Author Stephen M.R. Covey, who wrote The Speed of Trust, outlined a simple equation currently in use at Kresent Plus Baking, Guyana, South America. When trust among an organization’s employees is high, efficiency is elevated, and cost is low. When trust is low, efficiency drops, and cost rises.

Paul Chan, president of Kresent Plus, said trust is a critical component of the bakery’s success. Companies build that faith through consistent treatment of personnel, standard operating procedures, measurements of success and cross-training.

“At Kresent Plus Baking, and for every organization I have led, training is approached from a flexibility standpoint, for the company and the employees,” Mr. Chan said.

Flexibility in a bakery’s workforce means that the company isn’t limited by the number of people it can hire, nor are the employees restricted to certain areas of expertise. This creates avenues for the production personnel to understand their larger purpose and can instill a sense of leadership and pride.

Record low U.S. unemployment rates are highlighting the need for continuous employee training investments.

“The stakes for finding, developing and retaining employees at all levels of the organization have never been higher,” said Patricia Richards, vice-president of organization development and staffing, Hearthside Foods Solutions, Downers Grove, Ill. Ms. Richards is the chair of the American Bakers Association human resources committee, which partnered with Hearthside to develop the Leadership Development for Front Line Professionals program. The course trains front line supervisors with leadership principles, tools, and techniques to improve quality, safety and productivity throughout an organization. “Effective, ongoing cross-training programs minimize risks and disruptions, enabling companies to flexibly respond to the evolving needs of the business, including changes in staffing,” she said.

The lack of formal training programs exposes a business to productivity and efficiency issues on the production floor and across the organization. Companies can also see higher employee turnover and the increased cost associated with it. And finally, without training, there is often a lack of employee engagement.

“Effective training includes both the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ components,” Ms. Richards said. “In addition to skill mastery, people need to understand how their work integrates into the larger organization and how exactly the work they do matters.”

To combat the ill effects of insufficient training, bakeries should start from the beginning. They need to look at the culture they are building and empower employees across the business to cover more ground.

From the beginning

The costs associated with high turnover rates will significantly hurt a business. At Chandler, Ariz.-based Doughnut Peddler, new hires learn the history and structure of the business during orientation. It’s here that they also are introduced to good manufacturing practices, attendance policy, work performance standards and expectations.

Employees trained in several areas on a line can manage multiple stations and limit downtime if an issue arises. Source: American Bakers Association
“This base information is important for all staff, which is a form of cross-training, so that a foundation is set with some of the expectations defined and communicated,” said Dennis Smith, general manager, Arizona, Doughnut Peddler.

To further develop cross-training, Doughnut Peddler’s employees who are hired for one area of production are also given opportunities to work in other areas. This gives management the ability to be more flexible with production assignments and the employee an opportunity to experience other work responsibilities.

“Teaching production staff proper equipment operations can help as staff learn what to look for and can often give maintenance early warning of potential equipment failures,” Mr. Smith said.

Cross-training can be viewed as expensive and time-consuming, but Emily Bowers, senior director, education and operations, BEMA, said it’s worth the investment.

“Without a cross-training program bakers risk production delays and low employee morale, both of which cost the baker money in the long run,” she noted.

Supporting structure

Cross-training helps workforces respond to the diverse situations that arise on the manufacturing floor. If one team can only operate one section of a line, and another section goes down on their shift, efficiency and productivity decline.

“A staff that is well cross-trained can adapt easily to highs and lows in the production schedule,” Ms. Bowers said. “When a cross-training program is executed appropriately, there is always someone on hand who can successfully complete all essential tasks, therefore minimizing downtime.”

Fostering communication among employees in training allows them to see the bigger picture of their roles in production. Source: American Bakers Association

At Hearthside, company-wide programs are available for technical, leadership and interpersonal skills. Technical training on, for example, food safety is essential for frontline leaders. However, without the leadership and communications training, these leaders are being set up to fail, explained Ms. Richards.

Unlike leadership and communications training, which is company-wide, technical training tends to be facility- and process-specific, she added. Companies should start with identifying where they could use the most coverage.

“Location- and process-specific training also include cross-training components, enabling operators to perform multiple tasks within their location,” Ms. Richards said. “This improves productivity, enhances flexibility, minimizes disruptions from turnover, and actually reduces overall turnover as well.”

Training plans can also be personalized to the individual. While some people might want to stick with a role they are familiar with, others prefer to grow into a leadership role.

Kresent Plus has a structured cross-training program that trains each production or sanitation employee in five different jobs. This allows the bakery to change schedules in busy seasons and cover for days off and vacations without affecting the plant’s overall staffing.

“This provides flexibility but also creates real understanding and communication between individuals,” Mr. Chan said.

Additionally, Mr. Chan suggested real success comes when the maintenance person starts teaching and working with the sanitation employee on other potential downtime and safety issues. This also applies to the relationships between production, maintenance or sanitation employees.

“When a sanitation associate is cleaning a piece of equipment and then notices a chain or a failure point developing that may cause downtime, they can explain it and work with a maintenance person to fix that potential issue.” he said.

Cross-training employees with responsibilities for sanitation and maintenance creates an in-house back-up plan. Or, as Ms. Bowers called it, “a customized insurance policy for the baker’s production schedule.” If those two teams see more of what the other does, it usually results in improved teamwork and operational efficiency.

“In addition to creating a valuable back-up plan, the process of cross-training provides variety in the employee’s daily work, which typically results in a happier and more productive workforce,” she said.

Reaping the rewards

For Doughnut Peddler, training ensures efficient operations and the development of a positive company culture.

Bakers and snack producers of all sizes can better manage workforce challenges with a well-structured cross-trained team. Source: American Bakers Association
“Many companies do not place a high enough priority on training, which leads to a higher level of turnover in staff, less efficient operations and a less positive culture,” Mr. Smith said.

When a company empowers its people, the company improves as well. And that is often seen in the bottom line.

Mr. Chan said most of Kresent Plus’ supervising and management associates were employees who were heavily cross-trained in several aspects of the business. The company has also tied pay rates to skill sets that individuals accrue through training across disciplines including production, sanitation and maintenance.

“This becomes the natural incentive. Our personnel like to and want to be cross-trained,” Mr. Chan said. “Employees realize they are paid higher and have more flexibility over their personal schedules.”

In return, the company has seen increased production flexibility without the loss of skills across positions, and it has enhanced its employee retention rate. By creating opportunities for employees to cover for one another and develop a greater knowledge of the process, businesses can expect better efficiencies and support across the board.