The following is a conversation between Mike Brady, CEO of Greyston Bakery, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer WNYM, in New York City.
Denver: There are certain business practices that almost everyone adheres to, and through hard work look to improve and make even better and more effective. Hiring would be one such example. But what if a company came along and turned those practices on their head… in fact, did just about the exact opposite of what is universally prescribed. What kind of outcomes would they achieve with their hiring? To find that out, we’re going to speak to someone who has done precisely that. He is Mike Brady, the CEO of Greyston Bakery. Good evening, Mike, and welcome to The Business of Giving.
Mike: Good evening. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Denver: First, Mike, give us some of the history of Greyston Bakery, and where you’re based, and what you bake.
Mike: I’d be happy to. It’s better to think of a bakery as a food manufacturing facility. We are a 36-year-old food manufacturing facility based in Yonkers, New York, which is directly north of Manhattan. We make brownies primarily. But it’s not as if we’re doing it tray by tray. We make about a tractor trailer of brownies a day; about eight million pounds a year, and we do it for some well-known brands like Ben & Jerry’s, Whole Foods, Delta Airlines. If you’ve ever enjoyed a nice pint of Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream? Those are our brownies.
…we have a model of open hiring, which is based very much on his Buddhist principles of non-judgement and embracing uncertainty.
Denver: It’s been said that the founder of Greyston Bakery, Bernie Glassman, had infused the company with a Buddhist perspective. How would that be the case?
Mike: We owe a lot to our visionary founder and master, Bernie Glassman, in that when he started Greyston years ago, he had a vision for creating a business that not only made money and was able to sustain itself, but also gave back to the community. So, we have a model of open hiring which is based very much on his Buddhist principles of non-judgement and embracing uncertainty.
…if you want a job at Greyston, all you need to do is come to the front door of the bakery, put your name on a list, and when we have a job available, we take the next person off the list and give them a chance. No questions asked, no background checks, no interviews, no references. We are just trusting in the power of people to be successful, so we give everyone an equal chance at that.
Denver: Tell us a little bit about that open-hiring model. How does that work?
Mike: You gave a nice, quick overview in the lead in in that it’s pretty simple to understand but yet somewhat radical in its practice, in that, if you want a job at Greyston, all you need to do is come to the front door of the bakery, put your name on a list, and when we have a job available, we take the next person off the list and give them a chance. No questions asked, no background checks, no interviews, no references. We are just trusting in the power of people to be successful, so we give everyone an equal chance at that.
Denver: That is radical, for sure. If an individual signs up, how long on average do they generally have to wait before hearing that a job has opened up, and they should come by?
Mike: That’s a question I get asked often. Most things at the bakery, although we have this amazing social justice story, are still driven by business needs. So, the amount of time you may be on the job list and waiting for the opportunity will be driven by demand for our products. It could be anywhere from three months to six months, and if we’re fully staffed, it may be even up to a year. But our goal is clearly to continue to grow our business and continue to hire people because that’s what we’re all about.
Denver: Let’s talk a little bit about those people. What is your employee make-up? What are the backgrounds of people who work at Greyston? Where are they coming from?
Mike: It’s a good follow-up question. In many ways, the wait period on the list ensures we’re kind of reaching those that are most in need of a job.
Denver: That’s a great point.
Mike: That can be any number of people, but unfortunately, there’s typical or standard types of backgrounds and people that have a very difficult time getting access in the workforce, and those can be people that have had experience with the social justice system. We have a number of single mothers who’ve been out of the workforce for a period of time and have a hard time getting access to jobs. We have refugees that have come; they are legally able to work in the United States, but they have no work history, so they have a hard time getting access to employment. And then people that have faced any number of hardships– which could be dealing with addiction or homelessness– and when a typical employer sees a gap in the resume, they are very hesitant about giving someone a chance. Whereas at Greyston, we don’t care as long as you can deliver what we need from you on the job.
…there is some kind of inherent risk in giving people a chance.
Denver: What are the biggest misconceptions you think that employers have about that group of people?
Mike: That’s another easy one in that, there is some kind of inherent risk in giving people a chance. The reality is Greyston hasn’t experienced, nor do we have insurance rates or worker comp rates or any business cost that demonstrates there’s any greater risk in giving someone a chance to be successful than having a really costly and traditional HR practice.
At Greyston, it’s $1,900, and that’s for taking someone off the job list, giving him training, and working with him through our apprenticeship and getting them into our full-time job.
Denver: How much does that save you, by the way, by not having to do all those background checks and things of that sort? I don’t even know what that runs?
