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

I dozed off momentarily at my desk, and awoke just in time to see Rusty Blade sitting down, cross-legged on the base of my lamp. Rusty is my miniature, imaginary produce manager who lives in my desk.

Me: Huh? Oh hello old friend. You moved my lamp. How did you manage to do that by yourself?

Rusty: I didn’t. Had a couple of my crew members push it over for me so I don’t have to yell. I just sent them back to work before you, um, woke up. Want me to sing you a lullaby?

Me: Very funny. As I get older those five-minute cat naps are the best. I’m glad you mentioned delegation. I want to write something on the topic.

Rusty: You could start by talking about what happens when a produce manager doesn’t delegate.

Me: Good spark there. It seems we’ve both worked with produce managers that felt like they had to do it all: ordering, building displays, writing schedules, taking inventory and more.

Rusty: Deep down every produce manager wants to wear all the hats. It’s how we got to be managers in the first place. We could out-stock and out-hustle everyone else, except —

Me: Except what?

Rusty: Except what makes a produce manager good isn't necessarily any of those things. An exceptional produce department is one that looks good even when the manager isn’t there to hold everyone’s hand.

Me: And when they don’t?

Rusty: Look, sleepyhead. Running a produce department is a team effort. I’m the team leader, so I train everyone so that they can eventually train new clerks. I have a way of doing things and the point I make with everyone is that once trained, they are held accountable. Simple things, you know? Like arriving to work on time, being prepared so they aren’t walking around looking for a trim knife a half-hour into their shift, cleaning up their messes and jumping on what needs to be done without having to be told.

Me: I’m sure many a produce manager would echo the same.

Rusty: Of course I could a better job than most of my crew, but I remember a message that our preacher once said: “Better to put 10 people to work than to do the work of 10 people.” Any fool can work himself to death.

Me: Good delegation quote. You need to be able to take days off too, right?

Rusty: Speaking of which, I’m clocking out for the night. Can I trust you to resume that nap now?

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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