Tag Archives: professional development

Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota
FST Soapbox

The Changing Face of Leadership in the Food and Beverage Industry

By Jennifer van de Ligt, Ph.D.
No Comments
Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota

Our food system is facing daunting challenges. We must adapt our food systems to sustainably feed almost 10 billion people by 2050 in a world with shifting climate and environmental pressures. In addition, we need to reduce the rising number of undernourished people (an estimated 821 million people in recent years) and confront the significant issue of more than 30% of food production being lost or wasted. Tackling these challenges will require collaboration across all aspects of the food system to assure that production processes, policies and regulations, food safety practices, and affordability align to assure we live in a food secure future. However, most of the current generation of leaders in the food industry has not approached leadership from the systems-thinking approach that will be required to succeed.

Thus, focusing on developing the right skills in the rising next generation of leaders in the food and beverage industry in order to solve these problems will be critical. We need people who can think broadly and are empowered to navigate the complexities of the global food system. Professionals in the food industry need to think beyond the specialties and silos where they currently work. Approaching food problems in an open-minded and cross-disciplinary way will achieve better results for business growth, population well-being, food production and planet sustainability.

In my decades of working in the food industry, I was acutely aware of the challenges that we would face in the future. Now, as part of the Integrated Food Systems Leadership program at the University of Minnesota, we are addressing these issues by helping to train the future leaders that will transform the food system. The following topics are just a few of the areas that we see as essential to develop the food leaders of tomorrow.

Next-Gen Leaders with a Holistic Approach

One of the key steps for new leaders in food and beverage industry is to adapt to food systems thinking. Most professionals were hired for their knowledge in a specific area. Now, to become next-gen leaders, they will need to think about the whole food production system and how all decisions made in this system, from sourcing and production to supply chain and retail sale, affect people and the environment.

Where we source our food and how we produce it is truly global and interconnected. The ingredient and material supply chains are vast and complex. We can no longer afford not to take into consideration where and how these items are being sourced and supplied. Additionally, we can no longer afford not to be responsible for the products produced and how they are affecting the health and well-being of consumers as well as the planet.

The next generation of leaders, no matter what part of the food system they are working in, will need to understand these relationships and think about how all these little pieces from production to marketing and sales work together. When one change is made to the system, whether the idea is from R&D or the marketing department or is caused by a new regulation, this will produce ripple effects across the food system.

True Leadership vs. Management in the Food System

Often times, the idea of leadership is thought of as just managing people—observing a team and making sure each person is doing their job. This is management and not a true definition of leadership. To be a leader means you have a vision and can paint a clear picture of what you see to others. Leaders build relationships with people who help turn a vision into reality. Leaders aren’t afraid to change the status quo and take risks if those risks will help the long-term plan. Leaders help their team achieve more than any individual on the team thought possible.

Leaders have many qualities. First, they have ideas that should be heard. However, in order for those ideas to see the light of day, professionals must know how to communicate so their opinions and thoughts are considered. Knowing how to package a vision and communicate it more effectively are critical to leadership development.

Second, leaders desire to have a meaningful impact in the world. To be able to effect change, seeing the bigger picture and understanding the interdependencies throughout the food system is paramount. As part of this, they want and need to help other people be heard to move the vision and plan forward. They will need the skills to foster collaboration and innovation within their teams and across disciplines to help everyone succeed in making the changes needed in the food system.

Third, although leaders want to grow their companies, they also want to grow personally. When a vision is created and steps taken to pave the way for that vision to come to fruition, a journey begins. Leaders know that any journey embarked upon is a life-changing experience, and they welcome that new stage.

Finally, it is important to note that leaders can be found in more places than the corner office. Leaders are not just CEOs, but come in varying roles and titles. Developing people’s leadership potential, style and goals for whatever capacity they work in is a critical part of leadership building. Leaders exist within every team, department and work group across a business. Finding them, to grow and foster their potential, is the challenge.

Fostering Professional Development in the Field

Food and beverage companies can do a great deal to address these pressing issues today by instilling a culture of learning in the organization. I have found, more often than not, people who enter this industry are passionate about it. However, when individuals enter a company, especially early in their career, they sometimes face a crisis of faith moment and question that their lifelong training has not prepared them for what they truly want to do.

Many times those in the industry feel like they have ideas or skills that aren’t being leveraged. They may feel like they aren’t being heard or that they’ve been pigeon-holed into one segment of or role in the business. These professionals could be the collateral damage of silo mentality and lack of a culture of learning and growth, especially when they are high-value and have specialized knowledge. Corporations have perfected efficiency by keeping certain departments, and individuals within them, separated in order to optimize their segment’s function. But slotting the business, and individuals, into distinct categories can hinder the ability of these organizations to see and understand the big picture.

By breaking down this silo mentality and promoting systems thinking, businesses can help their talented and dedicated people grow their career, become a better leader, and enable a move across the lattice structure within an organization. Many times these individuals feel a little lost in the mix and frustrated as a cog in the machine and are looking for growth opportunities. This doesn’t necessarily mean they want to move vertically within the organization, but rather learn and grow laterally or diagonally within an organization to both enhance their career and provide a broader benefit to the entire business.

