Modernizing your processing plants is no longer optional. In order to remain competitive, relevant to the market and responsive to customer expectations, food processing companies must modernize operations. From product lifecycle management software to interconnected sensors that control and monitor processing and storage temperature, updated technology is only one portion of the equation. Food processors also need a new way of looking at business models, customer alignment and value-added services. This calls for a new company culture, one that embraces change, accepts risks and rewards personnel for creative problem solving. These elements cannot be purchased out of the box, nor bolted on. Company culture must reflect the company’s core values.
Why Culture Matters
Modern, digital technologies provide the opportunity to re-align with the evolving business world. Whether you are a pork processor, baker, dairy or brewer, you have already been impacted by the fast pace of change sweeping the food and beverage industry. This will only escalate as more and more companies ramp up innovative packaging, service offerings and new data-centric revenue models.
To keep pace, you need a workforce which shares top management’s vision for how your company will play a role in the ever-changing marketplace. Whether the focus is engaging with customers or applying sensor-generated data to improve machine performance, the workforce must understand the new principles and be able to execute them. Without the right mindset in place, new programs will likely fall flat, with disappointing results.
Here are some guidelines to help you get started on building your company culture and making your company comply with the new principles in food processing:
Evolve over time: Remember that the company culture is a “living thing” that evolves as a natural outcome of attitudes, perceptions, core principles and a collective consciousness. Top management cannot always control it, but it can influence the culture. Steps can be taken to train, reinforce and incentivize behavior.
Agree up front: Executives must agree and have a clear picture of what type of value statements should be part of the organization’s culture. Inconsistencies will generate confusion and will likely backfire. If the C-level officers are not clear on positioning, the workforce will sense this ambiguity — resulting in a lack of confidence.
Act as role model: The company leadership will set the tone. You want to create an environment where people feel comfortable making suggestions. Leadership can set the example by breaking the status quo of hierarchical decision making, and encouraging managers throughout the organization to step up and become highly engaged in bringing a fresh perspective to processes.
Delegate authority: For front-line personnel to be engaged in the new structure and approach to business, they need the ability to make decisions and act on data available to them. Putting decision-making authority in the hands of customer-facing sales and service agents allows them to be responsive and act on behalf of the customers. This speeds action, which is critical in food processing today.
Test and learn: Continuous learning should be a priority instilled among personnel. As organizations learn how to apply predictive analytics, establish visibility and connectivity with the supply chain, and modernize labeling and packaging, the organization’s knowledge base will grow and become further refined. Establish systems for collecting and sharing knowledge. Applaud learning, even when it is learning a lesson from a failure.
Communicate with customers: Customer-centricity is now a necessity. Getting closer to the customer helps reduce the risk of experimentation because customers can collaborate on ideas and respond to product previews, giving research and development (R&D) teams valuable input.
Unify the company behind customer-centricity: Customer-centricity should extend beyond sales and service. It needs to become a unifying cultural element that drives all core decisions across all areas of the business. This includes every department, from R&D to processing and warehouse to shipping. Personnel who do not have face-time with customers will require other avenues for assimilating the customers’ perspective and aligning with the customer-centric view.
Eliminate silos: In order to break down silos and achieve multi-dimensional problem-solving, formulate teams with personnel from various departments. Create teams to focus on specific goals in the digital transformation.
Provide training: New ways of doing business require new skill sets. Be prepared to train your employees on soft skills, like team-building, conflict resolution, problem-solving and goal-setting.
Support a collaborative environment: Find mechanisms, whether digital tools or in-person, for personnel to learn from others, share ideas and apply cross-functional concepts to problems as they arise. Ideas can come from any place in the organization — if someone is listening.
Celebrate success: Successes can be small accomplishments as well as the bigger, long-term goals. Praise and other rewards reinforce behavior and help to solidify commitment. Recognizing an individual’s contributions, as well as team efforts, helps to create role models for behavior and attitude.
By following these guidelines, you can build a firm foundation for a modernized food processing operation. Cultural changes within the processing operations will likely be slower and more complex than some of the digital technologies disrupting the organization. This is one of the reasons it is so critical to start early and take a firm stance on culture-related issues. The company culture can either support your initiatives — or stand in the way. As you undertake your modernization projects, focus on the people behind the scenes. They will all play a part in a true digital evolution.