I remember a commercial from a few years back, I think it was for spaghetti sauce. It showed an Italian family’s kitchen as the Sunday meal was being made. In the kitchen, there were several grandmothers working away over a row of steaming pots. For the longest time that’s been the image for “traditional” food products: authentic traditional foods, made from family recipes handed down from generations past. In the gourmet section of every supermarket there is a running competition on which company makes the most traditional product, the most authentic foods or at least the most traditional processing. For the last couple of years I’ve seen a trend in higher cost pastas… a notice on the front of the box that tells you that they now use pasta hundred year old molds made
of bronze, to give factory-made pasta that home-made feel. The more traditional the better, until now.
A few days ago I wandered into the pasta section of a large supermarket, and I saw the familiar blue box of my favorite pasta. You know it’s a traditional product because it tells you that it’s been in business since 1887; actually it says, “Dal 1887”, just to let you know it does indeed come from Italy. Under that you see a woman in a peasant outfit holding a sheaf of wheat. I ask you, are we talking tradition, or are we talking tradition? And what have we here? One of those little medallions that tells you about a an award they’ve won. What is it this time? The most authentic pasta at the Rome pasta tasting festival? Maybe it’s a golden frying pan award? I know, “voted best by the European association of grannies”. No. It’s not an award. It’s a… CERTIFICATION! Not one word about the golden fields of wheat ripening to perfection in Southern Italy, or how old their factory is. What
does it say (I’m not kidding… this is exactly what’s on the box!)?
- Certified for the Distinctive quality of many parameters, such as…
- High quality protein (gluten index above 70)
- High particle size (40% with diameter above 400 microns)
- Kneaded with cold water (under 15o C)
This is a bold and unexpected turn. All along I’ve been wasting my time choosing food based on taste, when I should have been thinking about particle size; grandma has definitely left the kitchen! But this movement isn’t limited to the kitchen. Showing the metrics that proves the quality of a product is becoming the norm, not the exception. It shouldn’t be surprising that certifications have also shown up in the corporate workplace. You’ve seen them for years, but they’ve only recently taken root. It may be a Microsoft certification in Word or PowerPoint, or it might be a PMI certification in project management. Your new employees may have added some certifications to make themselves more marketable, and HR departments are certainly adding certifications as requirements or at least “good to have’s”.
When there is a down turn in the economy, a couple of things happen. Lower end jobs become more automated. For example, there was once a time when a McDonalds employee had to know basic math; then in the ‘80’s there was a shortage of qualified employees, so computerized cash registers were installed where you hit a hamburger icon
instead of entering a dollar amount. The other thing happens at the higher end of the scale. Employees who are laid off during a downturn may be told that they are not qualified for their job when they try to return. In an employer’s market, qualifications get pushed steadily upwards. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing for your organization. Consider if your organization can benefit from adopting a certification process for some or all of your positions. Not only can this help to improve and standardize the qualifications of your staff, and provide the means to produce a better work product, it can also increase
staff loyalty. One of the things that your staff wants, and that most increases loyalty, is training. We’re still in an employer’s market, but we also have the most unhappy work force that America has seen since anyone’s been tracking this data.
A little investment in training now, could provide a big benefit if you can avoid the usual cycle of high staff turnover at the end of a down cycle. Give it some thought. Your staff is your most important resource, and a good certification program can help you keep them as the market continues to improve. And that’s my Niccolls for today!