The Produce Aisle with Armand Lobato ( Photo by Pamela Riemenschneider )

How many stores are in your chain?

A more pointed question: How many (weak) links are in your chain? In a recent article, the interviewed chef said, “A chef I used to work for used to say, ‘At the end of the day, as a chef, you’re only as good as your worst line cook.’”

If that sounds a little familiar, it should. We’ve all heard this same message in retail, that we’re only as strong as our weakest link. We can all embrace a stellar produce manager and talented crew gathered in one “work family” snapshot. Except when it includes that less-than-stellar individual.

The meaning, of course, is that it’s the weakest link who is put to the test, be in it stock condition, sanitation, customer service ... the list goes on. 

Any produce manager is only as good as the people around him or her. One downfall or danger of having a weak link is that could be the person that’s used as a comparable reference with the remainder of the crew. And it’s a slippery slope.

“Don’t tell me I need to improve my speed,” one clerk may say. “Mr. Weak Link arrives 10 minutes late every shift, is slower than a one-armed sloth, and you never say anything to him!”

Because it’s in everyone’s interest that your weak link improve, collaboration is critical to his, and everyone’s, well-being, sanity, and ultimate success.

So say something, and do something.

That something, by the way, is a whole-crew task. Because it’s in everyone’s interest that your weak link improve, collaboration is critical to his, and everyone’s, well-being, sanity, and ultimate success.

The first step a produce manager has to take is communicate with the challenged individual and let them know exactly what is going on, what the manager’s expectations are, and provide an action plan to forge the weak link into a stronger one on the crew.

It can happen. Next the produce manager needs to work with the weak-link clerk one-on-one as much as possible. This also goes for the remaining crew members whose challenge is to help the weak link out, to guide, teach, hold accountable, and, especially, encourage.

That last word is critical. Not only is it in everyone’s interest to help someone who’s not as strong (not as fast, as knowledgeable, etc.) to increase production and accuracy, but to do so in the most positive way. Saying things such as, “Let me show you a shortcut I use to prep these leafy greens,” will be accepted more readily than “You’re too slow and need to cut your prep time in half.”

Some good-natured comradery and wholesome competition isn’t a bad approach either. 

The best thing of all, of course, is to work together as a unit. Help each other out. It’s a team effort.

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 [email protected].

Submitted by Becky Grace on Wed, 04/11/2018 - 07:18

And sometimes it's better for that weak link to move on to another position where he or she is a better fit, right?

Submitted by Alan Pieroway on Wed, 09/05/2018 - 13:03

This is true in every industry. I've had some work done in my backyard this summer. A deck company and a fence company. Neither would I recommend - each for the same reason. In each case the weakest link is the helper worker who just doesn't understand the need for accuracy in the work they do. The owners know it. The rest of the crew knows it (hopefully). But when one guy doesn't treat every joint, every nail, as being important enough to get it right, then that reflects in the finished job and the potential for repeat work, or word of mouth advertising.