When companies equip professionals with critical-thinking skills, they are developing their professionals who want to make a meaningful impact within their organizations as well as in the entire food system. This is true empowerment to improve the future of food and make companies viable and competitive for the future.

If a company doesn’t have this training ability internally, organizations can support programs that are helping to build these leaders. Programs like the new Integrated Food Systems Leadership are designed to help future leaders bridge the current skills gap in the food system. These future leaders will have the tools to drive the change critical for many companies to succeed while we feed the future.

Joy Dell'Aringa, bioMerieux
FST Soapbox

The Value of Industry Engagement in Professional Organizations

By Joy Dell’Aringa
4 Comments
Joy Dell'Aringa, bioMerieux

We moved to Chicago five years ago. A massive city, and an epicenter of the food industry. I was at once excited and overwhelmed—afloat in a great lake of network overload. Removed from my comfort zone, I searched for ways to meet people and integrate into this new community. Upon suggestion of a trusted friend and experienced networker, I decided to try my hand at volunteering at an event hosted by the Chicago Section of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). That singular decision launched one of the most fulfilling journeys in both my professional and personal life. Now, five years later, I have made countless meaningful and personal connections, developed long-term relationships, and made an impact in my professional community. What started out as a way to navigate the complex circuitry of the Chicago food landscape has turned into a personal voyage for industry advocacy, leadership and contribution.

I am not alone. I have the pleasure to work and serve with colleagues around the globe that have experienced similar fulfillment by engaging with various professional organizations. Similarly, the companies that we work for reap the benefits of our involvement. Here, we will explore the value of industry engagement through the lens of the individual and the employer.

Employee Value: Top 5 Reasons to Engage

1. Professional Development – Safe Ways to Stretch Into New Roles & Skill Sets

When Pam Coleman, vice president of research services at Merieux Nutrisciences and incoming president-elect for IFT first started volunteering early in her career as a bench chemist, she found opportunities to lead groups and committees. “I developed new skills in a really safe way. As a volunteer, you can try new things, test the waters, and get relatively diverse experiences to see what you enjoy, what you don’t, and where you want to develop and explore.” The wide range of opportunities in industry organizations can offer a glimpse into future career development, or offer a learning experience that rounds out your professional repertoire. For example, joining a finance committee can stretch you outside of your comfort zone, but prepare you with skills and perspectives for future management roles. Participating on a fundraising committee can sharpen your influencing and organizational skills. Leading a technical group can offer opportunities to deep dive into a technology or discipline that can spark a passion to develop expertise in a new area. These cross-functional opportunities may not be readily available in your company, but industry organizations are always looking for professionals to volunteer.

2. Develop Your Network & Identify Mentors

Industry organizations are wrought with peers and potential mentors. Networking at events and symposiums will bring you in contact with people doing the same things as you are, facing the same challenges. You also have the opportunity to interact with the regulatory sector to learn from them. “Early in my career, my former manager built relationships with regulatory technical leaders at the USDA through industry organization involvement, and it was a great advantage for us when we ran into analytical challenges in the lab—she was able to personally call them and get suggestions and insights. They developed a rapport. This was a big lesson for me as a young volunteer. Your network can be an analytical asset.” Mentor opportunities abound as well. I have personally found that the more I engage with my organizations, the more trust I built within my network, the more mentorship opportunities naturally develop. I’ve honed valuable professional and life skills through these relationships: Conflict resolution, contract negotiations, and 501(c)3 organization creation to name just a few of the arduous tasks my organizational mentors have helped and supported me with. Building relationships across technical disciplines also holds advantage. As a microbiologist, it is fascinating to work with product developers and learn where our challenges and opportunities intersect. Not only can you network with technical peers, but also industry partners, vendors, suppliers and competitors to bring a well rounded perspective to see the industry through a truly holistic lens.

3. Gain Industry Insights

What’s new in your industry? What emerging trends are on the horizon? Engaging within industry organizations can bring keen insights well before they are published in our industry magazines and keynote presentations. Educational learning opportunities through technical committees, short courses, and symposiums can bring key advantages to giving you and your company a jump on implementing new technologies and trends. Understanding regulatory changes, implications, and perhaps most important, insights on how regulators will interpret and enact changes can also be gleaned from organization engagement. You can also gain exposure and experience with new business models such as zero-based budgeting and account-based marketing, which can lead to additional opportunities and advantage for you and your company.

4. Create Your Personal Brand

Who are you in the Industry? What do you want to be known for? Through industry engagement you can develop your personal brand and carry that image into your career. Do you strive to be a facilitator and connector? Run for a leadership position. Do you want to be known as a technical leader and subject matter expert? Lead a technical committee or task force. Do you want to be seen as a reliable contributor? Offer to develop content for a technical newsletter, or volunteer for a marketing committee. Not sure what you want your personal brand to look like? Try multiple roles and opportunities to see what inspires and fulfills you, and then pursue that with gusto. “When I look back and think, ‘How did I go from a bench chemist to this?'”, reflects Coleman, “I am certain I wouldn’t be where I am in my career today if it weren’t for my experiences and opportunities in organizations like IFT.”

