Rebooting Your Culture? Buckle Up!

There’s a certain kind of genius at work when leaders know that if they wanted to change, it has to start from within. How do you turn around an already-toxic culture of a 240-person company? There’s a fantastic example in the March / April 2019 edition of the Harvard Business Review about Jeremy Andrus’ transformation of Traeger, home of the “original wood-fire grill.”

Started in 1987, Traeger invented and sold wood pellet-fueled outdoor grills that were especially good at smoking meat at a steady temperatures.  Traeger gained traction in the marketplace through off the chart net promoter scores – raving customers who “promoted” the grill to everyone they knew.

Traeger was purchased by a private equity firm and Andrus was brought in as the CEO in 2013.  At the time, Traeger was a $70 million business with amazingly unsophisticated controls and processes.  After his first visit to Traeger’s Oregon-based headquarters, Andrus wondered if he had made a mistake by ever getting involved.  His initial assessment of Traeger’s culture gives us a few reasons why:

  • The position of CEO was not respected – the company had gone through 7 senior executives in the last 7 years and the employees didn’t expect Andrus to last very long.
  • Passive aggressive behavior – Andrus’ requests for data and information went unanswered.
  • Fear was rampant – majority owner was aggressive and abusive, and this approach had become the default leadership style.


Of course, not all was lost. Andrus’ set out to “reboot” the failing culture at Traeger by implementing the following:

  • Working with the private equity firm, Andrus bought out the majority owner.  Reminds me of what my grandfather once told me – the best way to kill a poisonous snake is to cut off its head.
  • Moving the headquarters from Oregon to Utah.  This dramatic and expensive move allowed for  a fresh start.
  • Offering engaged, high-fit and competent employees attractive relocation packages. Approximately 50% of the targeted “keepers” made the move from Oregon to Utah.
  • Saying good-bye to some high talent employees who were poor-fits and disengaged.
  • Designed new offices in Utah that were true to Traeger’s brand. The space is energetic, outdoorsy with furniture made from reclaimed wood.  There are many beautiful places to cook and to sit and eat.
  • Created new traditions that helped build a community and showed that we care about one another. Every Monday morning the executives cook breakfast for the entire company, and we cook lunch together Tuesday through Friday.

Bottom Line

Cultural turnarounds are not for the faint of heart – emotions run high, the degree of difficulty escalates,  make-or-break decisions must be made, and we often have to say goodbye to friends that are not interested in “getting on the bus.”  Keep Peter Drucker’s words of wisdom, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” in mind as you work to establish and nourish an intentional, purpose-driven culture.  It will be some of the most challenging, difficult and rewarding work you will ever do as a leader. In 5 years, Traeger has grown sales from $70 million to nearly $400 million and there is a positive vibe that unites the Trager’s 450 employees, retailing partners, customers and local community.

Company culture matters. It can not only lead to better financial performance, but also attract the right kind of talent, improve engagement levels, and lower turnover rates. Are you in?  Buckle up!

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