HR Policies & Procedures, Podcasts

Farm Trips for Employees Are ‘Life-Changing’

Yesterday we looked at how Keurig Green Mountain strives to be one of the best places to work. One of the ways Keurig Green Mountain boosts engagement is sending employees on “source trips” to coffee-growing nations to see the company’s supply chain for themselves. Employees have described the experience as life-changing. Steve Bruce, host of BLR’s popular podcast, HR Works, recently interviewed three Keurig Green Mountain employees about the program. Here’s a transcript:

Source: DC_Colombia / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Steve:

Hi, everyone. Welcome to HR Works, brought to you by BLR®. I’m your host, Steve Bruce. Employee engagement. Everyone agrees it’s important for productivity and retention, but not everyone’s able to describe it or to measure it. So, to help us boost engagement at our organizations, we’ve asked representatives from Keurig Green Mountain to join us. The company is known as a great place to work and a place that has nourished employee engagement to a high degree with some unique programs.

From Keurig Green Mountain this morning, we have Leslie Pippin, the volunteer manager; Colleen Popkin, senior sustainability manager, who oversees Keurig’s employee source trips; and Caitlin Leonard, the marketing manager for an employee perspective. So, glad to have you with us today.

Colleen:

We’ve seen great success in employee engagement by bringing our staff to corners of the world they’re unfamiliar with, so far from their home. These “employee source trips” are really unique. They allow our employees to travel to coffee-farming communities that are the origin of our supply chain. And the trips are often described as life-changing experiences. The employees return to work with a new level of appreciation for our company, our products, and our supply chain.

Steve:

Well, let’s find out more about these source trips, because this is intriguing. How do they work, exactly?

Colleen:

Well, we started the trips in the early 1990s, and to date, over 500 people have had the opportunity to travel to the coffee source and participate directly in our supply chain. Our employee source trips go to different countries each year, but last year we sponsored five trips to coffee communities in Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Mexico. And there were 56 employees that got to attend.

The employees are selected by a lottery, so any employee at any level or department is eligible to go on a trip, as long as they’ve logged 3 years with the company. So, part of the success of the trips is really bringing together a diverse travel group for people from different sites, different functions, different levels that all come together and have this really unique experience at coffee source.

I don’t know, Steve, if you’re a coffee drinker, but these beans are grown in some of the most beautiful parts of the world. So, an opportunity to get to travel to these remote locations is truly an eye-opening experience.

The trips are planned and led by Keurig Green Mountain Coffee, with support from our suppliers. Our employee trip guides are coffee buyers, roasters, sustainability professionals, just coffee enthusiasts that really have a passion, not only for our product but also for the farmers that grow coffee. And they can’t wait to share it with their peers. So, they do a lot to plan itineraries that are relevant and will really build employees’ interest, not only in coffee but also in our supply chain and in the challenges that coffee farmers face.

So, on a typical source trip, employees get a chance to visit coffee farms of different sizes and models. They pick coffee cherries, they visit coffee processing facilities, they participate in a coffee cupping, which is a quality control exercise. They meet members of our supply chain, which is often the most exciting part of the trips. And they learn about the social issues that are impacting coffee farmers. Sometimes they get a chance to visit Keurig-funded social impact programs or fair trade programs that Keurig has funded. And then, we also throw in just one tourism day. (laughs)

But it really is a learning experience. It’s not meant to be a vacation. And the source trips are really a demonstration of our company culture and highlight our commitment to the supply chain. They offer a really, truly rewarding learning experience for participants that deepens their commitment to our business and also to our sustainability work.

Steve:

This sounds like an amazing opportunity. Caitlin, I think you had one of these source trips. Could you talk about that and tell us how it impacted you?

Caitlin:

Sure, I was lucky enough to participate in a source trip back in 2015 to the beautiful country of Brazil. We flew into São Paulo and, literally, traveled hundreds of miles in a van through the mountainous regions, visiting coffee farms along the way for 7 days. We started at some of the smaller farms, which was amazing, and then, we worked our way up to actually the largest coffee farm in the world. So, it was a really immersive experience. In the smaller farms, we weren’t just visitors. We were there, we were picking the coffee cherries off the tree, which is incredibly hard work, by the way—and, also, taking turns drying the coffee beans on the various large patios of the coffee farm, which is all part of the process.

