Cover Feature

Making culture a piece of cake

General Mills' HR Director for Europe & Australia speaks to myGrapevine magazine about the firm’s company culture, and the role that its values played in helping create it...

Words by Sophie Parrott

Company culture is an important part of any organisation. Maintaining a working environment that is positive, encourages connection and collaboration, prioritises communication and transparency, and promotes inclusion, is key in the workplace. Increasingly, jobseekers are assessing prospective employers based on the culture of their company to decide if they want to join.

In fact, research from Oak Engage has revealed that 66% of jobseekers consider an organisation's culture and values to be the most important factor when considering career opportunities. Separately, 2022 statistics from Jobvite found that 81% of workers felt that corporate culture is either 'somewhat' or 'very important' when deciding whether to apply for a job. What both of these datasets point towards is just how important working for an organisation with a good company culture is to today’s workforce.

While maintaining a good culture is clearly a reason for talent to either join (or leave) an organisation, it is also an important part of HR’s remit. Gallup statistics have found that having a culture that attracts high talent can lead to a 33% higher revenue – an impressive jump, particularly when experts are predicting a recession next year. A separate study from Columbia University found that the likelihood of job turnover at an organisation with rich company culture is just 13.9%, whereas, the possibility of turnover in poorer company cultures is 48.4% – according to reporting from Levelling Up – highlighting why creating a positive, supportive culture should be a top priority for employers.

Vicki Street

Vicki Street

HR Director for Europe & Australia at General Mills

'Baking in' a positive culture at General Mills

One firm that appears to have a strong approach to company culture is General Mills. The Minneapolis-headquartered firm – which has more than 100 iconic brands in its portfolio, including Old El Paso, Nature Valley, Betty Crocker, Jus-Rol, and Green Giant – was founded 156 years ago, back in 1866. In that time, the company’s brands and employee headcount have grown (General Mills now has 35,000 staff members worldwide) but one thing that appears to have remained at the core of the company is its focus on positive culture.

“General Mills has an incredible culture,” explains Vicki Street, HR Director for Europe & Australia at General Mills, “and it’s had that for over 150 years.” Vicki joined General Mills in 2013 and has held several roles within the business in countries such as Australia, France and the UAE. Yet, despite working for the food manufacturing firm in such varied locations, she explains that a strong and consistent company culture is visible wherever in the world she’s worked.

In an exclusive interview with myGrapevine magazine, she explains: “Wherever you go in the world (and I’ve worked in five different countries for General Mills), [the culture] feels consistent and it feels similar. Yes, there are some cultural nuances and there are differences, but there is a really strong General Mills culture that is consistent across the globe.”

So, what exactly does the culture at the consumer foods company look like?

'Cooking up' core values

Vicki explains that the firm’s culture looks like its four core values. According to the company’s About Us page, these values were co-created with employees and “guide our decisions and actions”. The first of these values is to Win Together which is focussed around teamwork and leading through shared goals.

“It’s [about having] good people, people who want to win, people who want to win together, [people] who want to collaborate and want to find win-win solutions. That’s a really important part of our culture at General Mills,” Vicki explains. For most employees, working as part of a team and succeeding together is an important part of working life, and one that can hugely impact the company culture. This is supported by statistics from Queens University of Charlotte, which found that circa 75% of employees rated teamwork and collaboration as “very important” at work.

General Mills’ second value is Continuously Innovate to help stay ahead of the curve. Vicki continues: “We want people that are hungry, want to learn, want to grow, people that are looking for the next idea or opportunity, the next challenge, so [our culture] is very much about that.” Again, being able to innovate, enhance skillsets and grow is something that is really important to today’s cohort of workers – and equally imperative to employers wanting to stay ahead of the curve.

In fact, data from Gallup’s How Millennials Want to Work and Live report found that 59% of Millennials claim that development opportunities are extremely important when deciding whether to apply for a position. 44% of Gen Xers and 41% of Baby Boomers said the same about these types of opportunities.

Another of General Mills’ core values is Championing Belonging, which is around respecting all voices and perspectives within the business. “Our culture is very much about championing belonging. I’ve been with the company for ten years and what I love about the company, is that you can be yourself here,” Vicki continues.

When employees feel like they belong in the workplace, this contributes to a more positive culture and, as such, there are many knock-on benefits for employers. In fact, high levels of belonging have been linked to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days, a study from Harvard Business Review revealed, which, of course, is good news for employers.

About General Mills

CEO: Jeff Harmening

HQ: Minneapolis, Minnesota, US

Employees: 35,000

Founded: 1866

Over 100 brands around the world in its portfolio

General Mills brands are enjoyed by people in over 100 countries globally

Betty Crocker is a brand and fictional character used in advertising campaigns for food and recipes. The character was originally created by the Washburn-Crosby Company in 1921 following a contest in the Saturday Evening Post.


