Can I make you something to eat?"

After a long drive through the vineyards of Northern California I've arrived at the Berliner ranch outside Petaluma. At the back of a family farmhouse is a modest kitchen - the same kitchen where, nearly thirty years ago, Rachel and Andy Berliner made their first organic, vegetarian pot pies. Today Andy is digging into a delicious and healthy looking bowl of quinoa and greens. I settle on a cup of black coffee and some of their signature biscotti.

The Berliners started Amy's Kitchen because they wanted to make it easy for other people, like them, to feed their families well. Back then the concept of organic farming was new - but Rachel and Andy believed organic was the only way. Decades later Amy's Kitchen has become the category source for easy organic and vegetarian meals. And like my own mother, Rachel wants to make sure I’m healthy and well fed.

I've come to the ranch because the family has realised that at this stage of the business, and the Berliner's lives, it's time to bottle up their magic. To codify what's made them so special over the years - and to ensure that many more generations will be able to enjoy Amy's food.

Growing a family business

"I need to know that I can lead the business with the same values that my parents have. That all of us inside the company will make the right decisions - even when things get difficult"

Rachel & Andy's daughter Amy was the inspiration behind Amy's Kitchen - and is key to the succession of the family business. 90% of all businesses in the US are family owned. While most might be free of the pressure of shareholders, family owned companies carry the weight of expectations and legacy. The next generation learns to lead in the steps of their founders. Yet less than one-third of family businesses survive the transition to the next generation ownership.

Amy and her husband Jace are active in leading the business, and are passionate about ensuring they can face challenges and continue to grow. With Amy's Kitchen continuously expanding its product offer, moving into new markets, and opening restaurants, Amy and Jace want to equip everyone in the company with the confidence to collaborate and make decisions the way the family have always done.

This is where purpose and values play a critical role.

Clarity about who we are

Amy's Kitchen has a purpose that has always guided the company. Finding and articulating that purpose involves going back to the start to identify why the business has always existed. Over several sessions with their leadership team we listened to stories of how the business began, to bring to life the role that Amy's Kitchen plays in people's lives -- to make it easy and enjoyable for everyone to eat well.

Alongside this we helped the Berliners to establish their Founder's Principles - a set of simple questions that anyone in the business should ask at all times to ensure that the purpose was being maintained.

Then, through listening to stories and data collected from research with employees across the business, and using the Within values discovery process, we worked with the leadership team to surface four core values that guide expected behaviors in the business. These values should be lived at all times by everyone at Amy's - they are a way of bottling up and expressing the unique way Amy's has always operated. And an important tool for the Berliners and their senior team to lead by.

One of the values - Take Care of Each Other - embodies the way Amy's has always acted out of compassion. It's in the way Rachel reads every letter from consumers sharing their love for Amy’s and the requests they have based on the challenges of their diet. How Andy takes the time to ask about employee's families and get to know them personally. It aligns to the principles of being a vegetarian company that takes care of its supply chain. And in the way all team members consider each other and act as one family.

We knew we had found the right set of Amy's values when we saw how each was used every day to make decisions across the company. And when Rachel, sighing with relief and pride in her team, remarked that something had shifted for her personally. She could see with clarity that what her and Andy have created would continue to grow and serve others, and that with the right tools to guide the team, the spirit of Amy’s Kitchen would live on well into the future.

From one family to a connected culture

A comfortable colourful sofa is the center point of the living room at the Berliner's ranch. A Buddha calmly reclines opposite, a large wooden family dining table fills the rest of the room. 

This sofa is important to the Amy's Kitchen story. It's here that through lengthy conversation some of the big decisions that have changed the course of the business have taken place. With operations now extending to Europe and Asia, not everyone can sit on the sofa and talk things through. We need to find a way to take the sofa to everyone.

Bringing clarity to Amy's Kitchen's purpose and values was only the beginning of the journey. Bridget Dwyer and Cindy Gillespie, who head up Marketing and HR respectively, are part of a core team guiding the internal process. They champion the way leadership rises to the challenge to bring the values to life. Bridget and Cindy believe leadership must "get people on the sofa”. To leverage the Amy's culture as a real asset in the growth of the business, purpose and values need to be lived consistently at all levels of the company. 

A strong corporate culture goes beyond the Silicon Valley cliché of a rec room and free fruit baskets in the office. Leaders who really see their people as the driving force of growth will use values as a way of connecting people, unleashing creativity, inspiring collaboration, and guiding performance. Great leaders know that it all starts with them - that their behavior must exemplify the values of the culture for others to emulate.

Investing in culture

We've created a process for Amy's to embed their values across the business - with the leadership team playing an active role. The first step involves allowing every employee to build meaning into each of the values, and to experience the purpose and what it means for them and their work. 

For a business of this size embedding values will take time - the Berliners and the core team recognise that it may take years. It's a great reflection of their value Invest In Getting It Right, exemplifying the dedication that has always contributed to Amy's success. Piloting our approach with teams operating in very different contexts, from the people making Amy's food to those with national cultures that might seem different to the company's northern Californian roots, ensures we build the right tools and methods for building belief in the values. 

It's an approach we mastered with our work with UNESCO - exploring purpose and values in very different cultures to surface what is common across an organisation. The Within method recognises that depth of meaning comes not just from words - so we ask participants to express values creatively through imagery and movement, and bring storytelling in to make the expectations tangible. We then support leaders inside the business to have the skills to run sessions themselves, and give them the tools to build belief in the culture they are creating. This includes finding opportunities to weave the language and behaviors of the values into every day processes - from how the business makes and markets its product, to how teams are recruited and evaluated.

Culture is a critical asset to ensure legacy and succession in a family business. At Within we believe people are essential to any thriving company, and that leaders play a role as caretakers - to serve their culture and ensure the continued success of the business. Amy's Kitchen is a remarkable example of a brand with integrity - loved by consumers and by those who have chosen to work there. We're proud to support them on this important stage of their journey of growth.

Written by Jeff Melnyk on Oct 06, 2016