News & Content: Member Blog

KeHE's People-First Approach Elevates Technology Value

Wednesday, February 19, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Abbey Kwiat
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The KeHE Team

At KeHE, “We Serve to Make Lives Better®. With our nationwide distribution network, KeHE provides natural & organic, specialty & fresh products to chain and independent grocery and natural food stores and other specialty product retailers throughout North America.  KeHE is an employee-owned, B Corporation certified, company with over 5,000 employees in the U.S. and Canada.  

We have grown quickly, nearly tripling our revenue in 6 years. A key enabler of this rapid growth has been our people-oriented approach to serving our employees, suppliers, and retail customers. As we’ve grown, many of the processes that we used are now slowing us down, which was a drag on all parties.

Our technology teams are focused on streamlining processes by taking a human-centered approach to improving efficiency. One of our primary successes was in digitizing our paper-based processes: we are accelerating our improvements in this area. These wins came from first identifying cumbersome processes ready for digitization- identifying the pain points and activities that were time consuming.

To truly get the benefits from improved processes, we must consider the people involved in the existing process with the same (or more!) thoughtful consideration of the new process; a view of the future This is critical for both design and adoption. Beyond that, we recognize that change is difficult. This is especially true for someone who was involved in the creation of the original process.

As KeHE has progressed down this path, we’ve learned several key lessons that contribute to our ability to deliver lasting results:

1. We include our people and partners in co-creating technology that works for them.

  • The entire team must understand why things have to change. Why do we do what we do? How does it fit in to a broader value that KeHE provides? How did we get to the process that we have today? This “As-Is” exercise is more than a flowchart of people, data, and actions. It is the story of why. Deeply understanding where we’re at today ensures we create digital processes that are holistically improving the business.
  • We must solve the actual problem. We test our assumptions by jointly participating in questioning our assumptions by asking  ‘5 why’s’ with our end users. This popular SixSigma approach informs us if the solution we’re developing will truly address the problem. This is often challenging because it requires us to question ourselves. To get to the right answer we  are willing to be wrong and not be penalized for it. Creating a safe discussion environment where participants can freely speak their mind is critical to ensuring our solution will address the problem.

2. We involve our people and partners in deciding how to implement technology.

  • Making software is different from implementing software. Adoption rates are higher when the people who will use the software are directly involved in how they will transition to using it. This means building a communications strategy at the start of product development, sharing it across, down and up the organization, and including end users in the design and delivery of training content.
  • Different functional areas have different roles and responsibilities at KeHE, however,  we share KeHE values. The group's’ cultures must be factored in; groups play a part in how information is shared and new ways of working are adopted.  


3. We listen to what our people say (especially the negative stuff).

  • During digital product development we regularly ask ourselves ‘how are we doing?’ This retrospective philosophy was embedded when we migrated to SCRUM several years ago. The retro is an important and healthy way to maintain team cohesion by regularly discussing; what is working well? what needs to improve? and what is fine to leave alone? This approach provides a forum for the team to grow together as the product evolves.
  • Outside of the product team we use surveys to better understand our end users. It’s critical for the surveys to be anonymous so people can truly speak their mind, without risk of repercussion. Survey results are also published to ensure all know what was said and the direction that is being taken as a result of the feedback.
  • We use a simple Objective & Key Results (OKR) approach to defining what matters to us and what we’re after. We share that information with each of our colleagues so we can be transparent in our motives. We do this to eliminate the guesswork and uncertainty behind why people are doing what they do. It’s essential for everybody to have OKRs, assess their performance against them, and update them on a regular basis.  

KeHE is grateful to our community of good food. We are growing fast. Our success in process improvement has come from many lessons learned over the years. We are creating captivating experiences through our human centered approach to creating and implementing solutions. Change is hard, but is made easier by including people in the design and implementation of our solutions. Our commitment to self improvement ensures we continuously learn and get better, always. KeHE puts people at the front of all we do. 

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Chicago, IL 60606

PH: 1.312.435.2805