Present day food safety processes, such as audits, have evolved—auditors are able to read historical data and contrast them against real-time current data, while simultaneously uploading their findings to a cloud server. Multiple outlets under a brand can track their food safety and hygiene milestones, or areas of improvements, through data driven benchmarked studies. Food and beverage brands that are meeting and exceeding the consumers’ expectations are doing so because of the direction provided by the leadership team. The following are four core competencies for forward-thinking food safety leaders.
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1. Business Acumen
Whether an organization is non-profit in nature, or owned by a private equity, it is critical for the people-leaders to have a comprehensive understanding of how the company generates revenue. This enables key decision-makers to be in tune with market trends and stay up to date on either intrinsic or extrinsic factors that might impact an organization’s net revenue. For example, a mass product recall can result in consumer churn, especially through media coverage. This in turn results in major budget cuts. Food safety leaders with great business acumen ensure the existing food safety and quality systems are in alignment with the company’s goals for the financial year.
2. Digital Skills
Big data, blockchain, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, etc., continue to reshape the way we approach food safety management systems (FSMS). For instance, IBM’s integrated approach by utilizing blockchain, has made upstream and downstream supply chain management more visible, transparent, and accurate. Food traceability systems have greatly benefited from this, and brands such as Walmart and Value Visionary are driving the culture of being customer centric by putting the end users first. Managers and supervisors need to invest more time to ensure their workforce remains aware, and updated, on technological advancements in the field of food safety and quality. This also makes for a great opportunity for leaders to collaborate with learning and development teams.
3. People Skills
Investing in developing people, before processes, yields better results. I once had the privilege of working under a leader who later on also became one of my mentors. This individual inspired me to challenge my critical thinking, negotiation, and influencing skills by involving me during the brainstorming sessions around business challenges. Food safety leaders of the 21st century can no longer rely on traditional approaches to leadership, such as micromanagement, being the accidental (or intentional) diminisher, and following the hierarchal approach to interacting with employees. People leaders in the food and beverage industry need to be mindful. In fact, most leaders confuse employee engagement with employee satisfaction, although both factors have an equally strong roll to play in productivity.
4. Industry-Specific Technical Skills
Varying levels of leadership will have a varying level of responsibility when it comes to maintaining an FSMS. For example, integrated pest control procedures would require a different skillset than clean-in-place processes. The benefit of having a cross-functional HACCP team is that varying levels of expertise can gel together to guarantee the overall success of the implemented HACCP system. Emphasizing on continual professional development will ensure the HACCP team members are proactively prepared for anticipated (or unexpected) changes.
The above-mentioned competencies illustrate the need for modern food safety leaders to remain in-sync with both the vision of the organization and the collective vision of the team said leaders are supporting.