Good People, Strong Values and the Power of Ownership

I love what Lester Thornhill is doing as CEO of Life’s Abundance, a rapidly growing premium wellness company with focus on consumable products for families, including pets. Our own business is focused on transparency and connection to core values, and we love to tell stories of companies that are doing those things well.

Here are the keys to Life’s Abundance success.

KT: Tell me about what sets you apart as an employer. When people spend half of their waking hours at work, how do you make sure they feel great about coming to work every day?

LT: What sets us apart? Our business distinction really starts with our core values.  Along with being Evergreen, the other two core values of Life’s Abundance are Empathy and Energy. They help keep Life’s Abundance focused on customers, a great work environment and constant innovation.

We are really true to those core values. They’re not just something we made up because we’re supposed to have them. It’s important to impart these values to the next generation, so they understand what we’re all about and why we’re here.

We are also totally transparent. We post every day on our ‘team hub.’ We let everyone know how we’re doing – we share successes, with graphics and numbers. Everyone knows this is a direct result of the work we’re all doing. One of the seven principles of an Evergreen company – pragmatic innovation – means hundreds of little changes that we make all year long. It adds up to these big changes in our performance.

KT: How do you identify talent? Given the market today, the talent wars are on and finding great people is a key to every organizations success.

LT: One of Life’s Abundance’s founders once ran a staffing agency. She has an unbelievable talent for bringing together like-minded people. In 20 years in business, we’ve never had a major decision that we didn’t agree on.

Our philosophy on values has changed how we search for talent. If you exemplify these core values it means you’re a certain type of person, with certain characteristics. Once we realized that some people naturally have the core values we’re looking for, we seek out that type of person. We put emphasis on soft skills, with more time in interviews figuring out what kind of person we were hiring rather than their skill set.

We can teach you skills that you don’t have – but it’s really hard to change who you are as a person. We’d rather not take that on.

KT: Tell me more about how you set yourself apart with your products. You talk about being “white-glove”. What does that mean?

LT: My goal is not a number. I want to get to the point where we have total transparency with the customer, so they understand how seriously we take product quality, all the way back to raw materials. We want to be responsible for everything we put out, so we ship directly to customers. Even though we have never had a recall, if we ever have a problem with a product, we can email or call every single customer.

If you really want to be premium, be ‘white-glove.’ Be responsible from the time it’s made to the time it’s delivered. That’s why we have such consistent long-term customer retention.

KT: You are an employee owned company. How does that change the way you do business?

LT: One example is we believe ownership thinking should include employees having “skin in the game”. We have a quarterly bonus that’s revenue-based. I can honestly say to every employee, ‘you make your own raise.’ As revenue goes up, a piece of it goes to you.

We give feedback all the time regarding how we’re doing on that bonus. Ever since we have instituted the bonus, we’ve hit it every time – we never miss. That quarterly bonus keeps getting bigger and bigger. After a while I say ‘well, let’s just take a chunk of it off and make that salary.’ Then salary goes up, and the bonus starts to build up again. People love that.

We want to stay private. It’s one of the core principles of being Evergreen. Once we become public, then it’s all about maximizing shareholder value. We want to make a profit, but it’s not more important than our mission. That’s why we’re employee-owned. Profit is just a barometer for how well we’re doing in our purpose of helping to improve the health and wellness of families.

To learn more about Kirsti’s work and to stay in touch, connect with her on LinkedIn.

Kirsti Tcherkoyan, CEO and Co-founder

OpaConnect® – A Strategic Performance Management Platform



3 Key Management Practices Stand Above the Rest in These Changing Times

Prominent CEOs are standing up against racism, and the country is taking notice. This was the start of a blog that our CEO, Kirsti Tcherkoyan, wrote in September of 2017.   This message is still important, but in the age of #MeToo, and tumultuous political times, employees are speaking out against inappropriate behavior in a public display for everyone to see.   Leaders need to be vigilant, more than any other time in our history, about the culture they are creating.

In the news, we see examples of employee’s finding their voice and banding together in ways not seen before. New clients are coming to us with stories about female employees demanding a different color lab coat (not pink) so they don’t stand out from the men, or employees creating a social media page to complain about the company they work for.   The most recent example is an organization that holds national conferences, managed by volunteers.  They became aware of sexual harassment complaints involving their volunteers.   As a way to address these complaints, (because as we know our “volunteers”, need to be treated like our “employees”), they distributed an email address for people to submit complaints, and they have been inundated with allegations.   Organizations are scrambling, trying to figure out the best way to respond to these new situations and avoid possible adverse action or union initiations.

The narrative changes but the theme is the same: each time it comes down to people.  How are we, as an organization engaging people?   Are   employees feeling aligned to the mission, and what we are trying to accomplish?  Are people fully engaged?  Do they feel good about working for the organization?

Here’s how you should embrace this new environment and in the end see your organization flourish.  First and foremost, your employees should feel proud of the company they work for.   You can model this by embracing 3 critical practices:  transparency, feedback and meaningful conversations.

Transparency – Everyone knows what everyone else is working on

In addition to living and breathing values throughout the organization, set a tone of transparency that helps the company succeed. Hold all management team members accountable not only for delivery of their goals, but for an empowered work environment. Make sure everyone in the organization – both individuals and work teams – are clear on their own responsibilities and goals. Share successes together, recognize each other together, and create a cohesive team via transparency and mutual respect.

Ongoing Regular Feedback

People thrive in a business environment where they understand the value of their contribution. Give everyone a voice and let them know their feedback matters. People are inspired simply by knowing that they do make a difference – it creates a feedback loop of confidence. They know where they fit into the big picture.

Not Just Feedback but Meaningful Communication

Ensure that feedback is gathered and communicated in a way that is meaningful. That means you have to be able to clarify when communication is not aligned. Communication is not effective if it is one way. Both managers and employees must feel comfortable to give feedback, engage in open dialogue and clarify their position when appropriate. Make it clear at all levels of management that respectful behavior has to be part of that conversation, an integral component of company culture. If behavior is not addressed, it will always be the elephant in the room.

A company with a transparent, communicative culture – plus the tools and practices to keep their goals front-and-center every day – is well on its way to fostering a great working environment within a great place to work.

Jill Pappenheimer is President of Options4Growth and Co-founder of OpaConnect®, the first strategic performance management platform that connects people to each other, their teams, and the mission that drives them forward.