Mike: We talk about a couple of statistics. SHRM, Society of Human Resource Management, estimates that it’s about $4,200 on average to bring someone onboard at a traditional business. At Greyston, it’s $1,900, and that’s for taking someone off the job list, giving him training, working with him through our apprenticeship and getting them into our full-time job.
Denver: That’s incredible. You take more of the money in not trying to eliminate people but actually investing in people.
Mike: Over $3 billion are spent, on our minds, filtering people out of the workforce. Why don’t we take some of that $3 billion and invest it in helping people be successful in our workforce, and that’s what our model of open hiring is all about.
It’s accountability, this relationship we develop that says, “As long as you come to work, and you do these things, we’re happy to have you here; and we’re going to do everything we can to make you successful. But if you don’t deliver on those things, we’re going to ask you to leave… and that’s the relationship that’s established from day one.
Denver: You talked a little bit about apprenticeship. Tell us a little bit about the training that these individuals receive once they come onboard.
Mike: Nothing groundbreaking there. Like any good food manufacturing facility, we focus on three areas– one, being food safety and food defense; second, being the hard skills needed to run heavy equipment like we have at our food manufacturing facility; and then the piece that may be a little bit unique but certainly many places have it are the soft skills or worker-readiness skills that give our team members the greatest chance of being successful on a job.
The apprenticeship is all about that, and it’s two-ways. It’s accountability, this relationship we develop that says, “As long as you come to work, and you do these things, we’re happy to have you here; and we’re going to do everything we can to make you successful. But if you don’t deliver on those things, we’re going to ask you to leave… and that’s the relationship that’s established from day one.
Denver: You know a lot of the issues that many of these workers might have coming from– homelessness or drug addiction or incarceration– they’ve got a lot of things going on in their life, and in order to make them successful, Greyston really has to take a look at how you can support them to be successful in the job.
What are some of the things you do around that?
Mike: That’s great, and that gets back a little to our founder, Bernie Glassman, and the work we’ve been doing over the last 35 years. Now, we’ve certainly been evolving it more recently as people are paying attention to our model, but it’s asking people: “What is it that’s going to prevent you from being successful on a job?” And it’s a philosophy that we refer to as path-making, and it’s the principles that Bernie brought to the table that said, “Hey, we want people to be not only great workers but thriving in their own lives; and by them becoming thriving individuals, we know that they’ll also be great employees.
So, it’s the typical things that you might address with anyone coming from Southwest Yonkers and dealing with the challenges in our community, and you alluded to a couple of them– housing, childcare, mental health is a big one, conflict resolution, access to healthy food– which you wonder: Hey, why is the business concerned about someone’s access to healthy food? Of course, we want people to have that because that’s important to everyone. But we also want people to be healthy… To be able to come to work and not have sick days. To not have the children experiencing sick days, so that they have to stay away from work. So, that’s the way we frame these path-making services and wanting to deliver them to our team members so that they can not only have better lives, but be more productive at the bakery.
…the reality is, and our real mission now, is to help other businesses understand that they can embrace these same principles… that they don’t need to have a great level of expertise around affordable housing, let’s say, or childcare… because those services more than likely exist in their communities already. So, what businesses need to do is ensure that they understand what’s available in their communities and help their employees gain access to it.
Denver: A lot of that’s carried out by your nonprofit arm, correct?
Mike: Correct. Thank you for that. All the profits from Greyston Bakery go to support Greyston Foundation, and the work we’re doing there to help out team members become thriving. But the reality is, and our real mission now, is to help other businesses understand that they can embrace these same principles… that they don’t need to have a great level of expertise around affordable housing, let’s say, or childcare… because those services more than likely exist in their communities already. So, what businesses need to do is ensure that they understand what’s available in their communities and help their employees gain access to it.
Denver: What’s your turnover rate? How successful has this been in terms of bringing those employees in and having them stay and retaining them and doing good jobs for you?
Mike: Another good question and one that is probably a little nuanced because typical businesses will measure their success by retention or turnover. Whereas, at Greyston, when people leave the bakery after they’ve been here a while, we actually think of that as a success. People have come here. They found their path. They’ve been successful and then may find a job that better suits what they want to be in the long term. That’s one example of why we think the term retention or churn also needs to change in common employer lexicon. Employers should be happy if they get three to four years of good work from someone if they can go on to a job that may build their career outside their businesses.
