A fellow auditor once shared a candid remark that a client made: “You may be a food safety auditor, but what you really are is the food safety police.”
Oddly enough, it was not the first time I had heard something like that. In fact, I too was once told this, many moons ago. It did get me thinking and made me wonder whether auditors from other industries experienced the same thing as well. Having transitioned from being a food safety auditor to an organizational culture consultant, one thing is clear: One’s professional title defines professional authority and not their personal identity. However, in practice, we follow the opposite—we allow our title to become our identity and, at times, overstep our authority when it’s not acknowledged. For instance, think about how you introduced yourself to someone or vice versa. See the pattern there?
Food safety professionals have the ability to positively impact food safety culture through emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is often mistaken for emotion suppression. In fact, it’s the opposite. Emotional intelligence is being aware of the emotion that you’re feeling, understanding how it’s impacting you, and being aware of how that emotion is impacting others around you. Considering how the human brain is hard wired to be defensive, it’s easier to be reactive than it is to be reflective.
Here are a few ways food safety professionals can practice emotional intelligence, especially in the pandemic age.
Check In With Your Technical Team
If your organization is currently HACCP (or a similar standard) certified, then you’re familiar with the importance of cadence team meetings. As the team lead, you may be working with multi-disciplinary team members who do not report to you. Nevertheless, you still have the ability to keep things human, co-create an inclusive environment, and help your team members feel valued.
Something that I encourage HACCP teams to practice is pass-the-baton leadership, where team members take turns leading a HACCP meeting while practicing the underlying theme—checking in with their team members.
Align Your Emotional Intelligence With Your Values
It is possible to be compliant and ethical, if you choose to do so. Imagine being a plant supervisor who is able to motivate the bottom line to increase the facility’s output by compromising on their health and well-being (example, by pushing them to work overtime). Your ability to practice emotional intelligence correlates to what you value. While there are “good-intentioned” leaders who try to inspire and motivate their teams, it’s important for them to keep ethics at the forefront of how they make everyday decisions.
Implement an Open-Door Policy
One the best things about being a HACCP team leader is the ability to understand how other departments working alongside each other and what driving forces cause them to shift their priorities.
When I was the acting team lead for a manufacturing operation, I gained more visibility into why training needs were competing with operating needs. The human resource team would struggle to get the floor managers to commit to a training date, and the floor managers would struggle to gain flexible training options from human resources. Being the team lead meant acknowledging how both sides of the conversation felt and also helping them realize that they share a common goal.
Trust is the glue that binds us all, professionally and personally. Maintaining an open-door policy means that you are accessible to your team and that you are ready to hear them out. The more people feel comfortable communicating with you, the more you will be able to see the bigger picture.
Practice Self Care
Here’s a fun (and insightful) exercise. Ask your team members to list the five things they value most in their lives. While most of them may list their spouses, children, partners, pets, or cars, very rarely, will people list themselves. Whether you are a food safety team member or leader, your time and energy are both finite resources. To practice emotional intelligence, you need to first practice self care. Without navigating your own emotions, understanding what your triggers are, and what actions you can take to be fully present for your team (and family), it is hard to be emotionally intelligent.
Whether we realize it or not, emotional intelligence plays a strong role when it comes to food fraud investigations, product recalls, traceability, food safety inspections, and training professionals. Take a moment to think about ways we can make food safety purpose and value-driven through emotional intelligence.