Employees are our most valuable asset. Do you have this claim on a plaque in the main entrance of your business? Do you really believe this? What about the cost of health insurance rising every year? What about how unmotivated some employees are? What about how some employees show up to work late? What about the employees that don’t follow GMPs? What about the rising cost of workman’s compensation insurance? Then there is my favorite: the no-call/no-show employee.

Isn’t it easier to deal with a piece of equipment than it is a person? Equipment doesn’t complain. If it does break, just fix it or get a new one. Trying to fix people isn’t that much fun, and letting people go is expensive. So why do so many businesses have this motto front and center for all their customers, suppliers and employees to see?


A third-party employee audit?

We all know why: It makes us appear to be a nice place to work and a good company to do business with. What would happen if your business was audited, just like a third-party food safety audit, to verify the authenticity of this statement and how it is demonstrated within your company? You know the drill — two to three days of auditing your processes, programs and practices. Don’t forget the employees’ interviews. How would you score?

I strongly believe nothing should be declared in your main entryway for the all the world to see that isn’t completely true. When you walk into the lobby at Rhino Foods you will find a board with our Purpose and Principles clearly stated for everyone to see. Our principles are broken into Finances, Employees, Customers and Suppliers, and Community.

The Rhino Foods Employee Principle states: “We establish relationships with our employees and their families founded upon a climate of mutual trust and respect within an environment for listening and personal expression. We provide a vehicle for our people to develop and achieve their personal and professional aspirations.”

Over the years, as we have focused on our workplace practices, we have demonstrated that our employees are the reason for our success. Other assets might seem easier to run, fix and make more efficient, but I doubt these assets are responsible for the innovation or the deployment of strategies which separates you from the competition.


Innovation from people, not machines

I am proud of the fact that Rhino’s employees have partnered to create the most popular inclusion for ice cream in the last 20 years — cookie dough for ice cream. We remain the worldwide leader in cookie dough for ice cream applications and have expanded into other bakery-style inclusions. We developed and produced a reduced-fat cheesecake that was a national retail product for over 12 years. We partnered and produced the No. 1 selling ice cream cookie sandwich sold in C-stores nationally.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that workplace practices are all about focusing on the newest break room, workout facility or overly generous wages and benefits. The workplace practices I am referring to focus on very specific strategies and tactics directed at the entire company, each department and finally, the individual. Rhino is continually learning best practices from others, but isn’t shy to innovate and try things based on our current or future situation.

Many of our innovative workplace practices have come from listening to our employees. When people trust you, they will tell you how best to motivate them. They will be honest if something is missing or not working. Doesn’t it make sense to provide people with the skills, knowledge and tools to accomplish results? Don’t you want supervisors to trust their staff’s work and for the company to provide a sense of purpose in the workplace?


How we manage talent

Utilizing this approach will maximize your “employee asset.” A robust hiring and disciplinary process, consistent structured coaching, individual development plans, and setting clear expectations and challenging goals are a few key ingredients to our talent management. Rhino looks for employees who demonstrate long-term performance and long-term potential. Trust me, over Rhino’s 32-year history, we have found not every employee is a valuable asset. If we are doing our job correctly, employees who don’t fit this profile usually will leave voluntarily, or will be asked to leave following the steps of our disciplinary process.

Rhino Foods certainly doesn’t have all the answers. We struggle like most businesses to maximize our most valuable asset — our people. As owner and president, I am proud that we have never stopped trying. I’m convinced that the level of attention we devote to our talent management process has been instrumental in supplying and co-packing product for some of the largest food companies in the world.

Our website (rhinofoods.com) provides information on four innovative workplace practices we are very proud of and have been recognized for nationally: Open Book Management, Employee Exchange, Working Bridges’ Income Advance and Health Wellness Action Team.

So, next time you walk through the lobby of your business be sure to ask yourself: “Are we continually striving to maximize our most valuable asset — our employees?” If not, make the decision to either get started or take the plaque down.  


Dairy Foods seeks essays from dairy processors. Contact carperj@dairyfoods.com.