6 Lessons Learned Serving the Foodbank

by Mark Peterman
csg foodbank

The CSG team took a break from writing software for our clients one morning in September. We spent that time serving the St. Louis community by packing boxes of food for distribution at the St. Louis Foodbank. It was a great experience. One that I expect we’ll repeat again soon.

As we reflected on the day, it became apparent that preparation by the staff at the St. Louis Foodbank set us up for success. The experience has lessons for us about what we can do to make any project successful.

Have a Plan and a Goal

Having a plan sounds obvious, but many people miss it. The staff at the Foodbank work with volunteer groups every day. They have a very clear plan for both staff and volunteers. They break the work down into tasks. They think through the process. They set up the work environment. They define clear roles and responsibilities. They train people. They have goals. They communicate clearly.

Have you set a goal and built a plan for your project? What’s your vision for success?

Share the “Why”

People respond to vision. When the Foodbank staff leader gathered our team deliver instructions, he began and ended that training by explaining why we’re doing this. He clearly communicated how the Foodbank serves the St. Louis region. We could see how our work helps the mission of the Foodbank. We’re not just packing boxes. We’re feeding the hungry.

Does your team understand why you’re asking them to do a project or how it helps the organization overall?

Set People Up for Success

The staff at the Foodbank not only had a plan, they did some basic setup work to lay out the process and set our team up for success. Our job was to repackage a variety of foods (cereal, beverages, canned goods, etc.) from bulk pallets into individual boxes that contained a variety of foods which provid the nutritional meals for the recipient of the box. Each item was to be placed into the box in a specific way. At the end of the production line, each box was full of a variety of foods and ready for distribution.

Does your team have the tools and training to do what you ask of them?

Encourage Process Improvement

Each station along the production line had a specific job. But even in a simple process like packing a box, there’s freedom for people to find a better way. In the first half of our time filling boxes, the back half of the production line was waiting on boxes to arrive from the first three stations. There were big gaps between each worker and they had to wait for the next box.

Because the process was being measured, we learned that we were behind the expected output given the time we’d been working. I asked the team to find a way to get the first few steps of the process moving faster to eliminate the waiting time in the subsequent steps of the process.

Two team members who worked beside each other, performing their tasks individually, came up with an innovative way to improve the process. Their changes had a massive impact on the process. The CSG team members working further down the line from them could now barely keep up. No more gaps between boxes. No more waiting around. In the second half, it was a solid line of boxes all along the conveyor.

Small changes can lead to big improvements. Do you encourage process improvement? Is your team empowered to make improvements?

Measure Results

The St. Louis Foodbank had a target for the morning. As discussed above, knowing where you are versus your target can make a big difference. Upon learning we were running behind the goal, the changes we made allowed us to meet the goal. Paying attention to where you stand versus the goal can make all the difference.

As it turns out, we met the goal with half of the volunteers that the Foodbank normally had working. Why did we get so much done?  One suggestion is that we are a cohesive team. The CSG people have worked together for years. We know each other. We trust each other. We communicate well with each other. We could adapt quickly when changes were made in the process.

At the end of our time, the Foodbank gave us our scoresheet. In business, it might be a dashboard.  We processed 672 cases totaling 18,682 pounds. That sounds good, but it’s a lot clearer with this key metric: CSG helped the St. Louis Foodbank provide 15,250 meals for the hungry.

Do you set targets and measure progress toward them? Are project metrics visible to your team so they know when they are on-track? Do you respond when the metrics say you are off-track by adjusting your plan?

Show Appreciation

We got a big Thank You from the team at the St. Louis Foodbank. It’s great to know your work makes a difference. Hearing someone say it can’t help but put a smile on your face.

Are you recognizing people for their work? Have you taken time to tell people about the impact they are making on the bigger picture?

Processing 18,682 pounds in three hours is interesting.

Packaging enough food to provide 15,250 meals for the hungry in three hours … well … that’s just amazing.