We were invited back to a traditional Brazilian barbecue at one of the farmers’ homes later that evening and, really, had just the full 360-degree experience. It was just amazing. We also had the opportunity to visit a fair trade co-op, where we participated in a cupping. And the whole thing was just so eye-opening from both a professional and a personal level. You know, as a marketer in this organization, to witness firsthand the care and time it takes to produce high-quality coffee was just invaluable to me in my day-to-day work.

And, then, on a personal level, to see families that are often four generations strong working together to run these coffee farms with such passion and love was literally life-changing. I might be getting choked up right now. (laughs) You know these people have very little, and yet, they’re so undeniably happy with what they have. It made me view my world much differently and gave me such a positive influence to come back to. I can’t thank Keurig enough for giving employees this opportunity.

Steve:

Thanks so much for sharing that personal side of this visit. And I assume you find that employees are much more connected to the business after they’ve gone through this experience.

Colleen:

For sure. I’ve led several of these trips myself, and it’s really undeniable. I think Caitlin’s experience and what she shared really highlights the three areas of impact—business impact, personal impact, and community impact. So, from a business perspective, employees come back with a greater understanding of our business and our way of doing business that they’re really proud of. And, it strengthens the employees’ interest in our products and in our supply chain—and really makes a difference in terms of employee engagement and retention.

Your listeners are probably familiar with a Net Promoter Score. We do pre- and post-trip surveys in order to find out the impact of the experience. We ask the employees how likely it is that they’d recommend Keurig as an employer to a friend or colleague, before and after the trip, and we see a 23-point improvement in the Net Promoter Score before and after the trip, which is really significant.

So, we see true business impact as a result of these trips. But we also see the personal impact. It’s a meaningful personal experience, and it creates connections between employees that have shared this life-changing experience together. And that’s often across sites and functions, which has a benefit both personally but also professionally, as we try and get employees to interact with others outside of their departments more.

And, then, there is a community impact. Our supply chain is very proud to welcome visitors. It signals to them that we value them and that we think it’s important that our employees understand what they do. And it also helps the employees have a better awareness of the challenges that farmers face and really drives their commitment to achieving our sustainability targets, which are quite ambitious within our supply chain.

Steve:

Well, this is just a fascinating program. I love that business, personal, and community impact; the program has really stunning results. To wrap this up, can you share some of the lessons you’ve learned offering these programs and benefits? Any tips or tricks for other companies who are trying to boost their employee engagement?

Leslie:

This is Leslie. I’ll start here. We’ve seen great success in allowing our employees the opportunity to really personalize their impact.… We want our employees to speak up and tell us what motivates them. What would they like to do? What really drives their passions in their communities? So, organizing volunteer opportunities throughout the year will get you engagement. But empowering employees to really design their own events will drive fulfillment and retention.

Caitlin:

Yeah, and from an employee perspective, I think it needs to be easy for employees to participate. So, there shouldn’t be a lot of red tape if you’re going to offer this kind of volunteerism benefit. And don’t expect that just offering 1 day is going to make your employees feel satisfied. If you’re going to put the time into designing a program, it should be easy, flexible, and it should be a consistent presence in the workplace.

I get 52 hours a year, and I get to choose what to do with it based on my interests, which has been great. And I can personalize it to myself and my work.

Colleen:

And, also, if you can, I think it’s important to identify what makes your business special and offer ways for your employees to experience that firsthand, so your employees can feel a deeper connection to your business and your purpose.

Steve:

Well, thanks so much for those tips. I think it’s pretty easy to see how Keurig Green Mountain is a great place to work. So Leslie, Colleen, Caitlin, thanks so much for joining us today and providing all these helpful insights.

 

  • Cathey Law

    A great experience for the employees and I’m sure the opportunity to see first hand the hard work involved is enlightening and helps drive employee engagement. Kudos to Keurig Green Mountain Coffee. The title though. Really?