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J.M. Smucker Co Optimas Award Winner for Ethical Practice

In stressing values of honesty and integrity, the firm recognizes that acting ethically is not a simple matter of doing what is right or what's wrong. Each of the company's 3,500 employees attends sessions on moral awareness, moral courage and values.

September 7, 2011
Related Topics: Ethics, HR & Business Administration
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From the days more than a century ago when a budding entrepreneur named Jerome Monroe Smucker personally signed the lid of every crock of apple butter he sold, the name J.M. Smucker Co. has been associated with quality products and good people. For the fourth-generation company, family and business values are one and the same. And even with increasing short-term performance pressure in the marketplace, those principles won’t change.

   "Our strategy is built on the foundation of our basic beliefs," says Robert Ellis, vice president of human resources. "It provides the integrity to our bottom line."

   The Orrville, Ohio, manufacturer wants to ensure that its signature comfort foods--fruit spreads, frostings, juices and beverages--remain American staples, and that honesty, respect, trust, responsibility and fairness guide daily operations.

   That’s why the firm steeps potential employees in its ethical standards even before they’re hired. Smucker officials refer frequently to company values and how they relate to the particular position a job candidate is seeking, Ellis says. Ensuring that the company meets the highest ethical standards starts with hiring people who already have a strong personal value system. The company tries to make this determination through rigorous reference checks.

   Once an applicant is hired, the ethics emphasis intensifies. Each of the company’s 3,500 employees started his or her career by attending a daylong training seminar. The event includes presentations by company officials, videos and breakout sessions on moral awareness, moral courage and values.

   The discussions go much deeper than a trite review of how to be a good person. One session concentrates on three ways employees can make a decision when faced with a dilemma. An option is consequential utilitarianism, or seeking to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Or an employee can choose a rules-based approach in which the decision he or she makes will set a standard that everyone else follows. The final alternative is to use the Golden Rule.

   Such sessions also delve into the complexity of ethics. Usually, an employee won’t be in a clear-cut situation where right and wrong easily can be defined. Ethical decisions are more likely to involve a nuanced balance between right and right. For example, the choice an employee might have to make may involve questions related to the pulls between truth and loyalty, the individual versus the community, short-term versus long-term approaches to business decisions.

   "All things being equal, they should go with truth over loyalty, go with community over the individual and long-term over short-term" company interests, Ellis says.

   After employees are trained, the company’s standards are reinforced by their supervisors and work teams. They go through the ethics program every three to five years and sign a nine-page ethics statement annually. "It’s spelled out in a lot of detail so that employees truly understand the level of performance we would expect from them in the work environment," Ellis says.

   The guidelines are adhered to each day. They might be used to help sort out an employee performance issue, as managers reflect on the ethics paradigms. "It’s truly a working document," Ellis says.

For putting honesty, respect, trust, responsibility and fairness at the core of its daily operations, and reinforcing high standards with a comprehensive ethics program, the J.M. Smucker Co. is the winner of the 2006 Optimas Award for Ethical Practice.
 

BASED IN ORRVILLE, OHIO, at One Strawberry Lane, the J.M. Smucker Co. has 3,500 employees worldwide and distributes products in 45 countries. In 2005, it generated revenue of $2.16 billion. Timothy Smucker, chairman and co-CEO, and Richard Smucker, president and co-CEO, are fourth-generation leaders of the family-run company.

J.M. SMUCKER MAKES fruit spreads, peanut butter, shortening and oils, ice cream toppings, health and natural foods, and beverages. Famous brands include Smucker’s, Jif, Crisco, Pillsbury and Hungry Jack. The company was founded in 1897, when Jerome Monroe Smucker sold apple butter from the back of a horse-drawn wagon.

Workforce Management, March 13, 2006, p. 19 -- Subscribe Now!

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