Case Studies, Culture Building

    Building a Culture of Innovation: A Case Study on Increasing Agility and Resilience Through Safety and Trust

    By ROHEI
    15 November 2019

    In a Nutshell

    • Kemin Singapore sought faster turnaround, higher sense of ownership, and high level of accountability in its staff
    • ROHEI and Kemin partnered to develop a culture of innovation that would build agility and resilience through trust and a psychologically safe environment
    • The intervention resulted in increased levels of staff engagement and adoption of desired behaviours, exhibiting accountability, initiative, and risk-taking


    About Kemin Industries

    From “food to feed, garments to greenhouses, South Africa to Singapore,” Kemin Industries uses applied science to manufacture specialty ingredients for 6 key markets: animal nutrition and health, aquaculture, food technologies, human nutrition and health, pet food and rendering technologies, and textile auxiliaries. 

    A consumer in any of Kemin’s 120 countries of operation is likely to make contact with a Kemin product every single day. And Kemin seeks to take its business even further. With an eye on the future, Kemin is driven by a vision to “sustainably transform the quality of life every day for 80% of the world with our products and services” by the year 2042.  

    Kemin Singapore plays a key role in Kemin’s Asia presence, where the company is an industry leader in research, development and manufacturing. 


    Business environment and challenges

    Constantly pushing themselves and setting higher goals are in Kemin’s DNA. Kemin Singapore set their sights on meeting challenging targets assigned by the US headquarters, as well as responding to immense pressure from competition in the local business environment.  

    Kemin Singapore’s senior leaders began to prepare their workforce for the challenges ahead. Taking the lead in this process was Kemin’s VP of Human Resources, Davis Foong. Davis understands how culture—the people side of the equation— affects business performance. “The business environment is getting tough. With this trade war going, organisations are struggling to survive. Having the right culture is very important in times like this,” Davis said.

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    The need: faster turnaround, higher sense of ownership, high level of accountability

    Kemin needed its team to improve customer response times by taking initiative. Faster turnaround would require a higher sense of ownership, and taking immediate action to prevent any delays. 

    “We need to have people making decisions on the ground, fast decisions so that you can benefit the customer at the end of the day. We need the organisation to have a high level of accountability,” Davis said.

    Amidst this process of challenging and equipping, Kemin’s leaders received feedback from employees through a Gallup Employee Engagement survey. “There was a lot of feedback about how we can do better in terms of the way we communicate with others. And the way we interact with others,” Davis said. This signaled to the leaders the need to address relational issues in the process of motivating and equipping their team in this crucial season. 


    ROHEI intervention: developing a culture of innovation


    Change starts from the top

    Relational Leadership for Senior Leaders

    ROHEI partnered with Kemin to improve the leadership team’s engagement with their staff by introducing a relational leadership approach and providing greater awareness of relational competencies. We as an organisation focus a lot on the hard-skills, the technical skills, the knowledge, but what we find lacking among us really was soft-skills, strategic skills,” Davis said. 

    This shift in mindset and heartset allowed the leaders to develop skills in relating with staff—empathy, social awareness, self-management—a necessary complement to their strong technical skills. 

    Emotional Intelligence, Relational Leadership, Courageous Conversations 

    ROHEI designed a series of learning experiences to impart emotional intelligence, relational leadership, and introduce courageous conversations— skills needed to manage difficult situations. Courageous Conversations gave the leaders an effective framework for resolving conflict among staff. Emotional Intelligence programmes were rolled out to the entire organisation and this gave them a common language in their journey to grow as an organisation.


    The senior leadership team received one-on-one coaching, while leaders and managers attended workshops that enabled them to learn how to coach for excellence. Leaders adjusted their approach in dealing with communication issues or misunderstandings. This laid the foundation for culture change, behavioral change, and performance improvement.


    Building agility and resilience through trust and a psychologically safe environment

    Kemin leaders identified the need to increase resilience in their team. Davis Foong recounts how Calvin Yeo, Principal Consultant at ROHEI, advised: “You cannot change a person’s level of resilience but you can create a psychologically safe environment that will empower them to act with greater courage and initiative.” This became the heart of the next step in the journey, the co-creation of Resilience: Accountability, Initiative, and Risk-taking (Resilience AIR), a series of learning experiences designed to build trust further and empower staff in their roles.

    Resilience AIR: Accountability, Initiative, Risk-taking

    “Our people felt that they are not prepared to take risks. It's just natural for them to seek direction, seek approval, before they do something,” Davis Foong said. “So what we really needed is to strengthen the cultural part of the organisation.”

    Accountability, initiative, and risk-taking were specific areas that the staff needed to level-up in; culture needed to be strengthened to develop the spirit of innovation. Resilience AIR was rolled out across the entire Kemin. 

    Building a psychologically safe environment addresses the fear of taking risks. But having a psychologically safe environment doesn’t mean that everything will be smooth. The Courageous Conversations framework was emphasised, in order to build a strong foundation for psychological safety. With that, staff would be empowered to bring up difficult issues and know that they will be heard. 

