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

A produce manager e-mailed this to me recently: “What’s the best way to motivate my crew?”

It’s a simple question that has no easy answers. Most successful produce managers I know have developed their crews over the years with several methods, and no single one works in all circumstances. Whether they realize it or not, produce managers apply a certain style, even psychology, to crew management.

I’ve found over the years that individuals will rise to a certain amount of challenge. And it doesn’t hurt to give detailed expectations to clerks. Tell them what you want, how you want it done, and the time frame you expect each task to take. Follow this up with repetition. Consider that you’re in a teaching role, and good instructors know that lessons are best learned with patience and repetition.

I’ve also come to believe that the vast majority of clerks want to do a good job. In the instances there was a disconnect between manager and crew was often the result of the manager not communicating well — not necessarily because individuals on the crew were hard-headed.

Motivating a produce crew is often just this: Give them responsibility. Tell them that you expect them to do certain things on a regular basis without being told. Come to work a little early to walk the department, study updates on bulletin boards or see what merchandising changes are in store for the shift.

Clerks should arrive equipped to do their job. Tell them to carry a copy of the week’s ad in their back pocket for easy reference. Maybe a store directory too, so they don’t wander off in search of capers or taco seasoning every time they encounter a misguided customer.

Clerks should come to work with a pen and pocket notepad to write their stocking lists, a sharp trim knife and box cutter in their sheath and coffee machine change for their break.

A good clerk should know all these things and more: Knowing what the stocking priorities are, learning that they should not only be helpful to customers but to fellow clerks as well.

A good clerk knows that an assigned area is theirs to maintain with a sense of urgency; that for the shift they’re working, that they “own” that area and are responsible for everything that goes on within and outside those perimeters.

Only by assigning responsibility can a produce manager then hold the clerk accountable. They want — actually need — to feel a part of the whole.

More motivation is rarely required.

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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