Culture at the core of General Mills

While some recent tweaks have been made to General Mills’ core values, Vicki says that all of them are underpinned by the concept of Doing the Right Thing, All the Time. This is the fourth, and original value of General Mills that has remained a core part of the company for the last 150 years.

“It’s very much at the heart of how we operate and the heart of our company culture. We talk about the ‘G’ [of General Mills] standing for ‘good’ and that we want to have a positive impact on our planet and a positive impact on our people, and that’s very much a big part of our culture,” she continues. “If I was going to summarise, our culture looks like winning together, innovating, creating a real culture of belonging and people doing the right thing all of the time,” she adds.

Having its operations spread across the planet (in 100 countries spanning six continents, to be exact), creating a good and consistent company culture to unite General Mills’ 35,000-strong workforce, and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals, is imperative. Not only can a positive working environment encourage a higher sense of satisfaction among staff, better teamwork and increased productivity; a strong culture is imperative for attracting and retaining top talent too.

“There is a real strong General Mills culture that is consistent across the globe” 

Awards & accolades

In recent years, it is this strong approach to culture that has resulted in numerous award wins and accolades for the organisation. Some notable accolades include: World’s Most Admired Companies (Fortune), Best Places to Work for LGBT+ Equality, Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Best Employer for Diversity (CITE), the Global 2000 List of World’s Best Employers (Forbes), Military-Friendly Employer (Victory), America’s Best Employers for Women (Forbes). What the variety of awards above suggests is that the company is really striving to carve out and maintain a working environment and culture that is inclusive of all employees – whether this is for women, the LGBT+ community, or other groups.

Hybrid working at the core

Like many other organisations, General Mills has re-imagined its approach to work following the coronavirus pandemic, meaning that the firm now operates a hybrid model. But, of course, keeping this culture intact will continue to be a top priority.

“We call it ‘Work with Heart,” she smiles.

“We have loved seeing the benefits of flexibility for our employees and we know that as people are coming to work for us, that’s something that they really value and is high on their list. We are very much about continuing to support that flexibility,” Vicki says.

Yet, as most HR practitioners will echo, having some in-person time can be crucial to building a strong company culture. “[We] talk about a mix of both and people having time at home to do the work that matters at home but then people having time in the office to connect, to create, to collaborate, to celebrate,” she says.

To help facilitate this in-person connection and collaboration, Vicki shares that General Mills has recently re-designed the office to create a better space. “It’s less about coming into the office to sit and work and more about coming in to connect. So, we try and provide more moments for people to connect and try and bring together more in-person events.” By doing this, General Mills is giving staff the flexibility to work in a way that suits them, but also providing opportunities for them to collaborate with colleagues which works to promote a good company culture.

Hybrid working

“I’ve been with the company for ten years and, what I love about the company, is that you can be yourself here”

Who owns company culture?

A good company culture is as good for employees as it is for businesses. Countless studies have shown that good company cultures can boost commercial success and bolster recruitment and retention strategies. But who owns company culture? Or is it something that everyone shares?

“It’s definitely not an HR thing,” Vicki claims. “I would be pretty confident that it’s not an HR thing and if you think it is just an HR thing, you are going to serious problems with your culture.

“I would say that everybody owns it and everybody plays a part in the culture but leadership has a responsibility to role model, to steward and to set the tone.

“So when you think about culture, it’s the way that things are done and leaders of the business set that tone,” Vicki adds.

Cherry Cake
Team Culture
Food for thought

“Wherever you go in the world, [the culture] feels consistent and it feels similar” 

Food for thought for future goals

Going forwards, the company plans to continue its strong focus on culture and has some goals in place to help facilitate this. “We have lots of culture-related goals,” Vicki explains, with getting some more UK-specific company culture accolades being one of these future goals.

“I think we do a lot of great things [internally] but we’ve not taken the time to go out and do the external recognition,” she says.

Aside from this, striving to boost female representation among the senior levels is another culture-related goal for the organisation. The HR practitioner explains that the firm has some clear inclusion metrics that it is striving to achieve with parity around female representation at senior management level being one of these.

Additionally, Vicki adds that the firm strives to retain 93% of its top talent and focusses on having low attrition levels.

“We track our engagement survey scores on an ongoing basis and see slight peaks and troughs but, generally, we are very proud of the engagement scores, so to continue to improve upon those would be another goal,” she adds.

General Mills is certainly not resting on its laurels when it comes to carving out and maintaining a good culture at work. In the meantime, though, for employers striving to maintain a good company culture, they might do well to take inspiration from General Mills.

You are currently previewing this article.

This is the last preview available to you for 30 days.

To access more news, features, columns and opinions every day, create a free myGrapevine account.