Mid-Level Supervisors Struggle to Find Middle Ground

June 25, 2008

For more than 20 years now, the food industry in the U.S. has been in a consolidation mode.

Mergers and acquisitions have allowed food processors to expand their share of market while reducing the total labor needed to produce this output. Consolidations also have created the multi-disciplined workforces of today. Breaking down the barriers of “functional silos” certainly has improved management efficiency; however, the “jack-of-all-trades” job description has left many employers, as well as employees, questioning the value of their efforts. From the employee viewpoint, they are working more hours under higher levels of stress and their efforts are less appreciated.

Recent surveys of food company executives indicate that senior managers have an increased concern regarding the quality and cost of their workforce. To better understand this issue, lets look at a packing line that has four basic elements. The efficiency of each of these separate operations is 80 percent, 82 percent, 85 percent and 90 percent. This gives us an overall line efficiency of 50 percent. Anyone who has spent time working on a line like this understands the feeling of being under pressure all day long. Likewise if your base job has four functional requirements and you are 80 percent, 82 percent, 85 percent and 90 percent efficient in each area, your total job efficiency is 50 percent. You feel higher levels of stress and it seems you’re working harder every day. At the same time your company feels they are only getting half as much accomplished versus their expectations.

The key to resolving this disconnect is to provide a better definition of job requirements in your base job description and outline development programs that will improve job performance while helping management understand the downtime tradeoffs with multi-functional job creation. The more multi-functional the job description, the more training time required for the job and therefore less on-job hours. This may be the key basis for you justifying higher headcount to produce a more productive work week.

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