Delta Partners Management Consultants
Your trusted advisors.

Food Safety - A Complex Leadership Challenge (Part 1)

Alcide DeGagné

At their most basic level, companies exist to create revenues by selling products to customers.  And for most industries, this seller-buyer relationship is founded on a basis of trust.  The buyer trusts that the seller is going to provide a product or service that performs well, and can be counted on to do so consistently and safely.  Sellers who reliably honor the trust relationship by meeting these standards find that buyers are Carabiner-280x174remarkably loyal to trusted brands, and are often willing to pay a premium to vendors they trust.

This relationship is especially true in situations where health and finance are at the heart of the buying decision.  But when the trust relationship is damaged, consumers will lose faith in the ‘brand promise’ and quickly turn elsewhere.

Trust in the Food and Beverage Industries

Many people don’t make the immediate connection—and some of those involved are reluctant to admit it—but food and beverage companies are directly participating in the health products and services market.

The food and drink that we all ingest is fundamentally connected to our health.  This ties the concept of ‘brand promise’ directly to the notion of trust relationships.  If consumers believe that the brand is detrimental to the health of their families—this can stem from pathogenic contamination, materials contamination, unsafe transport and storage processes, or even inputs of a ‘questionable’ origin—they are not going to buy.  It’s uncomfortable for food and beverage producers to admit that they are being increasingly grouped with health industries, but it is true.  And it isn’t going to change any time soon.Holding hands-260x173

Nonetheless, most producers understand the critical link between ‘brand promise’ and trust.  They continue to make major capital and operating investments in quality and safety systems.  And certainly governmental agencies have long recognized the importance that their citizens have confidence in the safety of their food supply—hence the long list of regulatory requirements and inspection regimes.

But despite these public and private investments, the ongoing question continues to be, “how do we get better traction from our technology and quality improvement efforts?”

Part of the answer lies in the fact that technologies and systems will only take the productivity and quality quest so far.  Without an accompanying improvement in the management of people, these investments will never achieve their intended goals.  Consider the quote from a recent Global Workforce study:

“There is a gap between what employees want and expect from their employment relationship and what employers can afford to deliver, compromising employers’ ability to shift their focus from recovery to growth.”

Insights From the 2010 Global Workforce Study
Watson Towers

Getting Traction on Employee Engagement

The food manufacturing sector’s quest for food safety and traceability is not much different than the business challenge we all face:

How do we create a compelling argument for all our employees to improve quality while the current austerity also requires cost containment?

What employees want and expect from their employment relationship and what employers can afford to deliver is working at cross-purposes.

It is against this backdrop that the C-level executives need to see the current constraint era as an opportunity for “laying the foundation for organizational transformation.”

Productivity Rationale

While the solution is difficult and typically multifaceted, the only way out of this situation is to harness the discretionary effort of employees.  At the root of ‘above average’ performance is a workplace culture that engages employees.  It is typically a necessity, and often, the only solution. Consider the recent data from on employee engagement:

  • In world-class organizations, the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is approximately 10 to 1; while,
  • In average organizations, the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is approximately 2 to 1!

Clearly, increasing employee engagement correlates directly with a positive impact on key business metrics.

Take a look at your own most recent survey results (have you ever surveyed your employees?)—how do your employee engagement survey results compare with the above?

What Separates World Class Organizations?

Recent studies of best-in-class organizations reinforce that employee engagement and employee performance do truly go hand in hand. In their recent report, The Engagement / Performance Equation, the Aberdeen Research Group showed that 43% of Best-in-Class organizations have a formal employee engagement strategy, while just 14% of low performing organizations do. The Best-in-Class Model provides a useful framework for organizations to move themselves forward in achieving higher performance outcomes.

Digging into the Best-in-Class Model further reveals that we don’t have an employee engagement problem; what we have is a failure of leaders and managers to create an engaging work environment.

Why is it so hard to change leadership and employee engagement in organizations?  The first place to look is at your workplace “social technology”.

What’s your Social Technology?

The fact of the matter is that we are all struggling under the legacy of 19th century management while trying to cope with the demands of the 21st century world. Consider the following…

A Century Old Social Technology:
As managers, we tend to think of technology in terms of IT, machines, robotics, etc.  But how we manage ourselves is also a “technology”—a social technology.  Looked at this way, most organizations still employ a very old approach despite the dramatically different circumstances:

  1. Hierarchical “command control” organizations (also known as “scientific management”) grew out of the military and was “perfected” for application to the workplace with the onset of the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries by people like Frederick Taylor, Henri Fayol, and in the early 20th century by Henry Ford.Command cameras-300x225
  2. The principles established are still engrained in the workplace of the 21st century in practices such as “span of control”, “unity of command”, and via management principles such as planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling.
  3. In fact, automation, job specialization, and the drive for productivity in manufacturing operations create a bias for a “command control” as the default approach.

However, we now live in a globalized world where quality, knowledge and adaptability are king:

  1. We no longer live in a 19th century world but in a globalized world; a world that changes at the speed of the internet; a world that is interconnected at state, business, NGO, and private citizen levels; a world where our biggest challenge is to manage knowledge and ideas—not machines or “things”.
  2. In this world of “managing at the speed of change”, it is impossible for a leader to possess the depth and breadth of knowledge needed to sustain the innovation and adaptability required to be successful.

In short, we are seriously in need of a new “social technology” that provides us with a management model that is consistent with the challenges of the 21st century.

What do you think—is there a disconnect in the workplace between 21st century demands and 18th century management models? Is this a real concern of yours or an imagined problem cooked up by booksellers and academics?

Keep an eye on this space for part 2 of this discussion.  (Update: click here to read Part 2 of this post!) Or, better yet, sign up for our newsletter updates in the right-hand column of this page to make sure you don’t miss it!



 Managing change ebook cover-280x230


Download our new eBook:

Managing Change:
A workbook for personal and organizational change







Thanks for a well-timed post, Alcide.I’ve followed the food safety subject for many, many years. It seems to me that in an age (20th Century) of growing government involvement in the lives of citizens that individuals have placed enormous faith in those who regulate the “health and safety” of what we put in our bodies. Yet where is individual responsibility? The “empowerment” if one wishes to be au courant.Fortunately, many people (including yours truly - perhaps because of advancing age) are increasingly turning to the Internet to educate themselves about a variety of topics, with food intake being a prominant one. This is not just appropriate, given the advances in technology, but also well-timed with ongoing government cutbacks in spending.My question therefore is: who is ultimately responsible for what we ingest in our bodies?

By Jim Taggart on 2012/01/22

Add a Comment

Notify me of follow-up comments?

About this Article

Posted by Alcide DeGagné
Posted on January 20, 2012

Share |