People and Strategy

Jeff Lindeman on Culture and Belonging

Episode Summary

Jeff Lindeman, SHRM-SCP, is the CHRO and Vice President, Organizational Development at WD-40 Company. In this interview with Tony Lee, Vice President of Content at SHRM, Lindeman describes the unique WD-40 culture and its reliance on company values and belonging. (length 20:15)

Episode Notes

Jeff Lindeman, SHRM-SCP, is the CHRO and Vice President, Organizational Development at WD-40 Company.

In this interview with Tony Lee, Vice President of Content at SHRM, Lindeman describes the unique WD-40 culture and its reliance on company values and belonging. (length 20:15)

Episode Transcription

Speaker 1 (00:00):

Business success requires thinking beyond today. That's why ADP uses data driven insights to design HR solutions to help your business have more success tomorrow. ADP, always designing for HR, talent, time, benefits, payroll and people.

Tony Lee (00:20):

Welcome. I'm Tony Lee, vice president of content for the society for human resource management and the SHRM executive network, which is the premier network of executives and thought leaders in the field of human resources.

We advance the HR profession by engaging thought leaders and executive practitioners to create solutions and drive success for people and organizations. I'm very excited today to speak with Jeff Lindeman, SHRM SCP, the CHRO, and vice president of global organization development at WD-40 company in San Diego. Thanks for joining me, Jeff.

Jeff Lindeman (00:54):

I'm happy to be here, Tony.

Tony Lee (00:56):

Well, thanks. So let's start at the beginning. What got you started in HR?

Jeff Lindeman (01:02):

I actually, I worked in retail throughout my education. And in my first post-college full-time job, I led a sales team in a department store. And in the period of time that I was one of the leaders there, we more than doubled the business in a very short amount of time.

And an amazing thing happened is that not only did the business double, but productivity rose, things that are really important in retail such as absenteeism dropped. And we ended up having lower turnover and higher retention of staff.

And it made me realize that I had not only an ability to drive business results, but to bring people along the way. And I was lucky enough in a large organization to be able to transfer from a sales management position into an HR management position. And I've never looked back.

Tony Lee (01:53):

That's great. So can you take our listeners kind of through your career progression, how you got to WD-40?

Jeff Lindeman (02:00):

Yeah. I spent a majority of my career in the retail business, which is fast paced and everything happening at a rapid clip and a heavy emphasis on talent attraction, retention, development, training.

And from there, I migrated from department stores to specialty stores and made a career transition into the airport industry, which was a completely different environment.

I went from an organization where industry wide turnover rates are approximating a hundred percent annually to an organization that had anywhere from six to 10 percent annual turnover.

And I thought, my goodness, what do I do with all this extra time that I don't have to recruit people? But it turned out that there's a whole lot we can do with people in order to maximize the value that organizations invest in their talent.

And I had a great run at San Diego international airport, and then I made a move to WD-40 company, which allowed me to expand my scope of responsibilities, not just 500 people on a campus in one geographic area, but 500 people scattered globally.

Tony Lee (03:13):

Yeah. Yeah. Big difference. So you have a team within the HR department. How would you describe your leadership philosophy with that team?

Jeff Lindeman (03:23):

From a leadership perspective,? I happen to have a core belief that people matter. And so for those that I lead, I'm there to serve them. And my job is to make sure they're successful in their role. And I work really hard to understand what they might need in order for me to help them deliver their best contributions to the business. And amazingly, when I do that, my job gets a lot easier.

Tony Lee (03:51):

Are there people that you model yourself after? I mean, have you had great mentors, great bosses that have had leadership skills that you've said, "Huh, boy, when I'm in the position, this is what I'm going to do."

Jeff Lindeman (04:04):

I think I mentioned having been in the retail businesses, so there is quite a bit of fast pace. There is turnover. But that creates opportunity. So you have people in roles for 18 months before they're moved onto something else if they're not leaving the organization.

