Finding your voice

by Jim Kline
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With all the day-to-day, or perhaps minute-to-­minute, demands of a bakery, how does one find time for analysis, planning, organizational development, training and so on? The answer might be as close as your workforce.

Think about the interviews you conducted and your recent hires: If your experience mirrors that of the general population, you will find that what motivates younger workers of today is a sense of contribution, of belonging to an organization that is supporting and moving toward a greater good, of feeling needed and wanted, and a sense of immediacy. As I reflect back to when I entered the workforce, my motivations were likely similar, but at that time, one’s personal desires were not discussed as openly and straightforwardly as they are today.

We are very fortunate in the baking industry that we do contribute to a greater good — we help feed a nation. And we manufacture products that are wholesome, that meet consumers’ needs and that are a significant component of people’s daily food plan. So, the selling of our industry to prospective employees should be the easy part.

In terms of finding time, there may not be enough hours in the day to get things done ourselves, but we have a workforce that, whether or not it verbalizes its feelings as such, wants to contribute, create, improve and act with immediacy. It seems like a marriage made in heaven … or at least it should be.

I have some suggestions as to what can be done to get the workforce involved and allow you the time to plan, organize and develop skills in others.

First, create a truly participatory atmosphere within your workforce. This requires the building of trust, being candid and allowing others to be the same way with you. All workers need the opportunity to succeed as well as fail; both success and failure provide you the opportunity to teach and individuals the opportunity to learn. When people develop trust in their employer and management, they have a tendency to extend themselves further. And the knowledge that they have your support provides them with the opportunity to grow and develop.

A participatory atmosphere is all about open communication: ensuring employees are aware of what is going on within the company and the bakery, right down to the production line. It is even more about listening for what individuals need to be more productive. Whether management, administration or a line worker, what issues do they face, and how can they be addressed? The more employees know about the business — and how their work contributes to and affects the business — the more engaged they become.

Organize tasks, and break them down into actionable items. For example, gauging the useful life of production assets when developing a replacement plan is necessary but time-consuming. Likely there are dozens, if not hundreds, of items to be evaluated. If the task is broken down to the item level, and the assessment is sufficiently defined, it would be much more efficient and productive to train the mechanic and the employee who operate and maintain the equipment to perform the assessment. The key to success is taking the time and effort to define and then explain the task: what is required, how it fits into the larger picture and what specifically is needed. It may also require some initial training. But stop and think about it. How many items end up on your desk (or inbox) that, if broken down into actionable items, can be better addressed by others? Probably a lot. And what message does it send to the employees to whom you have entrusted this work?

When you have taken these steps, in small pieces or in big chunks, realize that what you are doing by building a participatory environment is creating trust. By involving others, you are sending a message of respect. By using the successes and failures resulting from the efforts of others as opportunities for learning, you are ensuring continued growth and fostering a willingness to stretch workers’ abilities.

In the process of integrating these actions into your day-to-day business practices, you are finding your voice and helping others to find theirs. It is about leadership. As Stephen Covey stated in his book The 8th Habit, “Simply put — at its most elemental and practical level — leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.”

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