When you think of culture what springs to mind?

The culture of a country you have been on holiday to?

20th century popular culture, Boy George anyone?

Taking a culture in a laboratory?

When I think of culture it is food safety culture. This is not surprising given I have lived and breathed it for most of my professional life.

But what do I mean when I refer to food safety culture and what actually influences cuture? With over 150 academic definitions it’s not a surprising that there is confusion around the interpretation of culture however, the two definitions I particularly relate to are:

“The way we do things around here”
Deal and Kennedy

“Culture is something created by the minority that affects the majority”
Dr Derek Watson – University of Sunderland

These two definitions point us towards culture being the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of an individual, team or group of people. So what do companies who want to influence culture within their workforce they need to focus on? Let me tell you…..

The, ‘’we’’ in:- The way we do things around here

And ‘’minority’’ in:- “Culture is created by the minority that affects the majority”

So the question I’m asking is, what do we mean by ‘’we’’ and ‘’minority’’ and do we understand who the ‘’we’’ and the ‘’minority’’ are? Because it’s only when we reach that understanding, we can start to effectively change culture within an organisation.

In any organisation there are individuals, teams and groups that effect food safety culture. So, let’s examine at the differences between individuals, teams and groups and how they affect culture:

Individuals will have responsibilities which comes with the power of authority however, the authority they have will depend on what level they are at, in the company and the respect they are awarded by their peers. It is not uncommon for individuals to be assigned objectives and targets that directly contribute to the company’s overall objectives and targets. Those objectives and targets could be part of the individual’s performance appraisal which could provide individuals with rewards and recognition for their achievements. It is important that individual’s objectives and targets are agreed and established and do not compromise food safety culture.

A team is defined as individuals who are brought together as part of the company structure to undertake particular tasks and activities. A hygiene team is a good example of a team within a company. Hygiene teams will have their own management structure and been allocated their own activities and tasks with specific goals and objectives relating to hygiene standards which are usually in line with the company goals and objectives.

Groups are not necessarily formed by the company but through individuals having common interests, with the same aims, values and objectives. A key issue here is that the group aims are usually established by one or two more vocal and assertive individuals within the group. It is not unusual for people who do not hold the same common interests, aims values and objectives as the group to be ostracised, intimidated or bullied to bring them into line. As most people want to be part of the ‘’gang’’ then it does not take much to establish converts to the group philosophy and objectives.

The key difference between a team and group is that a team is working towards meeting company goals and objectives for the greater good of the company, whereas the group is working towards their own goals and objectives which benefit the group and could be in direct conflict with company goals and objectives. If companies are going to have any success in changing culture it is essential that they understand who the groups and the individuals are in the company and how the group culture is impacting on the company culture.

To give a specific example let’s look at a confectionery business manufacturing cake decorations and operating a single shift system 5 days a week. At the beginning of the week a production schedule is issued to the individual teams. This plan would encompass storage, pre-preparation, production, packing and despatch. The schedule is set so production for the week is completed by Friday at 2.30pm to allow a 2 hour clean down by the operatives. A scenario could arise, and one that is a classic example, whereby Groups in the company may influence individuals in production to slow down knowing that if production does not finish until 4.30pm, then operatives would be asked to work overtime on Saturday morning to undertake the clean down.

Another example where Culture is not just impacted by groups but also by the company’s management and supervisors is where a company is running a product that contains allergens. On completion of the production run the manager or supervisor does not allow enough time to undertake a full clean down due to pressures of production and wanting to get the next product started so they can meet the delivery schedule to the customer.

The key to all this is identifying the groups within an organisation and applying a number of established tools and techniques to determine and assist the culture change within an organisation. These could be: –

• Field force analysis
• Culture questionnaire
• Triangulation of data
• Statistical significant analysis of data
• Focus groups
• 360 appraisal
• Cultural audits

totrain have developed enlighten – a unique cloud based solution for managing your Food Safety compliance requirements and understanding food safety culture within your business. In addition, enlighten makes you Audit Ready by ensuring staff are adequately trained with instant access to secure online training records. enlighten’s Food Safety Culture module is the perfect tool to assist companies to improve food safety culture within their business.

To find out more about enlighten and how totrain can assist you with understanding and improving your company food safety culture then click here.