Two articles ago, I started talking about the Strategic Learning Process composed of four steps: learn, focus, align and execute. I spoke to step number-1, learn, in terms of the need to pull together a few white papers related to the food industry – Canada Food Inc. These included a market analysis white paper, a competitiveness benchmarking white paper, and an operations sustainability white paper. In the last article I talked about step number-2, focus. Now let’s talk about the align and execute steps.
Alignment is the key
Having learned in the first step about global market trends, benchmarked our industry to our global competition, and learned more about what we need to do in the area of sustainability, we then went on to focus more deeply on the market’s needs, our strengths and opportunities, and our weaknesses and challenges. We then developed some overall industry or “corporate” strategies for Canada Food Inc. to take advantage of those strengths and opportunities while improving on our weaknesses to better meet the challenges. Then we broke those strategies down into the commodity sector and “brand” levels. So what now?
Well, within Canada Food Inc. we need to share those strategies across all commodity sectors and all levels of the value chain to try to get buy-in to this overall set of strategies. We must be prepared to challenge and defend the strategies for each area, but we must do so with the overall global benefit of Canada Food Inc. in mind. For example, perhaps some commodities would focus more on what we call commodity exports. Others may focus on more upscale, value-added, specialty exports. Others may focus on the domestic market and creating niches that they can defend against increasing exports. Perhaps we can brand Canadian food products/segments in such a way that Canada is the brand. I know this has been done in some areas already. And, in some cases, maybe – maybe – we need to switch production from one commodity with more limited market potential to another commodity or commodities where there is more market potential, or focus on a certain specialty segment where there is market opportunity.
From my point of view, this is where the Canadian food industry tends to be unsuccessful. We have so many silos in our industry – every level of the chain, every commodity sector, every brand, every region within those sectors builds a silo around their operations and just don’t collaborate the way they need to in order to be successful. Yes, I know that each area has needs and challenges that may be different than others, but it makes the word Canada become “can’t-ada.” There is no “t” in Canada. In our industry we all use the same natural resources – soil or oceans, fresh water and clean air – to be successful. Why can’t we come up with the production matrix on a national level that we are all committed to, that best meets the market needs in the most profitable manner, and that does so while maintaining and nurturing those resources for future generations to succeed with too. There is no doubt in my mind that we can do so, but we have not done so. Alignment is the key.
Execute: the final step
If we could get that kind of strong alignment, then the final step is to effectively execute those strategies. This means planning the work and then working the plan. It means we have to work together up and down the value chain. We have to apply management principles in those value chains that were developed decades ago in the areas of Total Quality Management that led to Six Sigma and Lean Management.
We have to increase our efficiency (productivity) and find ways to take cost out of the total system to improve our profitability. We need to effectively apply innovation, not just to product design but also to quality improvement, productivity improvement, sustainability – to the design of the total system. In other words, we need to meet the customer’s/consumer’s needs while maximizing process effectiveness and the learning and growth opportunities that are out there.
The bottom line
By utilizing this Strategic Learning Process, we could win the equivalent of the World Series, the Stanley Cup the World Cup of food and beverages. We have everything it would take, but we don’t play up to our full potential because we don’t learn, focus, align and execute as well as we could. An analogy is a professional sports team that has all the talent, skills and abilities it takes to win, but doesn’t win. Come on team, let’s do it!
Gary Fread is president of Fread & Associates Ltd., consultants to the food industry. He has spent 25 years in management positions in the food processing industry, with a background in sales, logistics, purchasing and technical areas. He has worked with Procter & Gamble, Campbell Soup and Morrison Lamothe, and is the past president and CEO of the Guelph Food Technology Centre. He is active in many food industry associations and organizations, serving on the boards of several. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org