Local Food Solutions Vol. 6

People: Attitudes and Beliefs

The majority of broader public sector (BPS) institutions are large organizations and making organizational change in one area can affect the jobs of many people. As such, moving forward on changes without broad support from relevant staff members can lead to a myriad of setbacks. For this reason, it is important to pay attention to the attitudes and beliefs of all involved staf

When making changes to the food purchasing process, the challenge public institutions face is that they tend to involve a long list of staff members that play a role in this process: there are those that are directly involved such as line staff, chefs, purchasers, food service managers, directors, and other senior level staff, and there are also those staff members that are indirectly involved such as procurement managers, finance staff, administrative support staff, other departmental heads and senior management, and, of course, the Board of Directors. Any one person on this long line of those directly and indirectly affected can stymie institutional change. It is therefore of utmost importance that relevant staff is engaged when initiating change.

Throughout the past few years of our grant-making process, the Greenbelt Fund has seen that, in the majority of cases, organizations implementing changes to their food purchasing methods have a champion on staff that sees local and sustainable food as a solution to making their organization better and has taken the lead to implement these changes. However, there are many people within organizations that are not yet ready for change and who fall into one of four stages:

  • At the first stage are the Skeptics. People at this stage like local food and they think it’s good for the economy, but they really don’t know how to buy it, where to find it, or how it fits with their job. They can sometimes focus on objections such as “local food costs more”, “local food isn’t available all year round”, or “local food is not food safe”. For these people, local food is a “nice to have” but is not a priority for them to pursue. For the Skeptics, unless something happens to force them or inspire them to take action, they will always remain at this stage.
  • At the second stage are the Rookies. They like the idea of local food and what it can do for their organization and customers. They ask questions and test the waters by taking small actions. They may think local foods cost more, and they aren’t available all year round, but they are willing to test these common beliefs. Rookies will find easy things to change (ie. buy local only where it is cheaper) and wait to see how others react. This group is looking for reinforcement that they are doing the right thing. In order for them to move to the next stage they either need direction from above or someone to recognize the work they are doing to justify the added effort to change how they do things.
  • At the third stage are the Converted. These people understand the importance of local food, have invested time and energy to start changing what they are doing, but are working alone. The Converted take risks and will look beyond price and evaluate products based on values such as quality, taste and yield. The Converted do not usually share their enthusiasm with colleagues and are often found working on their own.
  • At the last stage are the Champions. In order for the Converted to progress to the stage of Champion, the Converted will extol the benefits of local food and get other people from inside their organization involved, enthused and excited. Alternatively, they may retain support from the top to direct people to become interested. Champions begin to think about true value chain relationships with their suppliers and realize that building partnerships and working together only makes everyone in the value chain stronger. Once this position has been achieved, there is nothing left but to help others until local food becomes a standard for everyone within the organization, or even within the sector.

Progress Being Made

More than a few grantees indicated difficulty in getting employee buy-in at the onset of their projects. One of our grantees had the support of their VP and their Director of Foodservice, but their line staff were unappreciative of the tasks ahead. With some outside help, the organization decided to take their staff out to visit a farm. Staff was able to see, firsthand, the process of food production and returned energized and excited about the project. Many began to pass on their enthusiam to other employees and were soon coming up with their own ideas on promotion and selling of Ontario foods.

Not only do individuals go through this, but so do organizations and whole sectors. Organizations get their inspiration from their customers, observations of what their competitors are doing, and through initiatives like the Greenbelt Fund. By providing incentives for a few companies to change, the Fund is inspiring the rest of the industry to follow, contributing to the economic return for our community and more local and sustainable food for consumers.

Keep your eyes open for our next Local Food Solution Paper where we will be talking about People: Affecting Change. Follow @ontariofresh on Twitter to join the #LocalFoodSolutions conversation.

This series is written with contributions from: Ryan Hilborn, Kathy Macpherson, Franco Naccarato, Lisa Ohberg, and Julienne Spence.