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Food Safety and the Leadership Vacuum – Dallas 2013

Debra Sunohara

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the 3rd annual Food Manufacturing and Safety Forum in Dallas, Texas. Delta Partners was there to discuss our consulting capacity in organizational development and change management, as well as our expertise in food safety consulting.

The forum included sessions along the key themes of Lean, talent and employee engagement, food quality and safety, and sustainability strategies. Presenters discussed their own experiences, lessons-learned, best practices, and featured new technologies that might help manufacturers:

  • Manage regulatory requirements - understanding and responding to FSMA requirements and new legislation 
  • Manage their supply chain - FSMA and GFSI implications, and vendor performance audits and evaluations
  • Manage recalls
  • Manage risk – taking a more holistic approach to managing risk and adopting a risk management strategy that is not reactive but proactiveFoodsafetyforum-280x135

And last but not least,

  • Manage change - We were reminded again this year that there are two equally important kinds of change management that food manufacturers should be concerned about; operational change management that deals with changes to products and new product development, and the change management that we can simply define as leading groups of people through periods of significant change and uncertainty.

The Missing Link

Something that I felt was missing from this event was a presentation along the lines of “Creating a Strong Commitment to Food Safety” – a planned session at the upcoming Food Safety Summit Expo & Conference in Baltimore, April 30 – May 2, 2013.

Although several session outlines included phrases like “integrating food safety principles and culture” and “promoting a culture of safety”, few presentations really delved into the “people issues”.

How do you engage your employees to care about food safety and quality? Aside from Melissa Smith-Tate’s excellent presentation on promoting a culture of operational excellence and Lean through recruitment, retention, and developing leadership competencies, the other presenters hardly even mentioned the words “people” or  “employees”. (I’ve opted not to highlight our own presentation, which touched on cultivating employee engagement in order to implement a “culture of food safety”, for arguments’ sake.)

Dallas skyline night

I am even going to go so far as to say that some presenters just don’t get it at all when they include “Altering workforce culture overnight” as part of their session outline.

Creating real change is not an event.  It is a process that requires a context, a plan, and effective, ongoing leadership.

In our experience, change is generally regarded as a bad thing both by people and corporations, i.e., something is wrong if we need to change. The problem is that many firms lack the organizational maturity to lead their people through the challenge of changing the way they approach food safety either on the production floor or in their administrative processes.

Change is Good

There are many reasons that changes made to implement a food safety culture or improve employee engagement don’t work:

  • Lack of leadership.
  • Not tied to strategy.
  • Seen as a fad or quick fix.
  • Short-term perspective.
  • Political realities undermine change.
  • Grandiose expectations versus simple successes.
  • Inflexible change designs.
  • Lack of measurable, tangible results.
  • Afraid of the unknown.
  • Unable to mobilize commitment to sustain change.

Bottom-line, change management is a task for leaders.  Managers can define projects, develop measures, and monitor systems – they cannot create lasting change.

And as leaders, you need to create a culture that accepts the fact that what we do – and how we do it – changes all the time. 

Change is a good thing – it makes us better.

Change Leadership

So, the question that spins out of all this focus on leadership:

Is it time to change the term “change management”?

Would the process be more accurately conveyed if we started referring to it as “change leadership”?

As part of next year’s summit, I would like to see “Leadership” somewhere in the themes alongside change, food safety. I am convinced that the delegates would leave standing room only in such a session.

Did you attend the summit in Dallas? I would love to hear someone else’s perceptions of the event! 

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About this Article

Posted by Debra Sunohara
Posted on March 5, 2013

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Categories: change management, competitiveness, culture, leadership, lessons learned, quality