U.S. industrialist Kenneth Iverson once said, “The real impediment to producing a higher-quality product more efficiently isn’t the workers, it’s management.”
I thought about this while reminiscing about a scene from the 1970s hit sitcom “All in the Family.”
It was a typical confrontation between characters Archie Bunker and his live-in son-in-law, Michael Stivic (affectionally called “Meathead” by Archie). In the scene, Archie noticed that Meathead put his socks and shoes on in a slightly unusual sequence.
“You don’t put on a sock and a shoe, then the other sock and a shoe!” Archie insisted.
“Everyone knows you get dressed, putting on a sock, then the other sock, followed by the shoes.”
Of course, Michael is equally argumentative. What difference does it make?
I compare this to what management sometimes does to their employees. Archie, the manager in this example, argues about the sequence in which something simple should be done.
Shift the premise to produce managers as they direct their crew.
Is there a similar, parallel way of thinking? Do some produce managers drive their clerks crazy by insisting that they perform their tasks exactly the way the manager wants them completed?
Of course. In some regards the produce manager has good reasons for certain tasks to be completed in a certain sequence. Perhaps the manager notices that a clerk is stocking slower-moving produce items, when higher-priority items (such as lettuce, tomatoes, bananas or ad items) need attention. Or perhaps while unloading a truck, there’s a call for a clerk to handle a customer request. The truck can wait.
That’s good, sound management.
However, we all have had the micromanagement supervisor. The produce manager who shadows everything the clerk does and (in thinking he or she is being helpful) is not only impeding the poor clerk’s progress and confidence to do well but is also being counter-productive as management work isn’t being done.
It could be argued that some micro-manager supervision has its place. Perhaps if the clerk is new or requires some brief, focused direction. Aside from this, clerks generally need general attention, not the super-detailed type.
Once a clerk is properly trained, a produce manager need only give a beginning-shift salvo: “Mark, you’ve got the wet rack today. Pay close attention to the ad items, make sure everything gets a good rotation. Keep it stocked and level.” That’s about all the prodding the average clerk should require.
Most experienced produce clerks appreciate an occasional “good job” or “nice display” comment and that is enough to keep them motivated. Just don’t get caught up in micro-coaching like Archie.
Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 40 years’ experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.