While organizing my desk I opened the bottom drawer and came across Russ T. Blade smoking and shuffling papers. Rusty, as many readers know, is the miniature produce manager that lives in my desk. He helps me with ideas for The Produce Aisle.

Chart a course for assistants to move up

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

Me: Looks like you’re doing the same new year duties as me, Rusty.

Rusty: Not exactly. I’m working on my plan to get my assistant, Simka Rosa, on track to put her on the promotion list for her own store.

Me: How much experience does an assistant manager need before they’re ready?

Rusty: It isn’t so much the time they have as much as if they are accomplished in all the areas on their training chart. Some assistants are ready in a few months, though most take longer.

Me: So how close is Simka Rosa?

Rusty: She ran things very well while I was gone for two weeks last hunting season. And last year I was out for 10 days for minor surgery during the height of summer business. She did very well.

Me: Sounds like she’s ready now.

Rusty: Close, but a lot of people get their own department based on a few weeks’ success. All those items on the training chart are there for a reason. Simka still needs exposure in dealing with some common teamwork concepts, as well as handling conflict.

Me: Subjective items. Those are on the training chart?

Rusty: I’m sure those are not on any chart, but these are important management skills she’ll need in order to survive.

Me: What can you do to help?

Rusty: For starters, I want to turn the department over to her for a few weeks at a time. Let her assume all control of scheduling, merchandising, planning and a good deal of the ordering. The “people” issues will naturally form from there.

Me: So you’ll assume the assistant position — supportive, but giving her lots of freedom.

Rusty: There’s one more thing I want her to do, if it’s possible.

Me: Yes?

Rusty: As much as I like her and want to solely guide her, I’d like her to work for one more produce manager before she gets promoted.

Me: Even though she’s mostly ready now? Won’t that frustrate her?

Rusty: The more produce managers an assistant works for the better. I’m good, but don’t for a minute think I’m God’s gift to produce. Every manager has strengths to offer, so moving around helps.

Me: It is good of you not to hold her back. You’ll miss her I’m sure.

Rusty put out his cigarette against the heel of his shoe.

“Gotta take care of my assistants” he said, smiling. “Someday I may have to work for one of them.”

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. E-mail armandlobato@comcast.net.

How do you train assistants to become managers? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.