And so I've had the opportunity to work with and be inspired by many, many leaders throughout the decades. But I would say that kind of a pivotal point that I would share, I joined San Diego's airport, not because it paid the most, or it had the best career title, but because I felt as though not only was the organization and my values aligned, but also because the CEO and my values were aligned.

And so the CEO from San Diego international airport was certainly instrumental for me in coalescing a lot of those leadership lessons learned throughout the decades.

And then Gary Ridge, our current CEO at WD 40 company was actually my business school professor when I was getting my master's degree. And he inspired a lot of, maybe turbocharged a lot of what I had learned and sort of solidified as my understanding of the value of people in driving value creation in organizations.

Tony Lee (05:18):

Wow. What a great way to meet your future CEO, taking a class from the person.

Jeff Lindeman (05:26):

I do tease him that it took about nine or 10 years for him to suggest that I apply for an opportunity. So I wonder if he made more of an impression on me than I made on him.

Tony Lee (05:38):

There you go. So with the varied experience. And it's not unusual, I mean, I think you'd agree that a lot of HR professionals end up with experience across a range of fields and a range of specialties and functions. Is there anything you had to unlearn that maybe is not a good fit for what you're doing now?

Jeff Lindeman (05:55):

I did mention that I started in sales. And I have to admit that one of the reasons that I love sales is that drive for the result. And you can measure it, you get that report card. In retail, certainly on a daily basis you know whether you made your sales goal or you didn't make your sales goal.

And I love that thrill that comes from that grade that you get from the results. And I had to actually temper that. People are not the same thing as a sales transaction. It's not a transactional relationship.

And so I had to temper my drive for results with an understanding of human development and understanding that people might be trying, but they're not going to be perfect the first time. So it was a really interesting internal angst to sort of temper my natural drive for that next thing and that next result for realizing where people were in their development journey and helping them be successful over time.

Tony Lee (07:00):

No, that sounds like a great lesson. So WD-40 has a really unique corporate culture with a focus on being a tribe. Can you please share more about how that model works at WD-40?

Jeff Lindeman (07:12):

Yeah. So it's intentional. And I used to think when I took a class from Gary in business school, that he's a great salesman. And I thought it was just marketing, it was just his pitch. But I actually took a holiday with my family to Australia.

And I thought getting to the Australian continent was the peak of the adventure. And it turns out that I'm married to someone who believes that you should see everything in the neighborhood while you're there.

So we're spending two days in almost every city. But we went to an Aboriginal cultural center where they talked about the fact that as a tribe, it's the only way you could succeed in the harsh outback climate, that no individual could survive alone, that you had to work together.

And that was all part of what Gary described in terms of the creation of our tribal culture more than two decades ago, that a tribe is a place where you belong, a team is something you join and you show up for every Wednesday night and you play sport.

A family is something you're born into. A tribe is a place where everyone belongs, everyone has a role, everyone contributes and everyone is counted on. And that was a really influential piece of our culture creation more than 20 years ago to create that tribal sense of belonging.

And we've done a progressively good job at doing that through the decades. But for our first time ever this year, we actually did a measurement through a survey instrument of people's sense of belonging. And I'm really pleased to share that 92% of our tribe members globally feel that this workplace is a place where they belong.

Tony Lee (08:51):

Wow. That's amazing. Now there's also kind of a corporate value of doing the right thing. I mean, it sounds very basic, but it's more than that, it's something really important, right?

Jeff Lindeman (09:03):

Our values are really important. In fact, they're sort of the guardrails of our tribal culture. So if you think about what a tribe has, it has shared experiences. And for us, that's around our values. Our values are hierarchical. So we start with, is it the right thing to do?

And we have sort of statements, but then we have paragraph descriptors that describe what we mean by that. Is it morally, legally, ethically correct? So we go through that and if it's correct, the next decision factors, will it create positive lasting memories? If it won't, how could we make it create positive lasting memories?

And we go through our six values. And the last value of which is valuing the WD-40 economy. And we believe that if we do the first five value right, then we're going to create economic value, not only for WD-40 Company shareholders, but we'll create value for our customers, for our end users, for our suppliers. So our values are really important and they're the guardrails of our travel culture.

