to the best path for your company to improve. Take these
learnings and apply them within your company. Accept these
as valid principles; build upon them instead of obsessing with
how to develop unique, bottom-up solutions. As consumers,
we all deserve to be confident that we as food professionals
put our effort where it can have the biggest impact: on the
safety of our food.
Setting the Tone
Members of any organization look to their leaders for
direction about organizational culture. A leader who sets a
positive tone through word and deed and by consistently
modeling and exercising good leadership principles will bring
alignment and enhance the effectiveness of the organization’s
Executive leaders in food companies have an opportunity
to establish a dialogue within the organization to describe a
desired cultural framework for food safety excellence.
This article focuses on how senior leaders, namely CEOs,
the executive team, functional leaders, plant managers, and
their staff, can take steps to strike the right tone to achieve
their organizational culture objectives.
While we focus on the tone set internally in this article, the
tone set externally is also of great importance. External stakeholders are interested in not only what product a firm makes
but also how it makes it. How the firm safely produces food
is increasingly of great import to consumers. Many organizations have adopted a corporate responsibility (CR) model.
Consumers, investors, and employees rightfully demand transparency, trust, and credibility in how organizations fulfill their
role as responsible corporate citizens. This ensures sound and
ethical stewardship of the environment, sustainability, and
worker health and safety. Food safety fits into this same basket, and the CR model provides a way to create an executive
forum for routine review of performance in these key topics.
In this article, we share our observations of how leaders
successfully set a positive tone through their actions and communications. You will learn how leaders can positively impact
food safety culture based on real-world examples.
Based on our collective experience, we have identified
“Seven Winning Practices” that we would expect to see from
any senior leader in a food company (Figure 2). We also provide you, a food safety leader, with some practical tips to help
your senior leaders set the right tone for food safety cultural
Practice 1: Ensuring Consistency
People in an organization pay attention to observed behaviors, both good and bad. When the organization sees consistency from senior leaders, it reinforces its own behaviors.
Executive leaders will be noticed when attending team meet-
ings, visiting sites, engaging business partners, and in many
other situations. Their consistent adherence to proper food
safety behaviors will reinforce consistent standards throughout
the organization. This consistency will support the enhance-
ment of the organization’s food safety culture. Conversely,
inconsistent behavior can lead to chaos with deviations from
food safety expectations and standards. This results in a less
coherent culture and will be easily recognized by customers
and business partners to the detriment of the organization.
Executive reinforcement of the foundational need for being the best you can be in food safety has made an impact
at Land O’Lakes. An opportunity was identified several years
ago, when the company’s senior food safety leaders recognized that training and education had largely focused on the
plants, which at the time was the same in many food companies. Land O’Lakes determined that the leadership teams
and cross-functional corporate personnel would benefit by
having a greater understanding of what it meant to work in a
food company with the added responsibility for making and
distributing food that is safe, for both people and animals.
Commitment was given for a full-day food safety workshop;
initially, all senior executives attended, including the CEO,
who opened and closed the event. This was followed by open
attendance for all corporate staff, 800 of whom have now been
through this experience. At the end of the session, each left
their own written commitment with food safety leadership.
This effort alone has driven food safety awareness to a whole
new level across all corporate functions.
Practical suggestions for senior leaders to set the right tone
in maintaining consistency:
• Always ask food safety-related questions and provide direct,
immediate, and specific verbal feedback when on visits to
manufacturing facilities. Use a visit as an opportunity to
reinforce how expected behaviors relate to the organiza-
tion’s values and food safety system requirements.
Figure 2. Winning Practices to Set a Positive Tone