Boost OpEx and Safety Performance

Published on Jul 18, 2019
How effective management routines can boost operational excellence and safety performance at the same time


The role of frontline leaders

In the complex environment of the food industry, a good deal depends on the ability of supervisors and frontline leaders to understand, interpret, communicate and implement corporate strategie, while also keeping the shop floor engaged, motivated and focused. When this does not happen, quality, efficiency, safety and performance suffer.

At the same time, supervisors face increased reporting and data requirements and are under pressure from senior leadership to meet productivity and cost targets, as well as food safety standards and HSE goals. In fact, supervisors today not only have to lead, enforce and motivate, but are furthermore expected to function as teachers, enablers, connectors and change agents. It is a demanding, multifaceted role that requires good communication, decision making, conflict management, prioritisation and delegation skills.

Despite seeming insurmountable, achieving the best outcomes from frontline leaders is possible through the right training and approach. A leading specialist meat-packing business recently demonstrated the efficacy of the approach, as is demonstrated in the following pages.

A case study in frontline leader effectiveness

Like many organisations in the food manufacturing and processing sector, the workforce culture at the meat-packing business was reactive. The majority of employees trusted in their own instincts to get work done safely and effectively, and compliance with rules was a goal, but not a given. Safety was seen as the responsibility of the safety function and had no overlap with other areas. With a staff turnover of 33% and a workforce made up of a multilingual team, creating safety and performance ownership in pursuit of a common goal was an ambitious target.

By training all frontline leaders in crucial competencies such as communication, conflict resolution, performance management and meeting effectiveness, the food packaging company was able to help its supervisors develop the necessary observation skills to spot risks and waste, perform Gemba walks effectively and apply problem-solving skills to communicating with the workforce. Clear target setting, daily review meetings that discuss and track safety and performance KPIs, and the integration of new safety and performance leadership practices into existing management routines have engendered a sense of purpose that is crucial to moving the company from a reactive to a highly functional culture.

Senior leadership of the company had understood that safety and operational performance goals were not in conflict but were in fact dependent on each other. Focusing on both at the same time was the key to success. Instead of expecting safety professionals to talk to employees about safety and managers about performance, supervisors, shift managers and team leaders have been able to drive both.

Top 3 learnings for improving safety and performance in the food manufacturing industry.

1. Integrate safety with operational excellence.

Operations improvement efforts are often carried out in isolation and are not integrated with other performance aspects. This frequently leads to conflicting goals (e.g. productivity v. safety targets) and sub-optimal results. By integrating operational excellence with safety and using frontline leaders to communicate and create a sense of ownership in the workforce, companies are more likely to see lasting improvements in both areas.

2. Start at the top.

Without the support of senior management, frontline leaders do not have the weight, authority and credibility to drive change.

3. Management routines should incorporate safety and performance.

The value of communicating clearly, directly and unequivocally on KPIs to all levels in the organisation and recognising safety and performance efforts cannot be understated. If this is done regularly and repeatedly, organisations will create the behaviours they want to see.

To find out more about frontline leadership skills training and coaching to develop greater safety and performance ownership, please visit: