How this CEO used language to get rid of a blame culture

Ella's Kitchen boss Mark Cuddigan says that your choice of words can have a dramatic impact on company culture.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 02 Mar 2020

If you want an example of a disruptive business that isn't a flashy technology company, look no further than baby food brand Ella’s Kitchen.

It was founded in 2004 by former Nickelodeon Manager Paul Lindley, who realised that by offering food in brightly coloured, squidgy pouches - as opposed to the sector norm glass jar - the brand could fill a gap in the market.

The idea was simple but innovative. While the competition made products to appeal to the buyer (parents), Ella’s Kitchen would appeal directly to the end consumer. Lindley knew from his own experience with daughter Ella  that children can have quite a lot of sway over how Mum or Dad spend their money.

It would see the company become one of the fastest growing private businesses in the country, coming ninth and 14th on the Sunday Times fast Track 100 in 2009 and 2010 respectively, and grow into the UK’s leading baby food brand.

Today it is a £65 million business selling to 40 countries, but that has given current CEO Mark Cuddigan* a new problem - maintaining the entrepreneurialism that has served the company so well.

To foster creativity, he says that he has had to work hard to create a culture that gives employees autonomy, encourages experimentation and removes the idea of blame.

"I have worked in a business where there was a terrible blame culture and know how damaging it can be. It is divisive and no one takes any risks because no one wants to be blamed.

"Therefore we’ve made the idea of removing blame an intrinsic part of the way the senior team leads. It’s about drilling down on the idea that we are all in this together and if  there is a mistake, we’ll work out what went wrong.

"I can’t stress the importance of language for this. For example I don’t like anyone using the word ‘they’ when referring to a different department, team or individual project within the business. ‘They' suggests that it is someone else’s problem or someone else’s fault, which perpetuates the idea of blame.

"Instead it should be ‘we’. 'We' creates the impression that we are all in it together and the blame culture starts to go because someone else has come forward. By changing the language, people instantly - subconsciously perhaps - start to take ownership and don't look to blame anybody. You realise that it is ok to make mistakes, move forward and try to change things.

"Everyone is responsible for thinking differently and coming up with ideas, it’s not just the marketing or product development team, so I really try to push this idea that everybody should take responsibility for what we're doing and try to create leaders in the group."

Further reading

*Lindley became Chairman when Ella’s Kitchen was sold to US firm Hain Celestial in 2013. He stepped down in 2018.

Image credit: Courtesy of Ella's Kitchen



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