Great movies always capture our attention. They create a story around a relatable main character who, of course, encounters challenges. An evil antagonist often thwarts the efforts of the protagonist, yet the main character becomes the hero who overcomes all obstacles and lives happily ever after.

Working in Food Safety and Quality (FSQ) can feel like the movies. There's always action, something unexpected, a couple of evil antagonists, and maybe even a few tears. What happens when the fearless hero, the FSQ Leader, is caught in a loop of dread and doom? Is there ever a happy ending to the FSQ story? 

The short answer is: yes.

FSQ can be analogous to movies that are not PG-rated because they include inappropriate content, like frustration, burnout, and challenges with work/life balance. While dramas and thrillers are good for entertainment, when these genres of films play out in real life at work, they don't often lead to success. 

Writing a plan for FSQ can be daunting, much like writing a screenplay. The focus on producing an award-winning screenplay for Food Safety Culture means you must scrutinize different parts of the production to deliver a box office wonder. Three areas to evaluate as you're drafting your FSQ plan include:

First, as the FSQ leader, you must actively and wholeheartedly play your part. We've often seen our teams and clients struggle to transition from being a do-er to a leader. Have you ever:

  • Been focused on getting one more thing off your to-do list instead of reaching out to check in with a team member?
  • Been focused on getting tasks done that should be delegated to your team members?
  • Constantly asking your team to share the details of what they're working on because you felt you always had to be prepared with the right answer? 
  • Felt frustrated that the organization wouldn't allocate time and money for you and your team to further develop skills?

If you answered "yes" to any of the questions above, you're not alone. When most people get promoted or take on a new role in an organization, the normal approach is to keep doing what made them successful to deserve the promotion. If it worked before, it will work again, right? Wrong. Fully stepping into the FSQ leader role takes a different skill set than what made you successful in your previous role. Instead of focusing on the actions above, consider other ways you can step into being the leader:

  • As you increase your leadership responsibilities, spend less time on executional work (to-do lists) and more time on connecting with your team members. Connecting with team members, both within your function and cross-functionally, gives you an accurate pulse on how your vision and leadership are being interpreted and executed, and ultimately the FSQ culture of your organization.
  • Delegate! Delegation not only ensures that your team members grow, but they will also feel empowered and have more ownership in the vision and strategy you are implementing. An empowered team that takes ownership is a winning strategy for implementation.
  • Constantly asking your team for the nitty-gritty details cancels out the empowerment and ownership they feel. Instead of asking them for every detail, when appropriate, invite them to provide the details themselves to the senior leadership team. This will show that you support them and give them credit for their work.
  • It can be frustrating when you encounter stumbling blocks in getting the support you need to develop your team. Instead of focusing on this frustration, focus on what you can control. What internal training or resources can you use to develop the team? Can you deprioritize tasks to lighten your team's workload? Is there a more standardized way to communicate your needs to the organization? These actions are within your control and will likely lower the amount of frustration you are feeling.

The second area to keep in mind is to practice your lines. Being a successful lead actor takes practice, practice, and more practice. Many film stars may have a natural gift for acting, yet still seek outside help to reach beyond their current level of knowledge and achieve a higher level of performance. FSQ leaders need to do the same—reach beyond what they already know. Consider if another technical certification or short course would help you or your team reach a higher level of performance. Or perhaps hiring a business management company would help your organization build a strategy that reaches beyond your traditional scope to set your organization up for success in the long term. 

As an FSQ leader, you're responsible for the progress of the bigger picture, not just programs. This shift requires new skills such as strategic, tactical, and operational planning to ensure that everyone knows their part, the film gets edited, and the premier is a success. Employ a number of strategies to develop those skills and practice your lines:

  • Connect with strong FSQ leaders within and outside of your organization by joining a networking group or attending a conference to learn best practices on leading and influencing a team, and implementing a winning strategy. 
  • Hire a consultant to help you develop your short-term and long-term strategies to ensure that your message is clear, concise, and ready to be implemented.
  • Find a partner to practice your lines with—a.k.a. your accountability partner! This could be a peer, a mentor, and/or a formal coach.

Lastly, you need to connect with the audience. As with any great film, the goal is to encourage the audience to connect with a character so that they go on the journey through the film with the character. Great scenery, costumes, and dialogue contribute to this connection; however, the genuine connection comes from the empathy and compassion the audience feels with the main character. 

As the FSQ leader (the "main character"), you can't afford to have your audience assume what's happening or what part they should play in the FSQ journey. Your focus must be connecting people to FSQ principles and behaviors to achieve the sustainable food safety culture you desire. The only way to do that is through intentional leadership.

  • Create a shared vision. This happens through copious amounts of two-way communication. It's throwing out a vision and having others fill in, modify, and create a bigger vision than you could alone. Perfect it from the perspective of those involved.
  • Block out time each day to engage in conversation with others up, down, and across your organization to build trust. Your calendar shows your priorities. Make people a priority.
  • Understand alignment in behaviors as evidence that you're connecting with the audience. If behaviors aren't matching what you'd expect, it's a great opportunity to explore what that means regarding the understanding of the shared vision. 

A blockbuster hit is bound to be in your future if you take into consideration these tips while creating your food safety culture. Creating a happy ending in FSQ is possible, even if multiple edits are required and new scenes need to be written by you, the FSQ leader. Now, you're ready for lights, camera, and action!