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In today's work environment, attracting and keeping talent is critical to organizations' short- and long-term success. Attendees at last month's COEX conference came together to share their stories and ideas around talent acquisition and development in the food-away-from-home industry. The session, Collaborative Conversations: Leadership,resulted in some fascinating feedback. 




The session was spearheaded by members of IFMA’s Next Gen Execs, a program that recognizes rising industry leaders from across IFMA’s membership.


Individuals from the 2023 Next Gen Execs cohort provided input on how to approach the topic, helped put together the discussion questions, and several moderated the session in-person.  



The discussion started with the premise that before they can develop strong leaders, organizations need to ensure they are attracting and retaining strong talent. Many companies have large labor forces but unique challenges – so we asked, “what’s going on in recruiting and retaining corporate talent in your organization?” 


On the plus side, a lot of folks shared that they’re getting more applications when they post jobs and applicants are coming in at higher skill levels. With post-pandemic labor shortages impacting the industry, it also seems clear that businesses that pivoted to offer their teams more flexibility are seeing rewards in better-qualified and committed candidates. 




Employees are responding to offers of: 

  • Remote work 
  • Less business travel 
  • Better parental leave 
  • Stronger starting salaries and signing bonuses 
  • Four-day workweek options 
  • Union benefits  
  • Focus on diversity in hiring practices 



It’s not all sunshine and roses, of course.


Challenges include: 

  • HR departments getting overwhelmed 
  • Candidates having overly high expectations, being more selective 
  • Setting expectations with remote workers, especially in different time-zones
  • Encouraging more in-office days, while maintaining hybrid work 
  • Loss of long-term team members due to retirement with no succession planning 


Leaders aren’t all going to look or behave the same way. Even without a large team (or a team at all), individual contributors can be thought-leaders and drive business impact in many different ways. But building strong leadership usually requires development, including investment and cultivation of high-potential team members. 


The conversation turned toward how organizations can cultivate and encourage well-rounded employees.


As you might expect, a very dynamic range of ideas emerged.  


  • Promoting internally – encouraging movement from channel-to-channel, clearly defining career paths/plans  
  • Training and development – offering cross-training and purposeful growth project assignments (building “ownership”), tapping team members for cross-team committees 
  • Knowledge sharing – asking team members to present as subject matter experts to the full team, creating company education programs  
  • Social/team bonding events offering opportunities for individual and team volunteer work  
  • Personal/professional growth – having scheduled conversations about growth, giving bonuses for meeting growth goals, encouraging continuing education, offering education reimbursement 
  • Engagement from leadership – building organized mentoring programs
  • Transparency and communication – empowering decision making, reducing micro-managing, and re-writing roles as they evolve  




There were a number of other suggestions for cultivating team members. These ranged from encouraging employees to spend a day “in the field” for foodservice, to having a dedicated HR staff member focused on development. There were also ideas for better work/life balance like building a culture that believes in the value of rest through time off, sharing team recognition on social media platforms, and implementing No-Meeting Fridays. 



Overall, the discussions on attracting and retaining talent were positive and insightful. Part Two of this article will focus on discussions on defining and developing leaders.