5. Personal Fulfillment – Increased Health & Happiness

Industry advocacy and engagement can bring an immense sense of personal fulfillment, especially when you are able to make a contribution and an impact to the organization. Not only that, it can make you feel better, too: A 2010 United healthcare/VolunteerMatch (UHVM) study found that volunteering has a positive influence on physical and emotional health. One of the common objections to engaged volunteering is time, or lack of it. However, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School recently found that those who volunteer not only feel more accomplished, but they also found they could do even more, as “giving your time to others can make you feel more ‘time affluent’ and less time-constrained”. In the words of my trusted networker friend that set me off on my volunteering journey five years ago: “The more you do, the more you can do.”

Quick TIPS:

  • Be Clear on Your Time: No matter how many or few hours you can devote, be upfront with the organization about how much time you can commit and what your goals are.
  • Think Local: Don’t forget your regional sections and chapters. Your organization(s) of choice also may have specialty groups and divisions that match your expertise or an area you may want to explore.
  • Get Out of the Booth: For those of us accustomed to working the trade show floor, challenge yourself to one meeting a year where you are there to learn. Get out of the booth. Absorb technical insights and trends. Bring back your learnings to your team and help connect the dots.

Employer Value: Top 5 Reasons to Support Engagement

1. Gain Company Influence & Visibility

Paid sponsorship opportunities are always available (and appreciated) but are often limited to financial contribution, and the benefit of company logo and online web banner opportunities. Real value is in visibility of your brand through your people. Supporting your employees to lead and engage puts your brands’ voice in a position of influence and contribution. Imagine if your company could influence industry guidance on topics that matter most to your brand? Encouraging your employees to lead in trade and technical organizations puts them in a position to do just that.

2. Customer & Industry Insights

Engagement in industry organizations also brings ‘boot- on-the-ground’ insights on the voice and needs of your customers. This is where you will find what the real emerging needs and challenges are in our B2B world. Dave Goins, COO of Q Laboratories and a leading proponent of employee contribution to technical organizations agrees. “A key benefit Q Laboratories enjoys [of our scientists involvement]I s they get to ‘complete the picture’ when it comes to the importance to our clients on the testing we do for them, and the reasons why we approach our analytical business the way we do.” Instead of only relying on analytics, market trend reports, and legacy industry assumptions—encouraging your people to get out from behind their desks, or off the bench, and engaging with the customers and market directly will not only provide insight on their present needs, but can also give a peek into the proverbial crystal ball of needs to come and give your company a competitive edge.

3. Leadership Creation & Development

“Our employees gain valuable confirmation at these meetings” reflects Goins, “and as a result of their engagement and contributions we see careers, development and advancement accelerate for these individuals within Q Laboratories.” Putting forth employees to engage in industry organizations in leadership roles can help them develop from good to great. Not only does this provide leadership cultivation, but also opportunities to develop technical competencies at a more rapid pace with shared resources. Employees can hone soft skills too, such as emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, negotiation and collaborative skills that they will bring back to work.

4. Learn from the Industry & Contribute to Problem Solving

Industry engagement, especially from a technical perspective, allows your company and your people to collaborate and learn from others successes and mistakes. “Our people have the added benefit of having the opportunity to share experience and ideas with other highly qualified individuals who often face the same challenges our teams face every day,” says Goins. Your team can build on those insights to ensure your company’s continued success. Engagement also provides opportunity for your company to present itself as a market leader in setting policy and launching innovative solutions. With the right idea, the right platform, and the right audience, your company could be poised to be the champion and realize the success of the next “blockchain-like” revolution.

5. Your Competitors are Doing It

It goes without saying that we are all looking for that competitive edge, the premium exposure, and the increased market share for our brand and solutions. As industry organizations are recruiting members, volunteers and leaders, they are seeking engaged individuals who want to contribute and champion the organizations mission and vision. If it isn’t your people filling those roles, it will be your competition’s people. Your competitors will learn and connect in deep, meaningful ways and build relationships with your current and prospective customers. Research also shows that companies that encourage volunteering enjoy increased employee loyalty and increased employee retention. Bottom line: Supporting Industry organizations through employee engagement is good for your people, and good for business.

Quick TIPS:

  • Invest & Incentivize Engagement: Pay for memberships and meetings, and reward employee leadership and participation on committees, working groups and elected positions.
  • Formalize a Program: Partner with key industry organizations to create an ambassador program within your company to share happenings and opportunities. In the end, you will have a powerful group of engaged employees in various organizations making an impact and championing your brand.
  • Think Outside of the Lab: While encouraging technical employees to engage, also consider the less obvious team members to get involved: Sales, marketing, human resources, finance and executive-level teams. Often, industry organizations suffer from monoculture challenges and can use expertise from other professional backgrounds to improve. As a result, your team will gain exponential insights, influence and opportunities.