A Guide: building a solid culture at your bakery

In 2020, during the pandemic, I operated a multi-location bakery with over 80 employees. Our bakery was under extraordinary stress having just lost the founder/owner (my father) and his 30-year leadership. Our team was on the struggle bus to state it lightly.  Midway through the year, there was a glaring need for a stronger connection among our production staff. Bakers and decorators rarely interacted, leading to communication gaps and a substantial rise in workplace drama. Recognizing this, I decided to hire a production manager. It was a scary decision, as the salary of a new manager didn’t seem possible, but operating without a strong culture was an inevitable destruction of everything my father had built over the decades.

Among other responsibilities, our new production manager’s main task was to build a positive work culture within our production team. And part of that process was initiating weekly production meetings. These brief gatherings shared essential updates and fostered a sense of community.   We also introduced a system for anonymous feedback and peer recognition, creating a more inclusive and supportive environment. This intentional focus on culture transformed our bakery by drastically reducing the drama and significantly reducing turnover among our production team.   It was a way to get leadership’s messaging intertwined into the conversations that were happening inside the walk-ins and in the parking lot. 

Like our family’s story, running a bakery often starts with one person’s passion for baking and then you find yourself navigating the complexities of retail spaces and commercial equipment.  As your bakery expands, so does your team, bringing management challenges you might not be prepared for. For us, my father’s presence was almost a culture of it’s own, but when he was no longer around, we knew we needed to be bring some change.

As I learned, one critical aspect of success is building a welcoming, supportive, and strong company culture. This culture doesn’t develop by chance; it requires deliberate planning and effort.  I will be the first to admit that investing time in this area may seem near impossible and even counterintuitive within the day-to-day busyness of bakery life, but it’s essential for reducing turnover and fostering employee satisfaction which ultimately drives sustainable profits. 

The workforce is changing and it will require you to change to keep staff happily employed and working toward your goals.

Here’s a sample plan you can use to inspire the intentional shaping of the culture at your bakery. 

1. Define Mission and Values

  • Mission Statement: “To bring joy to our community and their celebrations through delicious, high-quality baked goods made with love.”
  • Core Values: Quality, Community, Sustainability, Customer Satisfaction.

2. Leadership and Role Modeling

  • Owner and Managers: Lead by example, and embody the bakery’s values in daily actions. Watch for employees who naturally exhibit your core values and pull them into the fold of leadership.

3. Hiring Practices

  • Cultural Fit: When interviewing individuals talk about your bakery’s culture and hire those who align with the values and mission.
  • Example Questions. 
  • “Can you share an experience where you had to ensure the quality of your work met high standards? How did you handle it, and what was the outcome?”
  • “How important is community involvement to you, and can you give an example of a time when you contributed to a community project or event?”
  • “Describe a situation where you went above and beyond to ensure a customer was satisfied with their experience. What steps did you take, and what was the result?”

4. Onboarding Process

  • Comprehensive Orientation: Introduce new hires to the bakery’s culture, mission, and values.   This can be done by simply explaining WHY things are done a certain way because of your values. Also, pair all new employees with a dedicated mentor (experienced staff) for guidance and support. A mentor program is also a great growth opportunity to present to all employees as it looks great on resumes and future leadership roles!

5. Employee Engagement

  • Regular Feedback: Implement weekly or monthly meetings to gather employee feedback, address concerns, and give a glimpse into what the leadership is driving towards (next holiday, season, or big promotion) . Focus on building specific teams with their own regular meetings and hold full team meetings to once or twice a year.  

6. Communication

  • Leverage Technology: Create a Slack account to enhance communications between teams and from you to your entire staff.  This will also allow for conversations and ideas to pass between different teams, streamlining communications which rises productivity.   

7. Recognition and Rewards

  • Employee of the Month: Recognize outstanding contributions with incentives like extra time off, gift cards, or bakery merchandise. Production teams can be awarded recognition for no mistakes and fast performance of their work. Sales teams for sales numbers, positive online reviews and general friendly service.

8. Professional Development

  • Training Programs: Provide opportunities for skill development in baking, customer service, and leadership. Outline clear pathways for career advancement within the bakery. This is a big way to build a culture to keep employees employed as long as possible. Learning what excites each employee and then finding ways to build their skills in that area will ultimately benefit your bottom line.

9. Work-Life Balance

  • Wellness Programs: Implement wellness initiatives like discounted fitness classes at a local gym, massages or the ability to earn more PTO.   Work life balance at a bakery can be hard to achieve in certain money making months or seasons, so focus on creating more balance in your slower months. Your team will appreciate it and feel seen for the effort!

10. Community Involvement

  • Local Partnerships: Collaborate with local farms for fresh ingredients and/or other special offers for your staff at complementary businesses.  Set up community discounts that can be passed along to employees at all involved businesses.

Building a strong company culture isn’t just about making your bakery a pleasant place to work; it’s essential for reducing turnover and boosting employee satisfaction, which in turn drives sustainable profits. Investing in your bakery’s culture might seem daunting, but it’s a critical step towards long-term success!

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