All Articles Leadership Inspiration How Dean Foods built credibility by giving up control

How Dean Foods built credibility by giving up control

3 min read


This week, Miri McDonald attended Advanced Learning Institute’s Strategic Internal Communications Conference in Chicago.

Matthew Young, manager of corporate communications for Dean Foods, challenged the audience for his session: “Employees drive results. The question is what drives employees?”

Young operates under the philosophy that employees are driven by meaning. Bringing meaning to employees and their work can help to drive behavior and in turn,  drive results.  Young thinks that it’s meaningful for employees when you can match up what you are reporting with what they are observing. He uses an expression from gymnastics, “sticking the landing,” to describe this communications sweet spot.

Dean Foods uses five keys to “stick the landing” of internal communications:

  • Seize inflection points. These are times when executives are talking about what employees really want to hear. This could be a leadership change or a big shift for the organization. Employees are really listening to communications at these points so make the most of them.

  • Leverage the influence shifts. Research shows that employees look to the CEO for the organization’s vision and to their manager to understand the impact to their job. They see their peers as most trustworthy for other information. Use this knowledge to your advantage and use those players accordingly.  Dean used this understanding to orchestrate a big move for employees by creating a champion network comprised of people known to be vocal and a bit skeptical. This network was the first to receive information, and they were trusted to carry the information forward.
  • Communicate holistically. Use multiple channels, communicate down and across, and include everyone.
  • Curate the conversation. Make it easy for everyone to do the job of communicating by scheduling it on leader’s calendars and providing talking points and other tools.
  • Research and listen. Measuring doesn’t have to be a big research project. You can use sticky notes, online surveys and other simple feedback mechanisms. The key is listening and using that feedback to improve communications. Dean conducted research before they created a new workspace to find out what would best facilitate their work and engage people.

Dean trusts that employees will use those messages on social networks to have their voices heard, understood and productive.  The key is giving up control to get that credibility.  “We’ve found that the less control we have over the message, the more credible it can be for employees,” Young stated.

Image credit, bmcent1, via