When culture is not a cliché

posted July 17, 2017 9:31 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Amy Jones | Didion Milling

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    Amy Jones

This isn’t another article trying to throw numbers or data at you to prove why improving company culture is the right thing to do. This is a testimonial about how culture had a real business impact during a time when our company was tested.

On May 31, the company I work for, Didion Milling, was impacted forever by a tragic explosion at our main plant in Cambria. It took the lives of five of our team members and injured nearly a dozen more. It is impossible to estimate the number of people and families recovering from the event. As I write this, we have more people than I can count receiving help for post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. 

This was a terrible tragedy which none of us could have possibly planned for in our professional lives. No playbook existed for how to handle the many decisions that needed to be made. However, from the moment of the blast, the culture of this company I love shone through.

It was demonstrated immediately after the explosion by our employees, who literally risked their own lives to enter a burning building to save their co-workers because they knew exactly where their team members were working in the plant that night.

Everywhere I look during this crisis, I see our team lifting each other up. They so much believe in the people around them that they go to extraordinary lengths to support each other. The most extreme example I saw of this is one of our team members who lost both of his legs, offering to meet with others impacted to give them encouragement and help his team members and their families through their own grief and shock.

Our culture wasn’t always what it is today, and we are no means perfect or some days, even good at it. We are however on a conscious journey to make our culture better.

In our time of crisis, our culture and core values were something we leaned upon to guide us in doing the right thing.

So what is the impact of this culture on our company that is working to rise above this tragedy? Time will tell, but early signs show that we are creating and maintaining positive relationships with impacted team members and families, the government regulators that are on-site and our customers who are showing fierce loyalty to our brand and believe in our abilities to recover. All of our employees who can and want to come back to work have a place on our team. It may be doing very different work than they’ve done before, volunteering in the community, or even working at a different employer for a while until our mill is back up and running. At (less than two months) after the tragedy, we have already started to rebuild.

We were in the national news for a terrible tragedy. As we grieve with the families of our team members lost, we are equally striving to reach a goal — to be in the national news again, this time for the greatest turnaround story in our industry and operating the best mill in North America. I have no doubt we will bounce back from this and truly believe our culture will play a huge role in helping us to achieve this goal.

Amy Jones is leader of human development and staffing at Didion Milling, Inc., Cambria.

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