The Multi-Generational Challenge
Baking companies all over the world are facing a multi-generational challenge in the marketplace and workforce. How are companies leading their employees to address the varied demands of their consumers and re-calibrating talent development programs to meet the diverse styles of their executives? American Bakers Association’s NextGenBaker Global Leadership Forum at the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) answered this question and more in front of an audience of baking industry professionals gathered Sept. 10 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Panel moderators NextGenBaker co-chairs Brent Bradshaw, Senior Vice President Core Brands for Flowers Foods, and Brandon Woods, Regional Account Manager for AMF Bakery Systems, guided panelists — Roy Benin, President, Category Strategy & Innovation, Weston Foods; Brad Alexander, COO, Flowers Foods; Carrie Jones-Barber, CEO, Dawn Foods; and Daniel Servitje, Chairman and CEO, Grupo Bimbo — through a discussion that delved into issues of maneuvering generational and global differences while searching for universal values.
Baking Industry Executives: How They Describe New Workplace and Market Environment in One Word
“Most likely all of you have baby boomers, Gen X, millennials and Gen Z working for you — each with their own preferences and their own preferred method of communicating, learning, and executing,” Woods said as he challenged each panelist to choose one word to describe the new workplace and market environment.
“We see ourselves as a four-generation company. At the end of the day what you need is an environment where everyone can feel accepted,” Servitje said.
He added that having teams spread across 32 countries only adds to that complexity.
“We’re a beliefs-centered company. What we’ve found is that our beliefs translate well in different countries and across the different generations.”
Benin agreed with Servitje and offered up the word “consistency.”
“People want to be the same person they are at work as they are outside,” Benin said. “We try to create a very authentic environment. I think if you’re authentic, it just enables. It becomes a platform for personal growth, and I think that’s a reason why people want to work in your organization, not only for the monetary benefit but also the idea of growing personally. That’s really critical.”
Benin added that he likes to meet one-on-one with team members of all generations to build relationships, leadership transparency, and trust.
“I have found that it fosters a safe environment where good news and bad news travels at the same speed,” he said. “And I think that’s really, really important in a fast paced world because things can change so quickly on a dime. And if I get bad news too late, I can’t impact it.”
Jones-Barber’s word was “transformative.”
“The reason I say that is we have many generations,” she said. “And we have to find a way of communicating and connecting with those generations in our organization and finding a way to connect them to our strategy and what our focus is and what our goals are.”
Jones-Barber said one collaboration strategy Dawn Foods tapped is using Workplace by Facebook. Connecting all 5,000 team members, the tool has transformed the way they do everything from live trainings and town halls to technical sales.
“We found that every generation is using it.” she said. “The baby boomers are using it just as much as the millennials and the Gen X. And that is what we didn’t expect.
Alexander’s word was “challenging,” with a focus on building on the talents of millennials.
“I think it’s important for managers to really get to know them to challenge them to give them feedback,” he said. “I think often in the past we didn’t give a lot of feedback to people. They always thought the boss calls you into the office because you’re in trouble. They want to be challenged. They want to be applauded. They want to get in and meet. We bring a lot of the younger team into meetings so they can observe and be part of it.”
One-on-one time is also vital to Alexander.
“That one-on-one time, for me, is very valuable to make sure that we’re in sync and to make sure that I value their opinions,” he said. “I get a lot of great ideas from them because I don’t have all the ideas.”
Alexander added that communication has been important lately to make sure that team members understand the vision of our new CEO.
“And I like to reaffirm those messages when I’m with the team members,” he said.
Inspiration and Innovation
Getting outside the office to seek inspiration is also important to Alexander.
“I like to be in grocery stores and club stores, convenience stores and all of that. It drives my wife crazy,” he said. “I like to look at the bread aisle and see what we’re doing and what competition is doing. But I also like to go to throughout the whole store. Let’s look at what’s going on in the cereal aisle. Let’s see what Frito-Lay is doing. They’re an amazing company. So try to look and see what other people are doing.”
Also key to the panel was communicating with customers. Benin said Weston Foods is pursuing a consumer-led vs a manufacturing-led innovation strategy.
“We need to constantly be talking to consumers and you need to constantly be proposing new ideas to them,” he said. “Twice a year we do an innovation tournament. We basically put out over 250 ideas to consumers, and we ask them what they think about them.”
In addition to polling for purchase intent, Weston Foods looks at food service menus to see what restaurant products could make their way to retail.
Jones-Barber said customer demand was at the heart of an innovative line launched at the 2019 IBIE — Dawn Balance Naturally Brilliant Buttercreme and Flat Icings, that are ready-to-use and all-natural sourced
“Customers want to be able to read the label and understand what that label says,” she explained. “I can recognize what they are, and they’re the same things I would find in my pantry. That’s what our Dawn Balance line is, it’s a line of better-for-you products with cleaner ingredients.”
“And they’re exactly what our customers are asking us for,” Jones-Barber said adding later, “Our mission is all about making sure we understand what our customers’ needs are and that we bring them the insights, the products, the technical expertise because our desire is to insure our customers achieve their aspirations, and for us that means that we get to make their dreams come true. We’re a partner with our customers, and we want to make them incredibly successful.”
Connecting with the Customer
Servitje said customer connection is key in the baking industry.
“I think that all of us have a mission, and it’s more than baking bread,” he said. “It’s really improving the lives of the people that serve or connect to our products. that’s a tall order, but it’s something that many others don’t get the opportunity to do – a chance to touch so many lives. We provide joy and moments of simple pleasure – and take care of nutritional needs. That should make us proud, that’s what’s special about this industry.”