The Monday morning meeting is a well-established tradition in the retail industry. It combines anxiety and dread into a structured recap of the previous week’s activities and the numbers that were generated. Many times the success or failure of these numbers sets the tone for the discussion. When times are good these discussions often are lighthearted and don’t last long. When things are not so good the meetings can morph into long tedious recaps of what should’ve been done and discussions of what actions are required to correct course. Many times if performance is lacking for more than one or two meetings, the following Monday’s discourse is filled with direction and prescribed solutions in an effort to return to a satisfactory level. In these discussions there is very little time or opportunity for questioning the motives behind the directives. If one is so bold as to ask the question “why?”, the answer from management is often a curt reply “you will find out in due time.” Once again, management shows that “they just don’t get it!”
During these times of stress when results are not up to par, solutions are often dictated down the ranks to ensure that execution is exactly as management prescribes it. This is accompanied by a vague explanation of the reasons, implying “management knows best” and following these directives is the only possible course of action. Sometimes the explanation makes perfect sense and often relies on the universally accepted aims of the organization and also provides the needed motivation for follow through. While many efforts are made to explain the actions in a vain attempt at transparency, the majority of times management’s motivation for change remains obscure. The old saying of “ours is not to question why; ours but to do and die,” applies here as members of the organization, including the produce operation, move to execute the plan.
This type of blind obedience begs the question: “Why not more transparency in the motives behind the change?” What does management have to lose by fully disclosing the reasons behind the solutions both economically and philosophically? At face value it would seem management does not explain itself fully in order to maintain control and essentially silence voices of opposition or avoid questioning the practicality of the decision. The use of “soft selling” the change as well as references to the overall strategy and perception of the retailer are used to rally support. By nature, produce professionals tend to be a little less accommodating of change for the sake of change. They would like to see and understand what the actual effects on the operation and their jobs will likely be.
“It only makes good sense to involve and inform all employees of the real reasons and motivations behind the changes.”
Fortunately some of the more progressive and innovative retailers have begun the process of introducing transparency in everything they do. On such occasions where a change in direction or merchandising is necessary, management fully explains the reasoning and solicits support from the various departments and personnel involved. This type of full explanation provides the forum for employees to formulate and understand a true perspective on the change as it affects the department. It also helps to instill a belief that management cares about what happens to each employee in the department. It is always amazing to see the collective efforts and follow-through on such directives by all personnel, but especially those in the produce department, when they are fully informed of the reasons and benefits of any new programs. One of the key aspects of this sharing of information and clarification of motives for change is the removal of any cloud of doubt or misunderstanding on the part of employees. Such knowledge contributes greatly to the perception that the company truly values their participation and “buy in” on changes that affect the department and their jobs.
In terms of management style, in many cases, communicating this type of change and free exchange of information to employees can be difficult to accept and adopt. But in reality it should be easy to do when something is undertaken in the normal course of events. This is especially true whenever any change or movement within the strategic plan is undertaken. It only makes good sense to involve and inform all employees of the real reasons and motivation behind the changes in operational procedures because it can affect not only their positions but also the perception of the company’s care and attention to the personal well being of employees. As we move forward, the industry would benefit by more of this transparency in every aspect of change in operations or strategy within the retail community. More than any other department, change is a natural part of the produce operation. This natural ability to accept change is enhanced and becomes a greater asset to the company, if this type of transparency and information flow becomes standard operating procedure.
Don Harris is a 41-year veteran of the produce industry, with most of that time spent in retail. He worked in every aspect of the industry, from “field-to-fork” in both the conventional and organic arenas. Harris is presently consulting and is director of produce for the Chicago-based food charity organization, Feeding America. Comments can be directed to [email protected].