Fresh Facts Week 39: Celebrating the 999 Frame of Mind

  Uncle Vern’s Weekly Farm-Fueled Musings, May 19–25, 2014

We pack fruit for a few dozen of our neighbors—just a service that’s evolved from doing our own fruit. And we participate at the level the farmer needs; from just providing harvest trailers to directing the full year’s activities: pruning, thinning, harvest, emotional counseling…

So here’s a nice story. A few days ago, I’m out about a quarter til 6—start time is 6 right now—and the guys are sliding ladders off ladder trailers, laughing and joking with each other. Up in the yard, a couple men are hitching tractors to harvest trailers that were staged the night before. I drive to 4 more farms over the next couple hours, chatting with pickers and foremen and farmers, doing my fieldman gig, noting changes in yesterday’s projections, and mentally making tomorrow’s as I peek into fields. But there’s this recurring theme: dozens and dozens of men are having a genuine good time.

I get to the shed—in this part of the world, that’s what the place fruit is packed is called—a little after 7. Run time is set for 8, but already there’s a dozen people scurrying about getting set up, doing daily prerun inspections on the equipment. People with different responsibilities have different clock-in times, some head to the lunch room to share coffee and visit; others are laying out buckets of sanitizer and mops. People just cheerfully start reeling out hoses, and taking care of their corner of the world. Others are staging up fruit, boxes, forklifts, and pallet jacks. The mood ranges from content to happy.

By 8:05, the whole place is sanitized, rinsed, dried, and the fruit comes rolling in. It’s graded, sized, stickered, packed, and palletized to ship all over North America from little organic farms in Kingsburg.

Here’s where I’m trying to go. As managers, if 999 things are going well, our job is to see the one thing that isn’t and correct it. Of necessity, we become seekers of problems. Nobody’s going to call from Toronto to say: “Wow, you did 999 things right with these nectarines!”

Once in a while though, it’s good to celebrate the 999, but more than that, the attitude that generates the 999.

I was down in San Diego a month ago where a lady was using her home as a delivery site. I did my usual, “Why are you doing this? Do you enjoy it?” Her response was: “This is the most predictable part of my life. The truck’s always on time, the produce is good, the add-ons are here and when something isn’t right it gets fixed.” I don’t think anyone could have paid a higher compliment.

Sure, the world out there is chaotic, and everyone has a backpack full of junk they’re carrying, but when they come into our world—whether that’s our cubicle, our home, our shoe repair shop or General Amalgamated International Stuff Manufacturing Inc.—people can enter a predictably ordered, effectively productive, lovingly affirming environment.

The ticket is to grab a ladder and pick our row, grab a mop and clean our corner, cheerfully encouraging the folks around us.

Author AHO Kitchen Team

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