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Tasty Catering on driving engagement through transparency and shared decision-making

4 min read


This guest post is by Miri Zena McDonald, a strategic communications consultant. Miri tweets at @miri_orgchange. She recently attended the Advanced Learning Institute’s Strategic Internal Communications Conference in Chicago.

Tasty Catering is a small, Chicago-based corporate catering company with many accolades under its belt, including Inc. Magazine and Winning Workplace’s Top 20 Small Workplaces for 2010 and The Wall Street Journal’s Top 30 Small Workplaces for 2008 and 2009.

After hearing CEO Tom Walter share how he drives engagement with his employees through transparency and shared decision-making, it became apparent how Tasty Catering has received so many awards.

Starting off his talk, Walter said he isn’t concerned with modern technology or tweeting.  “I’m concerned about people and communicating with them. I want to connect with their values,” he said.

Tasty Catering treats employees like family. And that doesn’t just mean Walter knows everyone’s name. It means everyone hears the good and the bad about the company — including all financial information. It also means that everyone gets to contribute to important company decisions.

Walter has made Maslow’s hierarchy of needs a big part of the company’s culture, including training managers on it. Walker feels that if his managers don’t understand it, they don’t really understand how employees think. He sees the”Love and Belonging” rung of the hierarchy as the communications piece.  “We share the risk, and then we share the rewards,” Walter said.

The company shares that risk in part by publishing an employee newsletter called “Inside the Dish.” Newsletters are usually thought of as slick, four-color publications with articles and graphics. But that”s not what “Inside the Dish” is at all. Picture this:

  • Several sheets of paper stapled together at the corner
  • Absolutely no photos or graphics
  • 10pt Arial font in black with single-line spacing
  • Every section chock full of financials, including profits and losses (P&L) and other data such as sales and operations numbers

“Inside the Dish” is printed and distributed to every employee to ensure they understand the business, how their jobs affect the business, and any challenges the company may be facing. “We communicate all our measures in our employee newsletter so everyone hears the same information,” Walter said.

You may be wondering how all of Tasty Catering’s employees understand the financial data because they aren’t all accountants. Walter is so committed to making sure his employees understand where the company stands, he has the CFO conduct one-hour sessions each month with every team.

Tasty Catering takes that empowerment a step further. The teams use this data, coupled with what motivates them, to help make decisions about the company’s direction.

During the recession, Tasty Catering was really struggling. To keep the company afloat, Walter was planning to institute a 10% pay reduction and let five hourly staff members go. When he proposed this solution, one employee suggested an alternate solution. She said to ask everyone to drop down to 25 hours a week. They could survive on that until the company recovered.

Walter proposed this to his employees, and they agreed to it unanimously. In return for the cut in hours, he offered loans out of the company’s reserves at 5% interest that could be paid back when it was possible. He also offered them the ability to purchase food that Tasty Catering buys wholesale to help feed their families. They sold about $3500 worth of food during that time.

Within four months, all employees were back to working full-time, and after five months they were able to work overtime again. They fully recovered because, at Tasty Catering, everyone is empowered with company data and is part making decisions that matter for the company.

Image credit: alexsl via iStockPhoto.com