Bakers Journal


April 29, 2009
By Wolf von Brisinski and Jan G. van der Hoop

It hasn’t been an easy ride for the baking industry. Spiking commodity prices and an economic roller coaster are the latest challenges, but labour shortages in skilled and semi-skilled positions continue to be an ongoing headache.


It hasn’t been an easy ride for the baking industry. Spiking commodity prices and an economic roller coaster are the latest challenges, but labour shortages in skilled and semi-skilled positions continue to be an ongoing headache.

There’s not a lot you can do about the shortage on a macro basis – the laws of supply and demand will continue to drive the labour market in the same way they have always done. But you do have the ability to insulate your business from the worst of the pain in the market, while claiming – and keeping – more than your share of the talent you need.

Here are the three most common and debilitating staffing problems in our industry:

  • You just can’t find enough people with the skills and experience you need,
  • The people you do hire don’t stay long, or …
  • They didn’t work out – you didn’t get what you thought you were getting.

These problems boil down to two broad issues: one of attraction (not seeing enough of the right kind of candidates) and one of selection (not choosing the candidates that are right for you).

Attraction consists ofactivities that result in candidates finding out that you have a job opening, and then applying. Common approaches include placing ads in print and online, building relationships with colleges and universities (who has the time?), using recruiters (who has the money?), and working your network to see who might know somebody who might know somebody who might want to work for you.

With little variation, those are the usual tactics. And the sad truth is that these conventional approaches to attraction simply no longer work.

Why? Several reasons:

  • Almost all of the conventional attraction tactics are designed to reach people who are actively on the job market: people who are either unemployed or expect to be moving on soon. This represents, at most, 20 per cent of the workforce and they are typically not the most talented, gifted or desirable 20 per cent.
  • Each of these approaches requires a candidate to provide a resumé in order for you to learn about and consider them. It is the same 20 per cent of the workforce described above that typically has an up-to-date CV. The majority, including the 60 per cent or so of the workforce who are better performers and who are approachable even though they are not actively on the market, do not have a current resumé. If you are requiring one as a starting point, you are actually creating a barrier to entry for the right talent.
  • Finally, the attraction game has changed fundamentally in the past three years. Candidates simply aren’t looking for work the way they used to, and they are more selective than ever before about who they will work for and what they will put up with.

So, how will you reach the people you most want to speak to? More importantly, how will they find and learn about you?

You need to be online. Three years ago it was optional; today it’s an absolute requirement. Not just with a website that focuses on providing information about your products to clients and potential clients, but with one that captures and engages the kind of people you want to attract to work for you.

This can seem like a tall order – especially if you don’t have a website or don’t like the site you have. But the truth is that getting you up and running can be simple and economical with the right support.

The key to attracting the right candidates is to be clear on the story you are telling about your company – and that story must be truthful. It’s likely that your existing employees are already online and telling their friends their version of the truth about your business, and these stories ultimately define your employment brand.

Your employment brand will become a powerful tool for attracting, hiring, training and retaining the right people. To understand your brand, you must start with the employees you have and not the ones you hope to have. You need to look inside and answer the question, “Why are our employees our employees?” Good, bad or indifferent, that answer (and not what you wish they were saying) forms the foundation of your brand.

Once your employees have answered this question you then need to leverage the strength and sheer power of the Internet. Credible web presence is critical to your brand. Most organizations do a decent job of projecting their consumer brand online, but they often neglect to extend the same effort to employment brand, which gives early adopters here an immense advantage in building relationships with potential employees.

From a candidate’s perspective, Internet searches have changed everything. We go online to diagnose aches and pains, often before we contact a doctor. The same also applies to employment. When the average person looks for a job today, they start online. The starting place is to first research potential employers by poking around on their corporate website and searching deeper to check out what people are saying. Once they are satisfied that you are worth their time and attention, you will hear from them.

Our challenge to you is this: If a potential candidate went looking for information about your organization, could they find it? Would it be current? Would it be from you, the employer? Our guess is not all the time.

Selection is deciding whom you want to hire from the pool of candidates you’ve collected. This involves collecting resumés, sorting them into two or more piles (depending how decisive you are) and then screening and interviewing candidates.

Are you applying the same uncompromising standards of quality to the candidates you hire as you do to the products you sell? Almost certainly, you have made compromises at one point or another on the staffing front that you’d never make on the product front.

And let’s face it – if your business were staffed exclusively with top-quality employees who loved their work and didn’t turn over, the labour crisis wouldn’t affect you, would it?

If your standard M.O. is to start from a resumé, think again. The secret to hiring success is not related to education, training, credentials or even experience. Some of these factors may be important qualifiers, but not one of them is a reliable predictor of how well an employee will perform for you, or how long they will stay.

The measures you apply to your business – productivity, retention, customer satisfaction and financial performance – are actually outcomes, or trailing indicators. Outcomes are things that are the natural result of a highly engaged team or department.

The degree to which employees are engaged in their jobs determines how long they will stay, how productive they will be, how happy your customers will be and how much money they will make you.

So how do you go about building engagement in order to achieve the outcomes you so desire? Not by mandating it, or even by asking for it. Engagement itself is the outcome of other things done well.

The prerequisites of engagement are these four critical aspects of fit. In order of importance:

  • Fit with the employee’s direct supervisor. This is self-evident and well documented, but most organizations pay little or no attention to getting it right, opting instead to throw people together and hope they figure it out.
  • Close second is the employees’ fit in their roles. How much of their time will be spent drawing from their strengths, performing tasks that interest them and for which they have a natural affinity?
  • Third is the employees’ fit with their co-workers, internal or external customers, and others with whom they will come into contact. Will they enjoy those interactions or will they find them stressful?
  • Finally, fit with the company’s culture, values and mission. Do employees feel that they are contributing to something worthwhile, and that they are in a place that’s right for them?

If you don’t place a premium on getting the fit right, and if managers and supervisors aren’t focused on building and nurturing productive relationships with their workers, you’ll never achieve and sustain the levels of engagement  required to achieve your turnover, productivity, satisfaction and financial targets.

The organizations that are winning in this economy are those that are willing to look inside and build an environment that supports engagement. They are willing to place a premium on fit.

So how do you hire for fit? First, ditch the resumé. Next, ask questions that will help you understand how a person thinks. What do they like and dislike about different styles of supervision, about different types of work, about certain customers? What are their demonstrated strengths and talents, the things they naturally do well? What do they do first in their day, week or month because it’s easy for them and fun – and what do they do last because it’s not?

The answers to these questions are unique to each individual, and have nothing to do with what is found in a resumé – but they are the biggest predictors of fit. You will find this information only by asking the right questions in the interview and using the right assessment tools.

What would you look for in an assessment? Something that measures attributes far beyond personality. Something that measures the other predictors of fit: thinking style, behavioural tendencies and occupational preferences.

Each of these is hard-wired in the sense that they don’t change much after we pass the age of 14, when our brains finish developing. The way we are and the way we see and respond to the world doesn’t change from the time we are old enough to drive. Which means the activities we enjoy the most and perform in the best don’t change either.

So how do you win the war for talent? By following the principles outlined above and placing a premium on fit. Then, once you have the right people, invest in teaching, training, developing and stretching them.

As long as you can keep them engaged, you will win the talent war.

Wolf von Brisinski is a master pastry chef and baker with many years of international experience helping companies increase profits through better business, retail and production management, as well as improvements in research and development. He can be reached at 905-338-9740 or

Jan G. van der Hoop is president of HiringSmart, a Halifax-based provider of cutting-edge employment solutions, including online hiring portals. Call Jan toll-free at 1-800-513-7277, e-mail, or visit

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