Our award-winning columnist, Jeff Dearduff, urges the maintenance and engineering teams to spend time with bakers and the product development group. Doing so may help improve your feel of the business.

The Feel of the Game

A couple of months ago, after a long hard day of golf, my industry buddy, Joe, and I broke into a discussion about life, liberty and the pursuit of smooth-running bakeries.

Sure, we also talked about our golf games. While we can be respectable players at times, our overall performance along with the need to feed our families keeps us off of the tour. Then again, neither of us had spent a nickel on lessons. We each learned to play by jumping in, grabbing a set of clubs and finding the feel for the game.

But then our conversation turned to work, about what we have been doing and about how we would change the world if we actually had a say-so in matters. At some point, we both realized that our careers and our golf games had a common denominator.


Now that I look back, I can honestly say that I never paid for any “work” lessons. Rather, all the lessons I could ever want were there for the taking, if I felt like it. So how does “feel” play a role in how one gets through 30-plus years in the industry? How do we solve all of the similar problems as they pop up in slightly different forms that require slightly different solutions over and over again?

Let’s examine.

We always seem to come back to people, place and product when we talk about bakery management. People and a “feel” for managing your department go together in a lot of ways. When you manage a team, you typically see the unit as a singular entity, but every team is made of up players who have different talents and who make individual contributions to the bigger picture.

As their leader, you develop a feel to what each individual brings to the plate. You watch their habits, you learn where their gifts lie, and you eventually understand what makes each and every one of them tick both in good ways and in bad. This “feel” that you have for these individuals will pay off in huge dividends when you apply them to tasks where they will excel.

If you haven’t developed a “feel” for where each of your employees can best contribute, you will find yourself setting them up for failure, and in the end, the entire team can fail. Spend some time and reflect on whether you have a real good “feel” for your employees and their talents. If you find a gap with a person or two, set a goal to close that gap. If you’re not sure what to do, reach out for help. Success in this area will not only be good for you, but also give these folks a fair chance to prosper in the workplace.

Let’s now go on to the place or the actual physical plant where you work. Why do you need to establish a feel for this big inanimate object? A plant with 100 employees probably has more than 1 million components. In the end, you have 1 million things done by 100 different people to manage. Although the hundred different people are the most unpredictable and most challenging, the million other components that are moving in the plant can eat your lunch in a hurry. Developing a “feel” for the physical plant simply means engaging with the systems, understanding what makes each piece tick and becoming aware of those areas that require the most attention.

This type of “feel” is more mechanical than emotional, in most cases. But what would happen if you never took the time to understand how two specific machines truly work together, and then one day, they decided not to work together? Can you say disaster! Do you remember where you keep the Tylenol?

Sure you have people who “own” the equipment based on a preventive maintenance program or because of the system in their area of responsibility, and sure you have the person who knows where all the drains and switches are in the building. You also have operators who live with the system everyday. But regardless of what your role is in management, a personally developed “feel” for all of the systems you are responsible for will provide you with a sense of comfort that cannot be purchased.

But what about “feel” when it comes to your products? Although the engineering function usually doesn’t have much to do with the design of a new product from the get-go, you always end up with the task of commercializing it with the plant and using your people to make sure it’s produced consistently, over and over again. A “feel” for the art of baking will allow you to become familiar with what the product needs and how it might perform if different circumstances within the process are enhanced.

Even though you’re involved in maintenance and engineering, spend some time around the bakers and your product development group to better understand a new product’s characteristics and to learn the dynamics that evolve when flour, water and yeast are joined together. This will benefit you greatly now and into the future.

If you put this feel of people, place and product together in one harmonious batch, you might be the person selected to design your company’s next bakery or process line, or even be the one to lead the next acquisition.

In the end, this well-rounded you will “feel” better about the time you have invested in your career.

Who knows? Your success just might free up some time for golf lessons.