Tony Lee (10:08):

So let's take that and put a practical application. Let's say I'm a WD-40 employee. And I see something that, to me, doesn't feel like it's the right thing. Will I feel empowered to do something? I mean, is that something that you make sure employees feel empowered to do something about?

Jeff Lindeman (10:23):

That's a really key point, Tony. And yes, part of what we have in the organization is sort of a, as much transparency as we can deliver. And we want high levels of engagement. So I've mentioned that we just measured belonging as well as some other DE&I metrics.

But we've measured for decades, our employee opinion survey gives us an engagement score and our employees tell us that they feel comfortable having these tough conversations with their coaches. And the values give us the guardrails within which we can have those respectful conversations and respectfully disagree.

Tony Lee (11:01):

So you talk about belonging and the importance of belonging and that your surveys show 92% of employees feel that they belong, are you satisfied with that? I'm assuming no, that a hundred percent is a goal. But what can you do to increase that feeling of belonging?

Jeff Lindeman (11:18):

Oh, it's a really interesting point. Thank you. So our global measurements, we've been measuring employee engagement for decades since the creation of the tribal culture back in 2000, 2001. And we do it every two years and we've built the engagement score up to 93% globally as of the last measurement.

And this is the first year that we've measured DE&I metrics. And we ask questions around belonging. And the belonging score comes in at 92%, which is great because that's the foundation of being a tribe, a place where people belong.

But within that, there are opportunities to strengthen the foundations of our culture and there are opportunities to make it even better than it is today, which is one of our values. So we're digging into the components and figuring out where we have opportunities to strengthen the foundation and to certainly make the future better than our current state is today.

Tony Lee (12:12):

Yeah. So you have given, and it's obvious in hearing you speak that you care an awful lot about what you do and human resources as a whole. And you've given a lot back to HR by serving on committees and working with SHRM on a range of things. So what drives you to go that extra mile since HR wasn't really what you expected to be in when you started your career?

Jeff Lindeman (12:34):

That's a really interesting question. Thank you. So SHRM has always been my go-to place to sort of refill my tank, to be inspired, to get insights that I could bring back and contribute to my workplace. And after a decade or so of benefiting from that, it was time for me to give back.

So I joined, applied for, and was selected for the local SHRM chapter board and worked my way up to president. It wasn't a career aspiration. It was just my opportunity to give and to give back.

And then I thought other opportunities that SHRM has been great at, at introducing me to, to allow me to give hopefully as good as I get, but I'm still working on trying to be as good as what SHRM has given me.

It's been really important for me to do that. I also had a boss many years ago, a senior VP of HR who reminded the HR team in a large organization, that our job is not just to do the work of today, but to take people by the hand who are earlier in their career and bring them along.

And she reminded us that at one point in time, someone took us by the hand and was our mentor and was our guide and that each of us have that responsibility. So I've always felt the need to help others learn, grow and develop.

I also, before moving to Europe for my WD-40 Company assignment there, I used to teach an HR certificate program at one of the local universities for adult students, all of which was based on the SHRM competencies. I feel it's really important for those of us who have maybe a bit more experience to give back to those who are earlier in their career.

Tony Lee (14:19):

Well, that's great. And thank you, thank you for your service there. So let's pivot a little bit. Past two years, been pretty crazy, quite a rollercoaster with the pandemic and social injustice and employees, the great resignation, looking for new opportunities, looking for more fulfillment. What are the lessons you've learned from those two years?

Jeff Lindeman (14:44):

So the great resignation, we have looked at our turnover and the total number for fiscal year 21 compared to fiscal year 20. The total difference in resignations globally for us was two.

Tony Lee (15:01):


Jeff Lindeman (15:01):

Out of about 570 employees around the globe. In the first quarter of this fiscal year, we're starting to see a slight shift in the American business. But it's not surprising because companies are on the hunt for talent.

And our head of HR for the America's business reminds us that we're also on the hunt for talent, and we're out there looking for, and trying to poach great talent from other organizations. So we're not really experiencing what you see playing out in the media. What I would tell you is a couple of things that are big lessons for us at WD-40 Company.

