Ben & Jerry’s Employees Put Leadership Development Training Into Practice to Achieve Measurable Results

Since its start in 1978 in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont, Ben & Jerry’s has grown into a global business with a more than 550 scoop shops serving the cleverly named ice cream and other treats. (Ben & Jerry’s Photo)

In January 2018, B the Change reported on how Certified B Corporation Ben & Jerry’s partnered with fellow B Corp Vista Caballo to transform its business. Ben & Jerry’s wanted to drive global expansion while remaining true to its mission, which aims to create linked prosperity for everyone connected to the business: suppliers, employees, farmers, franchisees, customers and neighbors alike. We caught up recently with both B Corps to delve into the results of the company’s business transformation.

The Initial Challenge

With a commitment to its three-part mission—product, economic and social—Ben & Jerry’s needed to grow from a national to a global organization while becoming more interdependent with Unilever, its parent company since 2000. Company leaders recognized that while other leadership programs had helped them make incremental changes, they needed a different kind of partner to help them transform to reach their biggest goals.

They turned to Vista Caballo, our international leadership development center located on a private 160-acre nature preserve in Colorado that specializes in helping people lead outside their comfort zone. Vista Caballo combines nature — including interaction with its herd of horses — and neuroscience to guide people on a path to self-discovery to transform businesses, cultures, strategies and communities.

The How

The Vista Caballo science-based methodology helps people come face-to-face with the subconscious operating systems that hold leaders and their teams back from accessing their full potential. In so doing, our leadership programs open the gateways to perception and receptivity, helping people do more than just lead, but to stay present, engage fully with all of their intelligence systems and transform the future of their organizations.

With Ben & Jerry’s, Vista Caballo began by discovering and articulating what leadership needed to do to grow — as individuals and as a company. This was done with the Ben & Jerry’s leadership team using the Vista Caballo methodology, which includes:

  • A science-based digital platform that helps leaders understand and overcome their blind spots, improving the quality of decision-making.
  • Customized experiential learning experiences in inspirational, natural landscapes working with horses; participants are able to experience in real-time how perceived obstacles and barriers are dismantled by the power of self-realization. In this case, the experiential work was done at a local Vermont horse farm owned by one of the Ben & Jerry’s leaders.
  • Integrated strategies, both online and in-person, to ensure the seeds of transformation are cultivated and grow into gardens of success. Digital work was conducted via video conference calls, regular calls, on-site at Ben & Jerry’s headquarters and at a Ben & Jerry’s off-site leadership meeting.

Ben & Jerry’s and Vista Caballo are part of the community of Certified B Corporations. Learn more about this growing movement of people using business as a force for good, and sign up to receive the B the Change Weekly newsletter for more stories like this one, delivered straight to your inbox once a week.

The methodology then was rolled out to strategically chosen teams throughout the company and culminated in Vista Caballo being brought into the Ben & Jerry’s Global Summit. During the summit, we worked with five teams, each group focusing on a team-specific productivity goal, as well as the overarching company challenge of expanding global production. To date, 110 Ben & Jerry’s employees have gone through the training.

Vista Caballo customizes leadership development experiences for each company and team based on desired results, budget and schedule. With Ben & Jerry’s, some teams completed a six-hour experiential training, some completed a four-hour digital training over three months, and other teams—including leadership—completed an eight- to 10-hour hybrid experience over three to four months.

Vista Caballo follows the rules of nature in observing that when the head of an organism changes, the organism changes. When leaders understand and develop themselves, they are better equipped to understand and connect with their teams and lead them forward.

The Results

Following its implementation of the Vista Caballo methodologies, Ben & Jerry’s saw measurable results in production increases, improved employee perception of effectiveness and confidence, and overall workplace contentment.

Ben & Jerry’s former CEO Jostein Solheim

Surveys showed improved confidence across all areas. The areas with the lowest confidence levels prior to the group training experience were those where the most self-reported growth occurred — after only six hours of training.

“We learned how to transform our company to become a truly collaborative and interdependent community,” says Jostein Solheim, former CEO of Ben & Jerry’s. “When you are fully present and focused on what’s going on in the moment, it allows you to develop your own inner resources, build your own tolerance, your own openness to ideas, your own thinking methodologies. It sets the tone of the organization.

“The Vista Caballo methodology allows you to connect with others through a common language, through presence and through your lens to being more receptive. You are ready to really connect truly with your teammates, your employees, your partners. It brought a whole new level of sharpness to self-awareness, which allowed me to confront some things I wanted to change. It gives you simple tools by which to change.”

Ben & Jerry’s is a pioneer in many ways. Its leaders understood that in order for people to take risks, they must be confident.

Jane Goetschius, senior human resources manager for Ben & Jerry’s, says the Vista Caballo tools and methods were an effective catalyst for advancing learning and change. “As part of a holistic change management strategy, they were key to transforming our leadership skills,” she says. “Vista Caballo helped us break through biases, broaden personal insights and create new energy for the individual, team and organization.”

Significant improvements in employee perceptions were matched by specific productivity results. Ben & Jerry’s met its internal goals and surpassed expectations of leadership while recouping its investment in the Vista Caballo experience. Results to date include:

  • Saved $475,000 in reorganization costs and $100,000 due to increased productivity in meetings and meeting outcomes.
  • 25% improvement in marketing productivity.
  • 50% reduction in manufacturing meeting times.
  • 46% increase in employee confidence in on-the-job capabilities after a six-hour Vista Caballo experience.
  • Surveys conducted three weeks after the training showed a 31% increase in the application of the learnings after just a six-hour session. This is noteworthy, as U.S. companies spend $88 billion annually on training, but most participants forget 70% of it after initial sessions and 90% forget it after one week.

Debra Heintz, global director of retail for Ben & Jerry’s, says the training helped employees in her area collaborate successfully. “The Vista Caballo methodology was the breakthrough we needed in terms of trusting and sharing ideas and building on each other’s ideas effectively,” she says.

Working with Vista Caballo, Ben & Jerry’s intentionally disrupted its status quo while enabling self-discovery, learning and transformation—at individual, team and organizational levels. By leading people past their everyday thinking and transforming the way they made decisions, Ben & Jerry’s achieved newfound awareness as an organization.

Challenging what we know to discover what we don’t allows us to look at the world through a different lens and use our creativity and intelligence in service to all living things. Developing this approach and type of thinking as a daily practice is what affords us to stay present in moments that matter most. Staying present in moments that matter most is what sets you apart as a leader and a human being — which is how you reach your potential.

B the Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab.

The Inside Scoop on Mission-Driven Business Transformation was originally published in B the Change on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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