Recently I finished reading a book called “Solve for Happy” by Mo Gawdat, former tech executive, writer and advocate for helping 1 billion people find happiness. The premise of the book was intriguing – Mo was a highly paid executive for several well-known high tech companies, had a beautiful family, nice house, cars and other stuff, but was not happy. This by itself is not an unusual story. What was unique was that Mo, with his engineering and mathematics background, thought that maybe he could figure out a mathematical equation to solve for happiness, and started working on a theory and sharing it with friends and family. In the midst of this endeavor, Mo’s son dies and suddenly the equation he has been working on is put to the test.
The book is analytical, emotional, spiritual and at points, breath-takingly beautiful. Coming from a scientific and analytical background, I appreciated the approach. One simple message from the book that resonated was, “We are not our thoughts”. Oftentimes, believing we are what we think can lead us to feel bad about ourselves. Getting caught up in our thoughts can distract us from finding what truly makes us happy. If you have not read Mo’s book, I’d encourage you to check it out. I’m re-reading the book and absorbing even more the second time around.
Teri Danielson is the owner and co-founder of Northwest Food Solutions.
As we enter week 8 of the “stay at home orders” in Oregon, I have been reflecting on what the future might hold for the food industry, and other industries and businesses in our state and country. After talking to people throughout manufacturing and other industries about how they are managing during this crisis, I am seeing many companies demonstrating exceptional leadership, engagement and focus.
This got me wondering, given the challenges that COVID-19 is presenting, why are some businesses performing so well, what is it businesses are doing well to address the changing environment and how do businesses keep these practices going as we move forward?
What I would like to suggest, based on my observations: The exceptional performance many companies are exhibiting is an example of how we are more effective when priorities are clear, businesses are focused and aligned around the work that needs to get done and there are minimal distractions.
When the stay at home orders were first issued, most of Northwest Food Solutions current projects were postponed. And rightfully so. Our food manufacturing clients were facing loss of their food service and restaurant volume and larger than normal growth of grocery volume, coupled with resource constraints and general difficulties associated with navigating COVID implications to the workforce. The food industry is considered “critical infrastructure” and companies have been heads down in triage mode.
As the crisis progressed, I started reaching out to clients to find out how it was going. I also began attending industry meetings and talking to others in the industry trying to see what companies might need and how Northwest Food Solutions could provide support.
One assumption I made was that companies would need help implementing COVID best practices, and we offered this help pro bono to our clients. But the clients I talked with had already done this relatively quickly and painlessly. In fact, during these conversations, clients related some great examples of the creative solutions they had come up with to ensure supply of raw materials, to social distance, to split shifts and protect employees, to find PPE, to share resources with other companies, to prioritize manufacture of products that were selling well in grocery and stop manufacturing products that had low volume. That concept of focus and prioritization struck me again and again as I listened to industry leaders sharing their strategies and the creative workarounds they implemented.
This idea of focus and prioritization is a common theme in the consulting services we provide to companies. Usually at the start of a project, when a client has brought us in to help solve a specific problem, we often see that people and resources are stretched thin by too many projects and distractions. Leaders do not always know how to prioritize, so as a result, their teams are doing everything. No matter what “project” we work on with a team, we always are working with the team to prioritize the project within the larger scope of company work and help teams figure out how to get the project work done effectively. It is at the core of what we teach, even though it is almost never what we are hired to do.
So, what is different in the COVID world? Now, we are all being forced to prioritize. Some things we have seen change: The ten new product launches planned for this year…not happening. The twenty-five low volume skus that consume 70% of the teams resources to produce…shelved. Sales travel to customers…it’s temporarily not happening or happening via Zoom. Vendor and auditor visits…they have been reduced or eliminated. In the COVID world, companies are aligned around a few common goals and those goals are clear to everyone. 1) Protect the workforce and 2) meet the increased demand of the most needed product. So simple and so clear.
This idea of focusing on the few important things as a more productive approach is backed up by science. There are a multitude of papers that have been published on the how multi-tasking or working on too many things at once destroys capacity and creativity. According to Teresa Amabile, who wrote the Harvard Business Review paper “Creativity Under the Gun”, “It’s not so much the deadline that’s the problem; it’s the distractions that rob people of the time to make that creative breakthrough.”
Without all the distractions, companies can focus on work that adds the most value to the customer and develop creative ways to manage through the unique challenges they are facing. Companies are effectively moving mountains to keep their product in stock and their workforce safe.
To be fair, not every company is doing this successfully, but I am heartened to see so many food and beverage manufacturers performing admirably in this crisis using their own resources. We are going to return to a new normal soon, and it is likely that the way we do business will also be altered as the country opens back up.
Looking to the future, the rules have changed, and things are going to be different for all of us going forward. With that in mind, I would love to see companies commit time to sit down with their teams, recognize what has been accomplished, how it was achieved, and take a hard look at how narrowing focus and prioritizing has impacted the company operations. What are the learnings from this crisis that can be implemented into regular operations? Reflecting on the accomplishments, what made them possible and charting a new path with resulting actions will help all of us in the food and beverage industry continue to navigate and prosper as we move forward.
And of course, Northwest Food Solutions would love to help with this work. We are in this together and committed to continuing to support the organizational health of the food and beverage industry in the Northwest. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with feedback and questions.
Northwest Food Solutions is proud to be an Earth Day Oregon Business Partner. Earth Day Oregon is a statewide campaign to AMPLIFY the impact of Earth Day, by directing donations to the nonprofit organization’s in our community that work to create a more sustainable world. Northwest Food Solutions recognizes the good work that ECOTRUST – THE REDD does in Oregon and has made a donation to this nonprofit in honor of Earth Day.
Motivation – it’s something we all struggle at some level. Whether it is our own motivation, or we are trying to incentivize others to perform, it can be difficult to figure out how to get excited and create movement in the direction we are trying to go. Our tool box consists of a carrot and a stick, and we either alternate between them or as more enlightened members of the 21st century, we lean towards the carrot. Watch this Ted talk with Dan Pink, to get a different take on motivation and how thinking differently about what gets us moving as people can create some astounding results. What if people are not motivated by the extrinsic, but by the intrinsic? What if we are driven by an urge to direct our own lives, the desire to get better at something that matters and the yearning to work in the service of something larger than ourselves? If this were true, how would you motivate yourself and the people who work for you?
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Eugene’s Table, Knowledge Waits Consulting, and @MFG_Geeks are teaming up to offer a 5 part workshop series for founders, managers, and aspiring managers at emerging brands and other small to mid-sized food and beverage manufacturing companies.