Sheila Murty, EVP of People & Culture at Tillamook on Purpose, Connection and Shared Values

Sheila Murty, EVP of People & Culture at Tillamook on Purpose, Connection and Shared Values

Sheila Murty


For the inaugural episode of our Think Beyond Space | The PDX Workplace Insider podcast, we were grateful to have one of Portland’s most respected leaders as the guest, Sheila Murty, Executive Vice President of People & Culture for Tillamook County Creamery Association. Most people know Tillamook from their locally sourced cheese and ice cream, but behind their delicious food is an organization that is intentional in creating a thriving, inclusive workplace. Sheila shared some important topics that have helped her during her career, along with various guiding principles shared by the executive team at Tillamook.

Work Hard, Play if You Have Time & Do More Than You Have To

Sheila was born and raised in Malaysia to hard working, middle class parents. Sheila remembers Malaysia being a fabulous, diverse country, but while vibrant there were barriers for families in the minority like hers that were from South Indian descent. Sheila’s family prioritized education and a strong work ethic - her household mantra was work hard, play if you have time and do more than you have to; this shaped Sheila’s willingness to step into opportunities when presented.

The Road to Tillamook

When Sheila came to the US as a college student, where she attended the University of Montana (the brochure said the winters were ‘mild’!) and Oregon State University, she joined organized trips to different tourist destinations, one of which was the Tillamook Creamery. Years later, and full circle, the opportunity to join Tillamook was a role that allowed Sheila to lead culture in a way that is instrumental to the strategy of the organization. Tillamook’s CEO, Patrick Criteser, believes that culture is a competitive differentiator, and Sheila joined Tillamook at a pivotal time as they were just about to expand nationally.

Anchoring in Shared Values to Find Footing During Chaos

A set of shared values is the foundation that unifies Tillamook. These shared values are something that Tillamook cherishes deeply. They guide their behaviors, are a source of common language among their employees and create a bridge during times of growth. 2020 gave Sheila and the Tillamook team a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate the importance of these values. They want every employee to feel that they matter to the business and have a voice.

Early in the pandemic the Tillamook executive team set some guiding principles about how they were going to lead during all the uncertainty and challenges. Some of the guiding principles were:

How will we preserve the well-being of our employees?

How will we keep our business strong?

How will we take care of our community?

In the podcast episode, Sheila reflects on recent research that showed employers are still one of the most trusted sources people look to during times of crisis. This can be both a privilege and burden, but Sheila found that using the guiding principles they established helped them to find footing during chaos. As Sheila noted, “every time we were stuck on making important decisions, we went back to our guiding principles.”

Managing Ambiguity

As a leader, managing uncertainty is a required core competency, and nothing made us flex that muscle like 2020. Sheila reminded leaders to focus on what you can control and that it’s ok if you don’t have all the answers in the moment. Even though people are looking to you for immediate answers, leaders can say things like “I don’t know the answer to that, but here is what I do know the answer to.”

Prioritizing Connection over Correction

Tillamook asked their leaders to prioritize connection by having meaningful check ins with their teams and people. Don’t just jump into work, take time to ask team members questions about how they are doing, professionally and personally. Sheila found it deepened relationships with Tillamook’s teams during the pandemic and brought a humanness to the situation at hand, that will last well into the future of work culture.

Using Office Space as a Social Anchor

Prior to the pandemic, Tillamook had some flexible work options, but they now know they can be productive and creative within a remote workforce environment. As they look to transition back into the office, Sheila and her peers on the executive team have communicated to employees they will use their office space as a social anchor as a way to activate Tillamook’s culture and values. Employees will likely work a few days in the office, primarily to foster connection and facilitate collaboration - both structured and unstructured. The goal is to have a hybrid work arrangement that creates a more fulfilling and enriching experience for employees.

To listen to Sheila’s episode and to future episodes, subscribe to Think Beyond Space | The PDX Workplace Insider Podcast on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.