Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

In every produce department, large or small, is a rotating array of responsibilities.

Ultimately the total responsibility for everything in that produce department falls squarely on the shoulders of the produce manager. Since most of these columns are directed to the retail produce manager, I have but one message: Spread that responsibility around.

It may not seem like it, especially at first, but people on produce crews actually desire, yearn for, some responsibility. It gives them a sense of purpose to know that if they are assigned a certain area such as keeping so many tables stocked, or keeping the back room clean and organized, then that area “belongs” to them.

The result? They work harder to attain the best outcome.

This is probably because now their name is on the task.

In contrast, the produce manager who doesn’t relinquish any responsibility often loses all control.

This type of managing alienates crew members. This also puts undue stress on the produce manager who, in today’s large square-footage operations, simply cannot be in 10 places at once (much less two).

Further, the crew member with no assigned responsibility is the first to shrug off customer’s questions, or they walk by an empty display and disregard it, thinking “Not going to worry about that, it’s not my job.”

The truly efficient produce manager delegates areas of responsibility to every crew member with firm, clear direction. Something like, “Steve, this wet rack is your baby today. From now until you go home at 6 o’clock tonight you need to make sure everything is rotated, stocked and kept nice and level.”

Assuming Steve is already trained at working this shift and taking care of the wet rack, he is going to feel challenged, even empowered, to do the job correctly. If Steve is not as accomplished, you can still provide this direction but perhaps assign a second, more experienced person to pitch in when necessary.

Typically clerks will take much greater pride in their work when they are given control over an area. Sometimes this extends into perhaps helping with merchandising and even ordering for “their” items.

In any scenario, the produce manager’s role remains to be closely connected to each of the crew members and monitoring their progress. The manager at this point must hold the crew accountable for the assigned areas, giving direction as needed or providing praise (perhaps springing for lunch once in a while helps too) when praise is due.

Like money, responsibility works best when it’s spread around.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.

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