Mama Jean’s Natural Market is a family-owned, women-run, employee-champion in the natural grocer space. They have experienced tremendous growth since opening their doors in 2002 and are continuing on that path at a steady clip thanks to what they like to call the “ripple” effect. With 150 employees and 3 locations, communication was becoming all the more important. This article explores how their efforts to remedy this one area of operations created a ripple effect throughout the entire organization.

The “Ripple” Effect: How Conflict Crumbles Under Curiosity

with Jesse Lovelady and Jessica Snelson of Mama Jean’s Natural Market

[1] Jesse Lovelady, Mama Jean’s sprint coordinator and growth officer

[2] Jessica Snelson, Mama Jean’s HR assistant


“One of the biggest things that GRITT has helped provide is curiosity. Open book management puts everyone on an even playing field, so now we’re looking at things as a team and we’re solving problems together… Previously, I was in my department, I did my thing, and I was kind of maybe side-eyeing a different department or making assumptions about how they were operating. Open book management really opened up that ability to be curious.[1]



When tensions are high, understanding can be low, and that’s when good communication goes out the window. By becoming curious, we seek to understand, and sometimes even learn a different side to the story we thought we knew so well. Jessica gave the example of expense lines, and how open book helped to educate employees on the realities of overhead and just how expensive it can be to run a business:

“We found that a lot of people assumed that being a $20-million-whatever company, ownership was taking that home. They didn’t understand all of these expenses that come out of it and that their actual take-home profit was sometimes in the negative! And that’s just all awareness and curiosity and having that space to ask the curious questions of what it is and why we have that in place, that kind of stuff.[2]

Jesse captured the experience of a buyer who is given an order list but no clarity on why the budget was only $15,000, or whether they are making sensible spending decisions. When employee curiosity is rewarded with an answer, it creates an opportunity to make informed decisions. Understanding the goal, and the reasoning, the approach, that person can begin asking questions about what’s being ordered, when it’s being ordered, and how much is being ordered, to improve sales operations instead of defaulting to blind ordering. These observations and informal studies can be used to craft what we like to call ‘sprints’ toward a collective goal.

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Jesse went on to explain ‘The Truck Dump Sprint’, a waste reduction effort.

“We were looking at ‘how much’: How many yogurts are we pulling because they go out of date? Is that because we’re not rotating things? Is it because we’re not doing correct ordering? So, it was kind of fun to watch them, that process of those waste numbers going down and knowing that they had a direct effect on it.[1]


Other sprints had themes like ‘The Lorax’ for a waste reduction game and ‘Laser Cats’ for a digital receiving sprint. Encouraging participation, even when things seem a little silly, creates the kind of autonomy that’s necessary for true buy-in. And that buy-in plays a big part in motivating people toward their goals.

“We had a goal of 12 sprints in the last quarter of 2023. This is our company’s busiest time of year, because we are a natural foods grocery. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and then happy New Years… But the manager created a robot costume and wore it to work. That was their 90-day-reward.[1]


Even during the busiest season, engaged employees are excited to put in the work with the right kind of culture, and the return on investment time can be shorter than one might think. Jessica recalls a sprint that impacted three different locations. It only took the teams two weeks to reach their goal. This has helped the Mama Jean’s team to cut costs, increase income, and improve efficiency in many different aspects of operations. With sprint efforts inspiring teams to action, the employees have in large part taken over ideation and implementation of games, with some help from their sprint coordinator, who acts as a guide throughout the process.


“There has to be a return on investment. Sometimes we’re gonna look at behavior, and we know that’ll save us money and efficiency. Sometimes it’s an actual bottom-line dollar-per-dollar, but [I] help them kind of flesh out what makes the most sense for their department and what their purpose is.[1]


At times, the Mama Jean’s crew has even banded together to create cross-departmental sprints.

“We had a sprint in our beer, wine, and cheese and he was trying to get rid of inventory— old back stock. He was also working with produce on sampling. So, they teamed up together to sample pairings that also boosted produce’s sales… He blew it out the water! Seeing them collaborate with each other and come up with really cool ideas that benefit both departments, and the company as a whole, and then execute? That is awesome. It’s really cool to see.[2]


But for all the good that has come of sprints and open book, when I asked what had made the biggest difference, the answer was a unanimous, “Huddles.”



Jesse recalls her experiences as a manager, back when they were first rolling out huddles with the grocery team at the north location. Even back then, she and Jessica had frequent conversations about how to best support department heads in their budgets and buying decisions.


“I have this idea, I know what kind of culture I wanna create AND we need to get things done… So, how do you do that in a way that isn’t authoritarian?

I knew that’s what I wanted it to feel like but I wasn’t entirely sure how to make it happen. So, when I heard about GRITT, and I met with Daniel, and he’s telling me about this, I’m like, ‘Ohh, those are the pieces— I’ll put it together!’.

The huddles created this game board that they were now taking ownership over. And they were looking at the numbers instead of us instigating it all the time. So, it really took it out of our hands and put it into the hands of our employees.[1]

You may have noticed a trend by now. From open book, to sprints, to huddles, one concept is core to success in these endeavors: autonomy. A culture that values curiosity and autonomy awards opportunities for individuals to gain deeper understanding of their own role, how they fit into the company strategy, and feel a part of something bigger.

“It is literally one of my favorite ways that GRITT has impacted Mama Jean’s. Empowering employees and getting their buy-in. That ‘with’ box is such the sweet spot… It’s built in accountability.[2]


“I think it’s created an environment, too, where we are much more comfortable,” Jesse added. “It allows us to be a little bit more proactive… less reactive because we’re more comfortable with things not going well. You’re not going to get it right all the time and, instead of assuming that you made a bonehead move, it’s like, “Huh, I wonder what was happening there?” So, it’s allowed us to create some safety for our employees to try, and not do well, and know that they’ll still be supported.[1]


“And to have a conversation, ‘How did it go well? How could it be even better?’ You know and learn from that, because that’s really what it’s all about: trying things. There is risk involved in business and you have to be willing to take that risk, but also use the data to make the next move and make the next decisions going forward. I think it’s really allowed us to do that.[2]


As a family-owned, women-run, employee-champion in the natural grocer market, Mama Jean’s has grown quickly in a brief period of time. The speed of this success, however, brings its own challenges. Periods of rapid growth can sometimes create confusion, frustration, and poor communication, but these were short-lived topics with Mama Jean’s empathetic leaders at the helm.

In applying GRITT-themed concepts, the team has done an exceptional job of strengthening relationships between departments and cultivating their own sense of curiosity— One that enables them to resolve conflicts more quickly and foster productive working relationships. These adjustments have created many “ripples” throughout the organization, improving teamwork, job satisfaction, and the bottom-line.

What benefits might ripple throughout your workplace with a little more curiosity and a little less judgment?