Employer Spotlight: L&R Pallet

L & R Pallet Plant Manager Jay Doyle used to be the kind of boss that ruled with an iron fist.

When it came to managing employees, Doyle saw everything as black and white. Mistakes and poor performance weren’t tolerated, and employees didn’t last long as a result.

“I’ve accomplished a lot in my career, but I’ve left a lot of carnage in my wake,” explained Doyle.

That dominant, punitive approach, however, was no longer working. L&R’s turnover was high, and the quality of service had declined. Owner James Ruder knew something needed to change.

“My choice was taking the 80% of employees who were still here and working them harder or changing our philosophy and treating them differently,” Ruder said.

Unsure of how to make the change on his own, Ruder turned to Activate for help. Activate had already placed a few candidates at L&R, so both Ruder and Doyle were aware of the ongoing coaching the firm provides placements to equip them with the professional and life skills that lead to long-term success. Why not make the same type of coaching available to a larger number of L&R employees, thought Ruder.

So, with Activate’s help, L&R launched a pilot program just over a year ago to coach the company’s key leaders. Participants started the program by taking a self-assessment of their social and emotional skills to determine which skills they were utilizing most and how those characteristics impacted their work. With that information, the company’s leaders were able to delve into deeper conversations about communication, conflict management and even stress management.

We’re helping the executives and managers by having them hold empathy and accountability at the same time, which people are not used to doing,” said Activate COO Dan Kaskubar.

The coaching has allowed Doyle to trade his former management style for a kinder gentler approach focused more on behavior change rather than just ensuring people follow the rules. And Ruder adds that mistakes are now viewed as growth opportunities.

“We talk about what to do and how to prevent it,” said Ruder. “In the end, we agree upon a solution, and you leave that situation diffused. Nobody is mad or upset. It’s the same objective as disciplinary action, but we do it through a lens of love.”

Ruder is a big advocate of leading with love, a concept he adopted seven years ago while he was in the process of rebuilding L&R after some significant setbacks. Struggling to find workers, Ruder turned to the refugee community and soon learned that their success depended on more than just having a job. They often lacked essentials like food and clothing and had trouble  understanding how to access education and other government services.

In response, Ruder hired a full-time navigator to help the refugee population connect with the resources they needed. He soon realized that his non-refugee employees also needed help with a variety of personal issues that sometimes impeded their professional progress.

“All people have baggage, and they don’t need to leave those bags outside. We let them bring them in, and we’ll go through their problems with them,” said Ruder.

The coaching program is another way to support employees and show how L&R is invested in their success. So far, both Ruder and Doyle are pleased with the results, which include production increases, improved attitudes, better teamwork and improved retention.

“We’ve have had some people say they want to build a career here, and a few have said they want to retire here,” Doyle said.

The coaching, says Doyle, has changed the company’s culture from the top down, and he credits Activate for helping L&R’s leaders grow on a weekly and even daily basis.

When it comes to describing his evolution as a manager, Doyle refers to a saying that he thinks sums it up best:

“A good leader helps an employee become better at their job, but a great leader helps them become better at life.”

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