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Nantucket Nectars’ Recipe for Participation

HR director Kelley Merrill shares how Nantucket Nectars’ participatory management style yields team spirit and quality beverages.

May 1, 1998
In 1990, two Brown University buddies, Tom First and Tom Scott, launched Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Nantucket Nectars Inc. When the "juice guys" formed their free-spirited company, they wanted to create a work environment that was non-hierarchical, casual and without job titles. Below, HR director Kelley Merrill shares how Nantucket Nectars’ participatory management style yields team spirit and quality beverages.

How would you describe the core values of your organization?
Our core values are simple: to provide a quality product and quality service to our customers and to provide a quality work environment for our employees. Here at Nantucket Nectars, the value we place in our employees shows in our efforts to promote community participation, integrity, honesty and respect for the law. Value is one of six areas that make up our mission statement; Product, Service, Work Environment, Technology and Profitability are the others. It’s the mission statement that guides our team members and continues to make our business a success.

So whom does your company seem to attract?
Nantucket Nectars attracts many "entrepreneurial types," if you will—people who are interested in and believe in the American Dream, in working hard and in being successful and prosperous. Most of the applicants are interested in working for a young growing company. Young and growing—to job seekers—means providing all of our employees with the opportunity to become the expert in their areas. Others hear about our unique style of management and look for an opportunity to do the same. Our unique style of participatory management, coupled with the value we place on our employees as well as on our community, attracts many candidates. In my five years in HR, I’ve yet to be at a loss for candidates.

How does participatory management work at your company?
Our founders, Tom First and Tom Scott, created this company out of a passion for creating a quality product that people enjoy and have made the company successful and fun along the way. We’re a team, and we share in this passion. That’s what makes participatory management work. You have to have people who are driven, and one way to drive people is to give them the opportunity to make decisions for themselves, use their judgment, and make mistakes and learn from them. Each of our employees has a vested interest in the success of our business, which stems from having free rein, creating their departments and seeing the difference they make. Tom and Tom have communicated along the way what their dreams are and the importance of setting individual goals as well as company goals and adhering to them. This constant communication has kept everyone involved and kept the same passion that started this business in 1990.

Is it difficult to ensure teamwork while pushing for growth?
Yes. One of the biggest challenges for HR is to keep this team atmosphere as our company grows. It gets more and more difficult to communicate our values and goals to those who work in the field. HR must find creative ways to keep all involved, keep people motivated and make sure we’re all enjoying ourselves along the way. We believe it’s important to have an even balance between work life and home life. We encourage people to try and get their work done in a normal eight-hour day, to stay physically active and to continue educating themselves in areas that are of interest to them. We encourage people to stay informed and to make suggestions. And we often seek out advice from a number of people when we’re thinking about making a significant change that we believe would affect everyone. The more information and advice we receive, the better. We also encourage employees to help improve the community by volunteering their time in a particular area of interest to them. We give all employees two paid volunteer days per year to help improve our communities. We try to keep families involved by sending out a monthly newsletter, and we always invite families and friends to company sponsored events. These are only a few examples of how HR reinforces the importance of working as a team, staying involved and living a well-balanced life.

How does participatory management benefit the company?
Participatory management motivates people to work hard because they’re required to be experts in their areas. If problems arise, they’re held accountable. When you give people that type of responsibility, it motivates them to try their best. Our success rides on the efforts of our team—the harder we work, the more successful we are.

And the employees?
The educational experience gained by our employees is immense. In my mind, there’s nothing more beneficial than hands-on learning. People learn from doing and from making mistakes. Participatory management allows that to happen. All employees are focused on their individual responsibilities while also being involved in other department and company happenings. Committees are created to complete various tasks that allow people to think "out of the box," so to speak. It also gives them an opportunity to get out of their daily routines and do something different. This makes for happier employees. I’ve also found the more each individual knows about what others are doing and what other people’s responsibilities are, the more apt they are to lend a hand. It also gives them a more rounded understanding of the total operation.

How does this all translate to your customers?
Our customers make out because the combined effort of 100 people is much better than that of two people. We work as a team to ensure that our customers are receiving a quality product with quality service. It’s part of our mission statement. It’s our ultimate goal. When our customers call us, we have a team of customer-service people available to answer questions, comments and take care of any complaints. We get hundreds of people a week sending fan mail, and they’re all responded to within a three-week time frame. We let our customers know through our commercials, our fan-mail responses and through our daily customer-service calls that we care about them.

Have you seen a correlation between participatory management and profits?
I do see a correlation. Nantucket Nectars has doubled its sales for the last four years. We’re in Inc. 500’s Top Ten Fastest Growing Companies, and we’re expanding all over the world. This is a pretty good indication that what we’re doing works. We have great people who work well under this style of management.

How does it make HR’s work easier?
Well, for one thing we have a very low turnover rate here at Nantucket Nectars, which in my mind means we have satisfied employees. As we all know, hiring can be a very long, drawn-out process. So [low attrition] definitely makes HR’s work easier. Having satisfied employees also makes for a happy work environment with less stress, which is helpful as well. That’s not to say we don’t have stress, but satisfied employees are key to an organization’s success—again back to the philosophy that employees are the No. 1 asset.

Workforce, May 1998, Vol. 77, No. 5, pp. 25-26.