Look to the future: A smart succession plan can be vital for fresh produce business survival

HR event 2019 David Frost Total Produce 2

David Frost says, 'If we want to encourage innovation and change, we’ve got to make it sure it’s explicit in our values that we welcome constructive challenge ... and that we reward that thinking.'

(This is the second in a four-part series of stories on workforce development in the produce industry)

Speaking at the inaugural HR event for the UK fresh produce trade, David Frost, group organisational development director at Total Produce, addressed the future workforce within the fresh produce sector, stressing the need for succession planning and providing practical examples of how to develop leadership talent, encourage worker engagement and innovative thinking.

Revealing statistics that indicate the average age of UK farmers is 59 years old, and the average age of UK senior executives is 60 years old, Frost urged attendees to ensure they have succession planning in place.

“It’s not unusual in many businesses to see the combined service of key people to be centuries; therefore effective succession planning is vital,” he commented.

To tackle it, Frost suggested following a simple model. Starting with the most senior levels, ascertain who at this present time can be replaced permanently, temporarily and in the next two to three years. 

“This is key for the future,” he stated. “Build a picture with a name in every box for the succession planning process. From a risk point of view, it makes sense.” 

Added to that, Frost stressed the need for HR professionals to address employee engagement and tenure considering current average UK worker statistics across all industries. According to the data he presented, the average tenure of a UK employee is just five years, with 52% of UK people when surveyed stating that they were looking for a new job. 

Furthermore, the proportion of graduates that are coming into UK businesses and staying for five years plus is 50%, added Frost. 

“Businesses are losing half,” he said. “To me, that’s a big attrition; they’re not holding onto the very people that they need to have that longevity, and to build up experience that is essential.” 

Meanwhile, Frost said that only 38% of employees on average in the UK feel they are appreciated. However, if they were made to feel more appreciated and effectively managed, 72% said they would work harder. 

To support worker engagement and its succession planning, Total Produce has started what it calls a “talent pipeline” that is linked to its company values. 

“It’s not an HR initiative; it’s a business initiative to make sure we have a pipeline for the future,” Frost explained. “We can’t offer Google-style offices in London, but we can have a serious conversation with people about where they want to go in their career. We’re not corporate but we can be very personal.” 

To that end, Total Produce is enabling employees to participate in an online programme run by Cranfield University to develop their strategic business skills through a mix of business simulation and education.

“We’re looking for people who’ve been in the business for two to three years, have demonstrated can they perform and they line up with the values of the organisation; for example, they are committed and excited about the future of the company,” Frost explained. 

At the same time, Total Produce is developing a “coaching culture” to help staff ask questions, devolve responsibility, encourage new thinking and build the confidence to challenge colleagues or situations.

“I don’t think you can have an innovative culture unless you have strong coaching skills,” Frost stated.

Importantly, Frost advised the HR professionals in the room to build a coalition of support from a wide range of individuals within their respective organisations.

“If you try on your own, you won’t get anywhere,” he noted. “Engage with senior teams  and understand their business challenges. “Then you can talk about your employer brand and reputation. You can’t do that until you’ve got the above in place.”

When it comes to encouraging innovative thinking, Frost reminded the audience that innovation is just a “new way of doing something.” 

He said one way to keep ahead is to remain aware of significant developments globally. “I think having awareness of what’s happening in other industries keeps us fresh and challenges how we’re working,” he commented.

For example, Frost said interesting innovations identified by the Total Produce team include the vertical farming operations owned by Emirates Airlines. Plus, the emergence of online grocery delivery service Instacart in the USA, which in six years has grown rapidly to US$6 billion (bn), which Frost compared with the £5bn current value of Marks & Spencer in the UK. 

Added to that, Frost said HR teams must be wary of “the power of culture” and help employees to challenge preconceptions that are false, such as “the boss wouldn’t like it.”

“If we want to encourage innovation and change, we’ve got to make it sure it’s explicit in our values that we welcome constructive challenge ... and that we reward that thinking,” Frost explained.

View David’s presentation here. 

To read PBUK’s other report from the HR event, use the link below: 

New HR event envisages future workplace, workforce and working practices.

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