Greenbelt Fund Local Food Solution Papers -- Volume 7

People: Effecting Change

Public institutions are large, often complex organizations that face many challenges to implementing and sustaining changes to procurement. In many cases, getting more local food into them is less about finding Ontario food options and more about getting buy-in from the staff that will be impacted by directives to source Ontario food.

Highlighted in the last Green Paper, People: Attitudes and Belief, there are a great number of people within health care or educational institutions who are effected by changes made to purchasing behaviours. Whether it is getting senior management on board, or teaching line staff how to identify local products, the following are a number of tips that will help champions more effectively implement and sustain changes to their organization’s food purchasing system.

Before beginning, it is important to have clear directives communicated through strong leadership. A system of effective communication will make it easier so that all staff understand and contribute as appropriate to support the progress being made towards achieving set goals.

Barrier

Organizational systems have often been in place for long periods of time so resistance to altering these existing processes can be strong. In order to effectively implement buy-local strategies, staff need to be engaged in the change making process, making them advocates for the project. Without their support, efforts to change procurement will fizzle and fade as employees revert to old habits.

Progress Being Made

  • An urban hospital found it challenging to generate support from their procurement department to source local food. To overcome this, senior management tied their local food goals to larger organizational priorities, and provided a directive that sourcing local food should be a priority as a benefit to these larger priorities. This clear and strong leadership helped to get the procurement department on board.
  • A municipality was struggling to implement change across all their departments and the wide range of facilities under their jurisdiction. To address this issue, they created a multi-department committee and tasked them with coordinating and guiding their local food work. By involving all the relevant department heads, they were able to effectively communicate with their respective staff, greatly increasing their buy-in.
  • One institution was trying to implement local food sourcing and tracking, but encountered resistance from kitchen and procurement staff. To overcome this barrier, a local food coordinator spent a significant amount of time educating key personnel and developing resources to make ordering local food easy, and top-of mind. Taking the time and energy to work closely with personnel allowed the institution to achieve their local food procurement goals.

Recommendations

Involve Everyone as is Appropriate to Their Role

Incorporating local food into the menu requires more than just convincing the chef it is the right thing to do. This change will affect procurement teams, receiving staff, serving staff, kitchen help, managers, and senior management. Everyone needs to be involved in the process and feel empowered enough to provide their input. By leaving staff out of the change making process, champions may encounter resistance and even risk creating backlash from misusing and underutilizing employees.

Clear Directions and Outcomes

It is important to achieve buy-in from senior management. They won’t be involved in the day-to-day operations of the project, but obtaining their commitment will greatly improve the chances of effecting change. To achieve this, align project activities with the organizational objectives of the respective BPS facility. For example, many universities have tied local food work to sustainability mandates. It is also useful if you can communicate a return on investment for the work. What is this project going to mean to the organization at the end of the day? How will this make us a more efficient or successful organization? Why are we doing this? Outlining the answers to these questions will increase your odds of capturing the attention of senior management.

Time and Resources

It will take time and resources to achieve set goals, and patience goes a long way to ensure that good working relationships are formed. It is important to recognize that making changes to increase the purchase of local food falls outside the priorities of most public sector facilities. It can create new work for employees that are already over-extended in their workload. Make sure that timelines provide enough wiggle room to accommodate delays, and consider developing resources and practices that make ordering local food as easy as possible.

Communicate Progress

It is important to recognize the accomplishments of staff that are making things happen and to share the successes with other organizational members. Recognizing staff for their accomplishments and hard work not only feels good to the employee but also enhances staff morale and reinforces good behaviour that can encourage others to do the same. Communicate each new accomplishment loud and clear to help keep senior staff apprised of your project’s achievements, and to validate their decision to support the project.

Keep your eyes open for our next Local Food Solution Paper where we will be talking about Making Connections. Follow @ontariofresh on Twitter to join the conversation.

This series is written with contributions from: Kathy Macpherson, Franco Naccarato, and Brendan Wylie-Toal.