The first is we did everything we could at the beginning of the pandemic to make sure that layoffs or redundancies were at the bottom of the list of anything that we had to do, that we prioritized the health, safety, and wellbeing of our tribe members and we kept them all employed.

Tony Lee (15:55):

That's phenomenal.

Jeff Lindeman (15:56):

And from our perspective, that strengthened the employment relationship that we have with them. And when there was a chance that there was going to be a year where there was no opportunity for anyone really to bonus or to... We were having a great year when we went into the pandemic and we were halfway through our fiscal year and the second half of the year became quite dicey rather quickly.

People were still giving their best effort because they felt safe. They didn't have to worry because of our commitment that we were going to prioritize redundancies and layoffs at the bottom of the list. Sure, we might take a year where there's no salary increases for everyone.

And a freeze in the growth of any benefits plans, things of that nature. But we're going to stay together and we're going to come out of this intact as a tribe. And that's our commitment as a leadership team to do everything we can to make that happen. We can't promise a future, but we can tell you what our decision making factors are.

During that period of time, we did a pulse survey of our employees and the response rate was high, but one of the questions came back. 98% of our tribe members are more optimistic about the future of the company. We were transparent, we were open, we were communicative about everything that we were doing.

So I think that the pandemic gave us an opportunity to prove our tribal culture, that we are who we say we are, and we are coming out of it with that same drive and level of commitment.

We're fortunate that we're in an industry that apparently the world still needs lubrication, even in the midst of a global pandemic. So there's interest in our product. But we've got a globally committed tribe of people who are passionate about delivering that product to our end users and making sure that they get the best possible experience.

Tony Lee (17:45):

Yeah. Oh, that's terrific. So I mean, research from SHRM from others shows that a lot of employees are valuing workplace flexibility more than anything else, more than compensation, more than responsibilities. Where does flexibility fit within what you're doing?

Jeff Lindeman (18:02):

We went into the pandemic with a bias toward office based working for those who were based in offices, that there was a belief that you needed to be in the office. And that was the bias that we went into the pandemic with. We quickly learned that with tools that we already had available to us, but we weren't using, we could virtually run our business.

And we did so for a year or more in the global pandemic. So when it came time to think about emerging from the pandemic, we realized that the best people to make the decision about where and how work gets done is the individual who's doing it and their boss. And so we leave it up to them to figure that out.

Tony Lee (18:42):

And you have manufacturing operations. So how were they impacted?

Jeff Lindeman (18:47):

So our business model is we come up with the IP, sort of the secret sauce that goes into the can. And then we contract out with manufacturing. So our folks are mostly professional staff. Now we do have some people with responsibilities for facilities and things of that nature, where their work might bring them into the office, but that's again, where the individual and their boss are the ones that make the decision about where and how the work gets done.

Tony Lee (19:10):

Yeah. No, that makes perfect sense. Well, before we wrap up, I have to ask, your favorite hobby is travel. You worked for the San Diego airport so obviously it means something to you. So where to next, have you started traveling yet? And where do you see on your flight path in the year ahead?

Jeff Lindeman (19:30):

So I would love to get back to a summer holiday that was planned in Europe with family coming. The kids are a bit older and have girlfriends and are likely to get married and start having families of their own.

And so we had a summer holiday planned in the summer of 2020 in Europe, where everyone could gather at a home and enjoy each other's company. And unfortunately, COVID killed that. So that's just been delayed, delayed, delayed. So I'm hoping summer of 22 will be a European Mediterranean summer holiday for the family.

Tony Lee (20:06):

Sounds great. Well, Jeff Lindeman thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us today. We really appreciate it. And for more information on the topics we've discussed today, including belonging and workplace flexibility, and for future details on the SHRM executive network, please visit That's it for today. Thank you.

Speaker 1 (20:30):

Business success requires thinking beyond today. That's why ADP uses data driven insights to design HR solutions to help your business have more success tomorrow. ADP, always designing for HR, talent, time, benefits, payroll and people.