Incoming Heinz CEO Marla Rosenberg is widely known for her unconventional management style—late-night training sessions, somewhat dangerous team building retreats, strict rules about positive self-talk—but in her new post, she’s making waves with her most unusual motivational tool yet.
“I’ve suspended all my creative executives upside down like you would if you were a server trying to marry ketchup bottles,” explains Rosenberg, “except in this case it’s with people and it’s to get their ideas out. It makes them more open, more connected, and it bypasses that weird bubble that can form that keeps it from getting out.”
Heinz purchased 350 inversion tables to accommodate the new missive, effective since the beginning of last quarter. The employees, generally in the development and marketing departments, are strapped to the tables and tipped upside down until their ideas spill directly out of their mouths and into a tape recorder placed on the desk below.
“Marla’s one of those people who you can tell is either crazy or a genius,” says Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “But this technique is incredible. Sometimes too many ideas glop out all at once, and they have to spread it around to other tape recorders. Just incredible.”
“I have also been experimenting with tapping them lightly on their necks,” Rosenberg says, “and, occasionally tipping them upright to shake them really hard before turning them upside-down again.” This, all to get those hard-to-generate ideas out of her employees’ brains and into the many condiments and other food products Heinz releases every year.
Rosenberg’s attempts to shake things up, though generally revered within the company, have not been popular with everyone in the condiments industry. “The condiments industry is a very upright, conventional world,” says one industry insider, “and it’s unclear how Marla’s upside-down methods fit into that. She’s turned the industry on its head and people don’t like that.”
The makers of Grey Poupon, Tabasco, and Frank’s Red Hot are known to be some of the least creative people on the planet—many of them let all sorts of ideas linger inside their employee’s heads and never squeeze them out.
“If you squeezed them hard enough, they’d just shatter,” says Rosenberg. “It’s like they’re made of glass.”
Rosenberg doesn’t care what other people think of her. When she took the job at Heinz, she says, “I asked myself, ‘Do you believe in sticking to the conventions of the condiments industry, or are you gonna flip those conventions on their heads?’” She clearly chose the latter. And she has recruited the vast majority of Heinz employees to her side.
By 2016, the number of Heinz employees suspended upside down will grow from a 800 to nearly 8,000. “My goal is to squeeze out every last idea,” Rosenberg says with a glint of genius innovation in her eye, “if that means opening peoples’ heads up and scraping those ideas out with a knife, that’s what I will do.”