The Produce Aisle with Armand Lobato ( The Packer staff )

Hypothetical situation: A large, high-volume store’s very successful produce manager is about to transfer, quit or retire. Should the company automatically give the outgoing manager’s job to the assistant produce manager, or open the door to other possibilities?

Have I ever mentioned how much I loathe hypothetical questions?

All right, back to task. Well? I think it’s split down the middle out there among readers. I bet half will say, “Hey, the assistant knows the store, and has first-hand experience in the ‘big operation’ and, therefore, is the best candidate for the job.”

The other half is folding their arms as they read this. “Wait a second. Maybe there’s a stronger assistant who has perhaps worked in many stores, under several produce managers, and could very well be the stronger person to promote into the big store.”

For argument’s sake, we’re not considering a possible veteran produce manager to transfer in, by the way.

A lot is at stake here. I tend to be in the second camp that wants to evaluate all the options of the possible assistant produce managers who would be the best fit for the large-store promotion. And here’s why.

I’ve seen assistants who are just that — great assistants. I’ve seen it at department and even assistant store manager levels. They’re terrific backups, great at supporting the boss and carrying out all the programs, but leave them on their own too long, and, well — it just isn’t the same. They may elevate their game at some point, but this type seems to peak at the assistant level. 

Nothing wrong with that; we need good people at supportive positions. I always liked to open things up to see who had the desire, the interest. After all, with a volume produce stand comes big expectations. Could they manage the big show? What standards would they bring? New ideas, a fresh merchandising philosophy?

So much to consider, especially in the wake of a long history of solid performance. I’d want an assistant that was excited, hungry to take a crack at the big scene. But also, someone who was good with people, who could coach the younger clerks while still being able to coax quality work and productivity out of the senior clerks. Not an easy chemistry to attain, and hard to read in just an interview or two.

Sometimes the choice isn’t the most obvious, or the most popular. Perhaps you also transfer the existing assistant out, promote in a new produce manager and assign a fresh assistant too.

There’s no single right way, no wrong way. However, sometimes mixing things up gets a department moving in a direction you never even knew existed.

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].

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