Creating a supportive work culture begins at the top. But it’s also important to ensure that mid-level managers and supervisors working with frontline employees have the skills they need to ensure success for everyone at the company.

Setting priorities is the key. Throwing too many things at employees at once can cause them to stop and withdraw because they are overwhelmed, said Kerry Goyette, behavioral science expert, founder and president of Aperio Consulting Group, who works with companies to improve their cultures.

We need to be creating clarity for our people. Some of the reasons we’re getting burned out is we’re doing a thousand things, and we’re not even sure what the priority is,” she said. “Three to five priorities is what we can handle in our short-term memory. It causes people to act; it makes them want to move forward.”

She explained that our brains are making calculations throughout the day, determining if we can be successful at what we’re doing. By setting and reinforcing a few priorities rather than a dozen or more helps employees stay focused and feel like they are doing a good job.

Another key to creating a great work culture is building relationships with employees. This is where training frontline supervisors is so important.

“If an organization can invest anywhere, start with your frontline supervisors because they’re the ones leading your employees,” Ms. Goyette said. “I found frontline supervisors can honestly make some of the biggest impacts.”

Because supervisors have the most interaction with workers, this is where companies can have the greatest impact to keep employees happy. Leaders should have one-on-one meetings with supervisors to see what their challenges are and to train them how to lead their people, she added.

Building relationships with frontline workers can be as easy as setting up a breakroom in such a way that encourages people to sit in groups and chat at lunch, conducting team-building exercises with the crew, or encouraging an occasional happy hour.

“We like to think it’s all about work, but when we do that informal chitchat, what are we doing? We’re building relationships,” Ms. Goyette explained. “And what happens when we build relationships? ‘I don’t want to let my teammates down because I just learned that we both have German shepherds, I can’t let him down.’ It’s just those little things that help us build relationships and see what we have in common. And now we care more.”

And workers who are happy on the job can be powerful advocates for their companies.

“My clients that have a really good culture — especially when it’s tough to attract top talent — they’re doing a better job because their employees are talking,” Ms. Goyette said. “They’re saying, ‘Come work here. We love it. It’s awesome.’ The more you can get people who are willing to be a champion of your organization, you’re just going to attract higher quality candidates.”

Creating that culture means being consistent with messaging and letting employees know they are valued. New Horizons strives for that and considers its employees to be family, said Mike Porter, president and chief operations officer of New Horizons Baking Co., Norwalk, Ohio.

“You look at Southwest Airlines and Chick-Fil-A, those companies that have a creative culture,” he said. “Their brands recruit because people hear about the culture. And we want people to be proud of New Horizons, proud of what we do.”

Ms. Goyette also stressed the importance of leaders holding employees accountable. She said some executives want to avoid conflict at all costs and worry that if they correct people, employees will get upset and leave. But pointing out errors in a way that’s not punitive helps workers learn and grow in their careers. She also urged leaders to be as open as they can with employees when it comes to company decisions, which creates an environment of trust.

“As leaders you can’t be transparent about everything, but it’s about creating that culture of transparency to say, ‘OK, here’s the decision that was made, and here’s what factored into that decision,’ ” Ms. Goyette said.

 And make sure that you are allowing employees to contribute in meaningful ways. Leaders don’t have all the answers, so let people help with problems and contribute when the going gets tough.

“I think leaders don’t realize how much employees want to lean in and help and offer input or ideas to some of the business problems that they’re facing,” she said. “Leaders will often keep it to themselves, trying to figure out the answer. You just have to get the right people in the room, leverage the IQ and the motivation that they want to bring to it, and I guarantee you can solve problems faster.”

This article is an excerpt from the September 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Staffing Considerations, click here.