    “We trained our managers and leaders on how to conduct a courageous conversation. And I think that that kind of conversation is very important and done wrongly, it will smash the trust between the employees and the supervisor. Done correctly, it will strengthen and build trust.” - DAVIS FOONG, VP, HUMAN RESOURCES, KEMIN SINGAPORE

    Building trust is the key ingredient. A culture of trust is needed for the staff to feel safe to take risks, to innovate, and be accountable.

    “We are like farmers. Our job really is to create a fertile environment from where good things come out of the ground. And in this particular case, we create a fertile culture of trust.” - DAVIS FOONG

    Read more about how leaders can build trust over time.


    Kemin AIR

    The results


    1. Breaking down of relational barriers

    The various interventions in relational leadership, coaching, and emotional intelligence resulted in improvements in the leaders’ relationship with the managers, and a change in the C-suite leadership team.

    “Top management was in a separate layer. Now that layer is gone. Now everyone feels that the top management is also part of one team,” said Mr. PS Chacko, Finance Manager. The major change is the interaction with the teams, among the teams and with the top management. Now people are free to talk to any level of staff in the company.” 

    “People are more open to talking to one another,” noted David Tey, Senior QC & CLS Manager


    2. Increased levels of staff engagement

    “Ever since we have we have gone through that journey with ROHEI, our Employee Engagement has gone from better to better and just this year, our Employee Engagement is super,” Davis Foong shared. “The year before this survey, we were ranked globally around 60 or over percent now and this year we just accelerated and jumped to above 70 percentile.”


    3. Quicker responses to situations and customer needs through accountability, initiative, and risk-taking

    Higher levels of trust and risk-taking

    Mr David Tey, Senior Manager, Quality & Customer Laboratory Services, who oversees quality control, shared that there are times in which there are products ready to be shipped, and awaiting final clearance. When there is a customer deadline at stake, staff now take the initiative to move forward and set the delivery process rolling amidst partial clearance. The final confirmation is then received as the delivery is en route, and the customer receives their order in time. There is risk because the shipment can be suspended and  pulled out depending on the clearance and test results. But they take the risk because it is in the customer’s best interest.

    “We have learned how to trust one another to be able to take that risk. So the level of trust has actually gone up,” David Tey said.

    Improved feedback process 

    “One of the challenges we had in the past is managers hesitate to bring the bad news to employees,” Davis said. For example, you have employees have certain challenges in your performance, actually managers hesitate to tell the truth and sometimes by delaying it, it can be too late, the damage is done.” Now, performance issues are addressed immediately.

    Increased levels of accountability

    As a result of courageous conversations and coaching workshops, senior leaders and managers act as coaches to their direct reports, now referring to a coaching session as “Kemin Talk”.

    Increased levels of initiative

    Leaders and Managers take initiative to ensure transfer of learning. The leaders go through a lunchtime book study, discussing topics such as Emotional Intelligence, Management, and Leadership. “This is something that we do to extend learning...We always are very cognizant that after training, we need to continue that learning journey,” Davis Foong shared. 

    Higher levels of ownership

    Leadership coined the term “Extreme ownership” to embody what is expected of the team. Extreme ownership is now the standard at Kemin. “Extreme ownership is not sitting there and waiting,” Davis said. “Extreme ownership is about saying, ‘What's happening here? Is there anything I can do to help you so that you can get on with this, so that I can have what I need to carry on with that…” 

    “It is really taking the initiative and not having to wait for someone else. You own your own fate. Do not allow someone else to determine your fate.”  - DAVIS FOONG

    “We have been using language like this when to get things done faster so that things don't get delayed. So obviously getting getting this message across is much easier now because in the past people would say ‘This is not my job.’ We understand sometimes things get delayed, but you don’t let someone else decide your success or failure. So people are more receptive and are more prepared to take extreme in our own language, extreme ownership.”

    “The way I deal with other people outside the team is improved. Improved the cross-functional teamwork,” PS Chacko shared. “Because for me, my only focus was finance. So the people I deal with were only with the finance people. It helped me to interact with the cross-functional teams.” 


    4. Empowerment of staff through a psychologically safe environment 

    Staff have learned to overcome fear of risks. When facing challenges, they speak up and apply principles from Courageous Conversations. “We learned about how to work with our peers, and to resolve issues.” David Tey said. 


    A culture of innovation to build accountability, initiative, and risk-taking

    A culture of innovation was created by building trust and forging strong relationships within the team—between leaders, managers, and staff, and creating a psychologically safe environment through trust, where people are free to speak up.

    The culture of innovation empowered Kemin staff to take calculated risks in order to respond quickly and put the customer’s needs first, be accountable to one another for meeting team goals, and take initiative for continued learning and improvement.

    Kemin has created fertile soil for the team to thrive in the tough challenges today and to be ready for what tomorrow will bring.


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