One of the standout characteristics that led us to name Mike Porter, president and chief operating officer of New Horizons Baking Co. (NHBC), Norwalk, Ohio, as Operations Executive of the Year for 2022 is his willingness to adapt and change. While it would be easy for someone in his position to remain stuck in the past, Mr. Porter doesn’t. He sees that times are changing, and he’s choosing to change with them. 

“Whenever I hear people say, ‘We’ve always done it that way,’ I always remind them that we also used to ride horses to work, but now we drive cars,” he said. “We have to evolve. We have to make changes.” 

This most often comes up in issues of workforce. While the baking industry struggled to find and keep workers before 2020, the coronavirus pandemic only made things worse. It gave people an opportunity to reevaluate their lives and priorities, and quality-of-life values like work-life balance became more ubiquitous. 

“It’s taken some companies longer than others to realize that this is more than just a millennial issue; the philosophy of what’s important changed for everyone,” Mr. Porter said. “The pandemic broke down the walls between professional and personal. Everything is personal now.” 

Rather than buckle down on the way it’s always been done, Mr. Porter and the company’s Chief Executive Officer Trina Bediako have been willing to look in the mirror and see how NHBC can do better by its employees and, in turn, attract and retain talent. They brought in Mr. Porter’s son Noah as an intern to evaluate company culture from a millennial perspective and implemented some of his ideas, such as a renovated break room and conference room. He’s now on the recruitment team for NHBC and helps the company update its facilities and programs. 

Probably the most insightful mirror, however, was when the executive team asked employees to anonymously write down their thoughts and feelings about working at NHBC. 

“I had to walk into the conference room and look across the wall and see what people felt,” Mr. Porter said. “And that was hard. But if we’re not willing to get into the raw details of the business, then we shouldn’t be here.” 

Overwhelmingly, people reported a desire for predictability in their schedules and quality of life. NHBC is trying to deliver by offering more flexibility in the work schedule. The company offers employees a variety of shifts to choose from so they can build their own schedule that works for them and their families. The program is still in the beginning phases of implementation, but Mr. Porter hopes it gives his people what they need to build the life they want. 

 “As long as the industry continues to evolve to understand that we’re in the people business more than the baking business now, we’ll be better off in the long term,” he said.