Wisconsin-based Johnsonville Sausage is the number one national brand of brats, Italian sausage, smoked-cooked links, and fresh breakfast sausage links. Johnsonville products are available in thirty-nine countries. Founded in 1945 by Ralph F. & Alice Stayer, the company has more than 1,000 employees and is privately owned.
Johnsonville Sausage was founded more than sixty years ago, but its business has exploded in recent years, taking the family-owned company from its local Wisconsin roots to selling its signature bratwurst in all fifty states and in thirty-nine countries. However, hiring new employees to keep up with the global expansion put new pressure on Johnsonville’s team- oriented corporate culture, and the competitive European sausage market had the company looking for new ways to sharpen their edge.
In an effort to assess areas for improvement during this time of rapid growth, Johnsonville’s human resource department conducted a leadership skills assessment. The assessment revealed several areas for improvement, such as conflict resolution and speaking up to defend one’s point of view. Some supervisors were failing to address performance matters with their employees; some were passing safety violation issues along to someone else rather than confronting the employee in question. At the same time, much of the growth in hiring came in professional areas, where new employees arrived with excellent technical skills but needed improvement in their interpersonal skills.
Tim Ahrens, employee development coordinator, was charged with putting together a training program to address the challenges. After spending months exploring the options, he saw a brochure on Crucial Conversations Training from VitalSmarts.
“After I read the Crucial Conversations material, I realized we didn’t really have five or six problems, we had just one,” Ahrens says. “We didn’t know how to effectively hold...