In the end, it really came down to flexibility, and someone understanding our business and who we are, and being willing to adapt to us.
–Mitch Lehn, Director of Human Resources at Lignetics
Lignetics’ mission is straightforward: to inspire warm, clean, flavorful living by turning wood waste into premium quality, environmentally friendly products. Already the largest residential wood pellet manufacturing company in the United States, they continue to grow rapidly.
Success comes with its own set of challenges, and so Lignetics contacted Turning the Corner for support with fostering cohesion and developing a consistent culture across the company.
With their headquarters in Louisville, CO, and manufacturing sites across the country, they all needed to be better connected with headquarters and with each other. Turning the Corner suggested that, not only did managers need to collaborate more, but that they needed a training program to foster a coherent company culture.
An early assessment of Lignetics general and plant managers measured employee engagement at a level 2 out of 5. A follow-up survey put employee engagement at a level 4 out of 5.
“A big part of helping the company continue to grow was introducing a consistent management training program,” says Drew Bonder, Turning the Corner’s Director of Business Services.
Though the idea that the virtual trainings would be well received by the generally low-tech audience was initially met with skepticism, they caught on quickly. Managers across the company immediately saw the value and started requesting additional trainings.
In addition to developing a stronger company culture over the course of our partnership, Lignetics continued to grow. The company had around 50 employees when Turning the Corner first helped them recruit Mitch Lehn, who served as their HR Leader. Today, Lignetics has over 500 employees.
Lignetics has scaled from roughly 70 to over 500 employees in the last four years.
A conversation about growth
Drew Bonder recently spoke with Mitch Lehn, former Director of Human Resources at Lignetics, about our partnership. An abridged and edited version of their conversation is below.
Drew Bonder: What problems were you trying to solve when you first engaged Turning the Corner?
Mitch Lehn: We had a lot of new leaders — some at very remote, small-town manufacturing sites, as well as new hires at headquarters. We needed to figure out how to deliver leadership training to everyone without interrupting the business.
We are very lean, and we continue to be, and it wasn’t feasible to bring everybody in once every other week or once a month. And so we were looking for a creative and flexible solution to deliver leadership training. In the end, it really came down to flexibility, and someone understanding our business and who we are, and being willing to adapt to us.
Looking back over our journey in the last couple years, what do you think would have happened had you not made that choice?
I really believe that we’d be in a much different place, not a good place. We are operating in a pretty high turnover environment. Think of a manufacturing plant: people are coming in and out. And then, high growth on top of that. There’s no way we could sustain a level of sanity without some consistency in how we approach leadership, right? I think we probably would have had higher turnover amongst our leaders if we didn’t provide the cohesiveness and a place for them to go to get answers, not only from internal people, but some external folks too. So yeah, it would have been really just kind of plugging holes, and it wouldn’t have been systematic.
What risks did you consider?
My cynical mind was thinking, how is this remote thing going to work? We’re asking people with pretty low technology skill sets to hop on a computer and have their face on a tile with everybody else. I honestly thought it would fizzle, but it had the opposite effect, and people embraced it. I think they appreciated that they could feel connected without having to travel or be in the same room. The effectiveness of the technology along with the program quelled that risk really quickly.
I think the second risk was what could be called the risk of the one-time event. A lot of times you do a leadership training and it starts out great, but then it tanks. We’ve been doing this training for two solid years now, going into our third. People are now asking for it; they want to put their new leaders in. Our existing leaders are going through some refreshers as part of the alumni program, which I think is really valuable.
So we’re continuing the journey of creating the language and the platform, and I’m seeing the little bit of stickiness you need to build a platform that survives.
The value on a per employee basis is extraordinary.
Why would you recommend Turning the Corner’s services specifically?
First, flexibility. Then, true engagement with our company–understanding what we do. And Availability—I can email, pick up the phone, and get an instant response, which is super important when you’re moving so fast. There’s no bureaucracy. And the value on a per employee basis is extraordinary for what we’re getting.
I look forward to the scalability. I think we’re going to continue to build bigger and better things together.