The flipside is, of course, you’ve invested in those people. How to find and draw those lines? And we do a lot of work around the ROI. You may also though be alluding to the initial churn, and anytime we bring in a cohort… we typically bring in open-hires in groups of ten, knowing we’re going to lose anywhere from, let’s say, 30% to 70% of those initial team members because they’re not ready to work. We welcome people into Greyston with non-judgement, and we also let people leave Greyston with non-judgement. So, if you’re not successful, or for whatever reason, you’re facing obstacles that we can’t help you overcome, we don’t judge you. We acknowledge that you’re not going to be successful at Greyston, and we help you to find your next path in life.
Denver: You alluded to this a moment ago, Mike, but you’ve become a bit of a pied piper of sorts for this movement and have created The Center for Open Hiring. What specifically does that center do? And are there any signs that this movement is beginning to catch on?
Mike: Yeah. I’m delighted to talk about it, and it has stemmed from an interest in Greyston over the last 37 years, and other business leaders reaching out to us and saying, “Hey, how do you do what you do? We’d really like to learn.” Us not having the capacity at Greyston to act on that, so over the last year and then in June 2018, we launched what we’re calling The Center for Open Hiring to educate, train, and inform other businesses on how they can use our model. I’m really enthusiastic about it because when we began the project, it was really about: Hey, we need to close this gap. We need to give people that are not getting access to the workforce an opportunity and encourage businesses to be progressive.
But what the reality in the economy now is there is a talent shortage, and businesses are looking to gain access to different populations of people. Now, we’re getting a ton of tailwind from businesses that say, Hey, I need to be more progressive, not necessarily because I care about my community… but hopefully people do, but because they want to grow their businesses.
Denver: Absolutely. Aside from building a quality workforce, have there been any other business advantages that have come about as a result of being such as socially-conscious organization?
Mike: Absolutely. The learnings that I get every day from this model are tremendous. It’s clear, the direct positive impact we have on a person that wouldn’t maybe, never otherwise get a chance to work are life-changing, but our culture at Greyston and our ability to gain access to talents throughout the organization and tell a story about a social justice organization that’s doing something different from everyone else; those are huge competitive advantages for us, both in gaining access to global brands like Delta and Ben & Jerry’s, but also gaining access to talent throughout the organization… because we’re telling a really compelling story.
Denver: You’ve touched on the corporate culture at Greyston Bakery, how would you describe it? And what aspect of it do you think is most distinctive and exceptional?
Mike: You talk to any business leader, and they’re likely going to want to tell you the same story that we have here, which is, We’ve got a team of people that are working for a higher purpose, and we have no shortage of challenges, both at the bakery and the nonprofit. But every day, when we think about: Hey, are we able to change people’s lives? Are we sitting at the front of a movement to really create an inclusive economy? It creates a culture of change and a culture of people looking to make a difference and really put in that extra effort to solve problems. And I’m really proud of the team we have here and the people that are interested in engaging with us because we’re working towards something we really all believe in, and that’s creating a better world out there.
Denver: Let me close with this, Mike. Even if an organization is not going to adapt the open-hiring model or even head down that road, are there still lessons from what you have done that could help inform their hiring practices?
Mike: Without a doubt! And that’s part of the work we’d like to do at the Center, which is just to engage people in the conversation… and while at the end of the day, we want people to hire someone that might otherwise not get hired into their organization. ..just having a sit-down conversation around saying, Hey, I want to invite someone in with non-judgement. What would that require us to do? And when you start looking at some of your business practices, you see the bias that’s in there because you say, “Oh, we need these things.”
The simple example is, someone doesn’t need a high school diploma to stack brownie boxes, brownie crates on to a pallet. Yet, so often, there’ll be these inherent things in job descriptions that prevent people from gaining access to employment. As you talk about our model and think about how you can change your own business, you really uncover a lot of good things. We encourage everyone to think about being much more progressive because, undoubtedly, even if you don’t create a model like open hiring, you’re going to find better ways to do your human capital practices.
Denver: And your motto is?
Mike: “We don’t hire people to bake brownies. We bake brownies to hire people.”
Denver: I love that. Mike Brady, the CEO of Greyston Bakery, I want to thank you so much for being here this evening. Where can listeners learn more about this work and the open-hiring model?
Mike: I encourage everyone to go on Greyston.com. We’ll have all our information about The Center for Open Hiring there. We’d love to host you here in Yonkers or come to your site. And then we also have amazing brownies we sell online; that’s another big piece of our business, whether it’s for individual gifts or corporate gifts. Let’s work together.
Denver: An absolutely great story. I want to thank you so much for being here. It was a real pleasure to have you on the show.
Mike: I very much appreciate the chance to tell the story. Thank you too.
Denver: I’ll be back with more of The Business of Giving right after this.
The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at www.facebook.com/businessofgiving.