Engaging employees for high performance In general, the meat industry is a people intensive industry

Mary ThompsonEngaging employees for high performance In general, the meat industry is a people intensive industry.  It takes people to raise animals, to slaughter them humanely and to process them efficiently. 

It takes a lot of clear and consistent communication to make sure that everyone understands the values, customer and business priorities to be successful.

It sounds really simple when writing but is much harder to do in practice.  Why?

What is important today is different than what was important yesterday
This is literally true when processing a variety of products in different packaging, possibly with different housing and feeding regimes to meet the evolving and demanding requirements of customers.  It is also true that for those who have been in the industry for a number of years have seen changing consumer tastes, changing regulatory requirements and expectations, not to mention new processing equipment.  Keeping employees aligned to critical tasks to serve customers and to make the highest quality products possible takes commitment and agility at all levels of the organization.

Our plants are microcosms of the world
Meat plants are some of the most cosmopolitan places in the world, some with over a dozen languages spoken in them.  This is an exciting and enriching experience but it takes commitment to keep teams operating at optimal performance.   Effective communication must be regular and in multiple languages and not just from management down to the plant floor.  If you want to really know what is happening in the meat industry, just walk around the floor of a processing facility and talk to the people who are working hard.  But it requires patience, some language ability and/or a good translator to get a true picture.

But aren’t managers supposed set direction and employees follow?
Yes and no.  Your employees know what equipment always acts up.  They know which farm always performs well.  They know lots of things that managers do not know.  Again, if managers really listen and employees feel valued, they will speak up when they see things that are unsafe, inefficient and just plain wrong.  If they do not feel valued or listened to, they will just keep doing what management tells them to do, no matter what the consequences.

And finally, it is easier to listen to our advocates and harder to listen to our critics whether that be community groups, customers  or our own employees.

It is very tempting to talk to super-employees or the community groups that are our most vocal advocates.  We work hard and we like to think our efforts are bringing good things to bear for our customers, our communities and our co-workers.  But we need additional input.  We need input from those critics who see how we can be so much better and we need to listen to them.  Will we take on board all suggestions?  Of course not.  But new ideas come from people who understand well their jobs day-to-day and who are truly committed to make a business better—who are so committed that they are willing to take a risk to speak up with their ideas for improvement.  These are the employees who are most engaged—those who are willing to take a risk in the genuine interest of their co-workers, the customer, the company and/or the community.  

It is up to us to listen.

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