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

To what extent should a produce manager shell out disciplinary action?

It depends. In the years of managing produce crews — some that certainly had their share of, uh, challenging employees, I can honestly say the amount of formal disciplinary actions tallied zero.

That’s right. I never had to write anyone up. Ever. Oh, I came close. In fact, I once took over a particularly rambunctious crew, run on an interim basis by a feisty assistant produce manager.

The assistant briefed me on all the paperwork he had initiated before I arrived. He had managed to write up just about everyone on the crew for everything from tardiness to jaywalking.

I saw that my merchandising plans might have to wait.

Be fair and firm

My approach was simple. I advised the well-meaning assistant that I believe that every clerk, deep-down, wants to do a good job. I also suspect that there are far fewer problem clerks out there than anyone realizes, and how they perform has everything to do with how a produce manager trains them and, further, how they are treated.

Extend every courtesy, be fair but firm, listen to what the clerks have to say, and it’s amazing how well they respond in kind.

This doesn’t mean I was the no-weapon, but ever-so-wise Andy Griffith-type of sheriff. Far from it. But most produce crews are eager to please. Providing consistency in guidance and direction (and showing a willingness to jump in and lend a hand) goes a long way in earning a crew’s respect.

As was in the case of the overly disciplined crew, my initial approach was to reach out and find out exactly what each crew member desired. Many times they simply wanted consistency in scheduling, such as wanting a couple of days off in a row, or Wednesday nights free to go bowling. Normal, everyday stuff.

In all cases, this single act of connecting with the employee works miracles.

Suddenly, the crew realizes that the produce manager is trying to look out for them.

Turning the tables

It doesn’t mean that all issues can be cleared up with one sweep — and in many instances (because of the sometimes harsh nature of retail demands) it simply isn’t possible to keep everyone happy. The fact that you are willing to help will get their attention.

That’s when the tables turn. This is the point when the produce manager can spell out what it is that he or she wants in return: Punctuality, doing quality work, interacting with customers.

When everyone (including the produce manager) is happy, there is little need for disciplinary write-ups.

I can sum up good management with this comment from President Dwight D. Eisenhower: “If I push it, it does nothing. If I pull it, it will follow me everywhere.”

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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