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If the food industry really wants to change, start with hiring

If the food industry really wants to change, start with hiring
Hiring practices need to change if authentic, meaningful and sustainable change is going to occur at today’s largest food companies.

There are many things that need to be done to change Big Food. Most of them are regularly talked about. They include things like:

  • Changing marketing practices to resonate with changing consumer influencers
  • Looking for new inspiration for the product development process
  • Considering new business models which incorporate a more entrepreneurial approach
  • Balancing portfolios with yesterday’s cash cows and tomorrow’s new food brands
  • Making commitments to altering supply chains to incorporate more natural ingredients and sustainable methods
  • Altering manufacturing processes to minimize unnecessary processing and reduce waste
  • Considering new product formats which better align with evolving consumer need states
  • Refocusing on the company’s guiding values and goals for serving consumers
  • And the list goes on...

But one thing you don’t often hear about is changing hiring practices.

I would argue that if Big Food is going to make meaningful changes to its way of doing business, it must consider changing its hiring goals and criteria. I can’t say that I know what criteria are being used today, but my experience as an outsider with a view into many of these companies is that they aren’t hiring for the sort of criteria that are making today’s fast-growing food companies successful.

I’m not advocating throwing out all of today’s hiring practices. I do, however, believe that the criteria used today appear out of balance with the list below. It appears that the focus on hiring strong performers who often lack real passion for consumers or brand values creates a sort of imbalance that deteriorates authenticity and distorts decision making toward short-term, profit-only achievements that end up conveying a sort of "emptiness" and lack of "personality" to consumers.

If Big Food is going to make authentic, meaningful and sustainable changes, it will need to begin screening for business leaders and managers with:

  • Passion
  • Curiosity
  • Entrepreneurial spirit
  • Progressive food values
  • Appreciation for "food craft"
  • Empathy for consumers
  • Tolerance for risk
  • Desire to own something and see it through to completion
  • Willingness to learn through trial and error (yes, even failure)

I truly believe that hiring for some set of these criteria will be necessary to identify today’s and tomorrow’s opportunities and to nurture them into sizeable, profitable brands. Leaders and managers with these personal and professional characteristics will also be the ones best equipped to build meaningful connection and trust with consumers. Hiring for this sort of passion, empathy and ownership will help rebuild the "personality" of brands that seems to be missing from most big brands and most of Big Food today.

Obviously not everyone will make these changes; those content with nurturing their existing brands or happy to incrementally chase changing consumer demand will probably do fine for the foreseeable future. Those who really want to position themselves for long-term success in the changing food economy need to consider bigger changes to the way they do business. If you are going to get it right, first think hard about changing the way you hire, manage and motivate the people who will help make this possible.

What qualities are needed in leaders who will help push the food industry in the right direction?

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