The Story of a Kind Leader Who Engaged His People to Contribute

I recently had the privilege last year of facilitating an Appreciative Inquiry Growth Summit with of an Australian mushroom farm, Magic Mushrooms (MM). They produce mushrooms of the high quality but, like so many fresh produce businesses in Australia; their people are engaged in a Culture of Compliance, not Kindness. It is a constant battle to maintain quality with the owner, Brian, spending seven days a week supervising compliance.

But Brian had heard from his cousin Alan, MD of Freshest Fruits, about the work we had been doing with his team to install a Culture of Kindness  in his business, which had resulted in a transformation in the culture, product and service quality and business outcomes.  Brain said to me – I want what Alan’s got now.

So we started with engaging Brain’s team in an authentic conversation around their natural strengths, using the DNA Natural Talents Profiles.   They explored how to engage the strengths of all team members for most of the time and adapt behaviours according to the Platinum Principle ‘treat others as they want to be treated’.  The team built a Collaborative Behavioural Code based on the behaviours of kindness.  Incidentally, the word kindness comes from the same root as the word value; so why don’t we map kindness in business?

What was really cool was that Brian didn’t just limit the talent profiling to his executive team; he included the ground floor staff; including the Thai mushroom pickers and African farm labourers in the conversations; he treated them as partners.

Suddenly, the team was operating on a different level together; conversations were open, authentic and trust began to replace distrust. But then, just as suddenly, the world changed. The supermarkets began a price war, slashing the price of mushrooms and other fresh produce.  Brian’s first reaction was to pull in costs and focus on cuts, not growth.  He said to me – can we run an Appreciative Inquiry Summit with the whole team and talk about how we can survive?  It was a great breakthrough to include all his people in the issue; but what about the topic; would this engage people to grow?

I said to Brian-what will you say to your grandchild in twenty years when she asks you -what did achieve with your life through your business – and you reply that you spent your life taking out cost and surviving- is that what we are here for?

Brain looked at me and said – if I am doing that in twenty years I might as well shut the business down now.

I asked Brain if there was anything that he would love to be remembered for in business and he told me of his dream. He said that he was concerned about the rising obesity levels amongst kids in Australia and the unhealthy eating habits. He said that he dared to dream that one day MM would be known as the first mushroom business to engage Australia’s young kids to turn around their eating habits and transform health and lifestyle for the next generation of kids.  As he told me his story his face lit up and said I him – Brian, why don’t you share this story with your people and make this the topic for the growth summit?

So Brian did. On one cold, wet morning at the mushroom farm, Brian shared this vision for the future and asked the 40 people in the room to help him create it; and they did.  The workshop split into design teams. One team included the Science Officer, the Accountant Asian Uni students working on picking mushrooms part time and African farm labourers, some of whom were students as well.  This team presented their future story and high level design; their contribution to a compelling and innovative future.  Here is what they shared with us and I would like to leave with you. It is worth noting that at that time, there was only one computer at the farm and no company face book page but all the young farm workers had smart phones which they switched off at the gate.


‘Most kids hate mushrooms but we are producing coloured mushroom growing kits. We are into the schools with these kits and the kids have gone crazy about them; the kids are growing different coloured mushrooms.


We are partnering with well-known celebrity chefs, who share our vision for reducing obesity in our kids. The chefs have created these amazing recipes for kid’s meals which use our coloured mushrooms. The chefs are coming with us into the schools with their recipes and the kids are cooking their own meals using these recipes and the mushrooms grown from our coloured kits.


But what is really exciting is that 20% of the kids in Australia are now eating mushrooms and we have created dedicated customers for life; these customers are really our partners.


We are using social media to create and experience a growing Mushroom Community online; we have 50,000 kids in our community. They are co-creating new mushroom kit designs with us and new recipes. We have a mobile app which is being use to share great stories every day. The kids are active with us on this community, sharing their stories about their experiences with mushrooms and inviting others to join our community.


These kids are buying mushroom kits and their parents are ordering mushrooms directly from us online. This allows us to go directly to the end customer; by passing the supermarket chains. We are in charge of our own destiny.’