Lean Thinking and Leadership Development: Cultivating the Food Industry’s Next Crop of Leaders

lean strategy and leadership in the food industry

As I stood in the boardroom, the CEO paced the room. “Our biggest challenge is finding the right talent to take our company into the next decade and to the next level,” he said. Many of the company’s top leaders were set to retire in the next year, and this baby boomer exodus was taking critical market knowledge, experience, and contacts out of the company. Yet, numerous different attempts to recruit the right talents and provide advanced training to existing employees had ended up being ineffective.

About a year later, I met with the same CEO. He smiled brightly. “Our evaluations are back, and performances are up across the board. Not only are objective measures like employee retention improving, but our managers feel that emerging talents are performing better as well.” The changing variable here was lean strategy. In the volatile food industry, it is critical that companies have leaders who understand the market, can make fast decisions, and can skillfully navigate the industry’s complex supply chain.

How Lean Thinking Helps Improve People Development

Often, lean initiatives in the food industry are primarily associated with reducing waste during the manufacturing process or streamlining the supply chain. In reality, lean thinking helps food industry executives solve their most pressing challenges–and no challenge is more pressing than hiring leadership. From improving day-to-day performance through standardized work and a clear agenda to ensuring effective succession planning through leadership development, lean strategies help companies solve important long-term human capital challenges.

Strategies for Food Companies Implementing Lean HR

How are successful food companies using lean strategies to help improve their leadership challenges?

Apply lean to your recruiting process: Training and retaining leadership candidates starts with an effective recruiting process. As with any other process, there is significant room for lean to help improve your talent acquisition efforts. A lean approach to recruiting can help you to develop job descriptions, candidate vetting processes, and onboarding processes which improve the quality of candidates you hire and improve the potential for long-term employee retention. For food industry companies, future leaders have to understand a host of issues and be able to navigate a complex supply chain. A lean recruiting process can help you hire candidates who can successfully manage a range of different challenges that food-focused businesses deal with.

Clarify your True North and use this as the basis of training and development: What is your company’s most important mission? For food companies, this often comes down to developing and delivering category leading products which sustain large populations. Whether you’re creating world-class vegan products which let people eat according to their values or affordable processed food options for growing families, that contribution is important. Does your team understand that vision and get inspired by it? Getting clear on your True North–or essential mission–can help attract the right candidates, align your future leadership’s focus, and get your team engaged and pulling for that mission. When your True North is clear, it speaks to the people who can envision developing a career as part of that mission and provides clear guidelines on training and development.

Help your team focus on the essential work that gets results and grows careers: Lean helps your team focus on the company’s most essential work streams, which enables two key outcomes. The first is that as a result of being more effective, they will generate better results. The second is that they will advance their careers more effectively by developing their skills and providing the company with tangible results in their focus areas, such as marketing or finance. Lean strategy helps food industry companies develop clear scopes of work for each position, and use them to set clear expectations with employees. From there, it’s possible to provide targeted feedback and help team members grow more quickly in their area of expertise. Ultimately, their performance improves and their leadership capabilities within the company evolve more quickly.

Use lean to teach problem-solving and engagement: Lean strategies provide the context for engaging your team’s ability to problem-solve. For example, within the food industry, production is typically an important part of bringing products to market. Each member who is on the floor and anyone who is a future leader may have contributions to make. With lean thinking, each member of the team is empowered to look for and share ideas for continuous improvement. Your future leadership candidates might be engaged through techniques such as Gemba Walks, by observing what’s happening, and then offering suggestions for improvement. This hands-on approach is a great way to vet natural leaders and provide direct experience in the areas which are most critical to your business.

Are you ready to explore how lean strategies can help food companies develop better leadership training programs? Contact Incito Consulting today to learn more about how our experienced team of consultants helps today’s most innovative food industry players address their strategic challenges.