Last time I was involved as part of a team of technical experts was over 18 years ago, and it was with about 70 food technologists. So, I called a mentor of mine and asked him whether I might have forgotten anything about working with technical experts. His answer was annoyingly concise: “They are people Pete, treat them like people.”
Accordingly, in my first four weeks in Research and Innovation, that’s what I’ve been doing. We’ve had honest conversations and agreed to actively working together to remove barriers and improve processes in order to deliver outcomes in a timely manner. In commerce, we’re primarily interested in the effect an action has on profitability, or cash flow, or both.
I don’t know why a 5 percent price promotion affects about 40 percent of consumers to change the brand they buy, just that it does. People probably each have their own reason for changing their behaviour. But the same action regularly causes a reaction of similar magnitude, and in my experience, this is the case in most categories.
My understanding of research was that it’s primarily interested in why things happen. The Oxford English dictionary defines science as “Knowledge about the structure and behaviour of the natural and physical world, based on facts that you can prove.” So, perhaps commerce is more outcome driven and science is more cause driven, or maybe not.
In our first week together, the Research and Innovation team told me what they want is both the cause and the outcome. I was wrong. If we are focusing on outcomes, what do we need to do more of? If Newton was right and actions cause reactions, then what actions should we undertake to be successful?
I’m still learning and understand this is possibly ‘enthusiasm that comes with a new goal’, though it seems to me there are four clear areas. First, accountability and authority. We employ smart people, and if they are going to be accountable for delivering outcomes, then they also – within reason – need to have decision-making authority over how they are going to make those outcomes happen.
Second, streamlining. It seems that if technology is evolving faster, then we need to be faster. Therefore, we need to work towards achieving high-quality outcomes in a quicker way. Third, responsibility for delivery. In most arenas, where a person with money agrees on someone with a skill to deliver a service, it is the service provider’s responsibility to provide that service, to the agreed quality by the agreed date.
Currently, if things go off-track, the responsibility seems to lay more with Australian Pork Limited than with research providers. We need to take a look at that. Last, measuring outcomes. We can improve how we measure outcomes, and we should. We make a guess at what the outcome of an experiment will be before we do it, then do the experiment in a controlled way to try to achieve that research outcome.
We don’t then measure who uses those outcomes for benefit in-industry and who does not. Clearly we aren’t going to change these things overnight, but we are actively working on them. Producers are understandably triple checking, due to COVID-19, all the biosecurity plans they double-checked in the ‘Keep African swine fever out of Australia’ activity of late-2019.
A positive is the results of a 2019 survey found that over three-quarters of producer respondents – who cover slightly under 90 percent of pigs – take measures to minimise visitor biosecurity risks on farm. Not only are these measures key to reducing risks to the health of pigs, but in our current situation, those same measures are also providing protection to staff by reducing their potential exposure to COVID-19.
Recent events have seen the APL marketers pivot their focus towards more in-home help with recipes and ‘how to cook’ outcomes.
Likewise, our APL regulatory teammates are working to find ways to continue to export Australian pork. COVID-19 has caused numerous project delays in R&I, but many are still on schedule and so the research team continues to focus on finding ways to reduce production costs, keep our farms safe and improve our licence to operate.
Until next time, stay safe and let’s continue delivering nutritious, fresh food to Australia and beyond.