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Multi-Department Management—Are You Ready?

There are many reasons for becoming a multi-department manager, but the most compelling one is job security.


The call to manage additional departments can come when you least expect it and for the most unforeseeable reasons. But most managers agree that, when the call does come, you had better answer. If you don’t take on another department when the offer is made, the manager who does may get your department next. 
There are many reasons for becoming a multi-department manager: professional development, the enhanced value to your employer and a higher position within your organization. But the most compelling reason to solicit and/or accept new departments is job security and simple survival. Foodservice directors with a survival instinct must be positioned and ready to take advantage of such opportunities if and when they arise. 
For this story, FM spoke to a variety of directors who have made the multi-department transition for their advice on how our readers could best prepare for this possibility. Here’s what they had to say.   

Enhancing management skills

The first thing to consider, virtually all believe, is whether you have done absolutely everything possible to develop and refine your general management skills and to fill in any areas that may be lacking (e.g., budgeting, strategic planning, communication).     
“Management is a skill. Frankly, I don’t think it matters if you manage transportation or pharmaceuticals or the mailroom,” says Alex Freund, manager of site support services for AlliedSignal’s corporate headquarters in Morristown, NJ.
“A manager deals with assets and with people. Administering assets is a technical skill and most of us learn that in school. The people skills are more innate. But if you've got well-developed people skills, I really do believe you can manage anything.” 
Paula Cockwell, who manages foodservice, warehousing and purchasing for Colorado’s Adams County School District #14, agrees. And she points out that multi-department positions aren’t limited to larger organizations. 
“School foodservice directors faced the financial management issues a long time ago because they realized they had to be good business people in order to survive,” she says. 
“We are a small school district, so I was exposed to many areas—everything from setting purchasing specs to warehousing, transportation and production. That prepared me to take on expanded responsibilities.”

Build relationships

Another way to position yourself for multi-department responsibilities  is to work hard at developing a strong rapport with your department’s staff and between yourself and other managers within your organization. 
You're going to need that sense of mutual trust when you have to depend on them to manage themselves while you learn your new departments. And you’ll need to rely on the other managers for resource support when you move into unfamiliar territory within your organization.
At AlliedSignal, where Freund has taken over approximately 10 departments in 10 years, “any time and every time I take on a department, I have a one-on-one meeting with each  employee in the department,” he says. 
“I let them know it’s not a business meeting and I make sure the conversation is not work-related. I tell them, ‘I want to learn more about you, where you live, your hobbies, what you like to do.’ I also try to talk a little about myself. I tell them my job is to provide them with assistance because they’re closer to the customer than I am.”
Sometimes an effort to get immediate hands-on experience in the trenches can send a strong message to new reports.
“Don’t do this if it’s not your management style, but one thing that’s good for team-building if you’re taking on a new department is to spend a week or so working in it,” says Wally Vette, assistant  vice president of support services at Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces, NM.   
“When we added laundry services, I put on scrubs and sorted linen for a day. To be there shoulder to shoulder doesn't just show you what individual jobs are like—it also opens up lines of communication. You’re not just a suit. You’re willing to listen. You're going to try to make their jobs and lives better.”    
Multi-department managers also advise other managers to reach outside the department to serve on organization-wide committees and task forces during their time in foodservice. This raises the manager’s and department’s visibility and signals to an administration that a manager is committed to the organization’s broad goals and needs.       

Study the basics

Being ready to manage additional departments means identifying ahead of time resources that can help give you a quick education about how they should be run when you need it. These can range from educational information and publications available from professional associations to informal networks with peers in other organizations. 
“It may mean bringing in a consultant,” says Vette. If so, be ready to suggest one with experience in this area.  
Vendors can also be very helpful, Vette adds. “If you’re new to housekeeping, talk to the people who sell cleaning supplies—the soaps, the buckets, the mops, the disinfectants. They can give you a world of information. That is essentially the business they’re in.”
When he took over environmental and laundry services at Bayshore Hospital (Holmdel, NJ) in 1995, Ed Midgley, Bayshore’s foodservice director, says, “I went to the vendors and told them ‘I’m a foodservice guy. I don’t know housekeeping. I need you to show me what I have to do to get this building clean.’
“The vendors we were using weren’t too receptive, but I found new suppliers who jumped on my request. The floor care rep was here at three in the morning teaching my staff how to strip, buff and maintain the floor. They even drew up the cleaning schedule.”   

Invest in training

“You always need more training than you think you will,” says Wayne Sciacca, coordinator of customer services at Ochsner Foundation Hospital, New Orleans.
Next year, Sciacca estimates the three support service segments, including his customer service segment, will spend $250,000 on training ($500 per employee).
Sciacca believes that training should not be budgeted as a one-time event, but needs to be planned as a continuous effort in support of ongoing organizational change. In a case where employees resist change, he adds that training can be an important technique for reminding employees that everyone has to “get on board,” and that there is no chance the organization will revert to the way it was before if they simply “wait it out.”
Sciacca also recommends breaking all training into component parts. 
“If you change too much at once, you can’t tell which stage has the problems,” he cautions. “You also don’t want to change too much of an employee’s day at once. We’ve found that employees want to be able to predict a certain piece of their work day. That part should remain stable or they’ll just resist you completely.” 
Multi-department managers warn that your former direct reports may feel somewhat abandoned when you extend your reach to other departments. The more you train them to manage themselves before you move, the better.   

Groom foodservice to run itself 

That means developing staff who understand your objectives but who can operate autonomously while meeting standards you have agreed upon together. It goes without saying that foodservice managers need to improve their delegation skills, but what is often overlooked is that systems for better reporting also need to be developed. 
“I don’t need to know everything that is going on because I work through the people who report to me,” says Freund. “But I do need to know the essence of what they know. It is important to educate your reports on what you do need to know and in what detail.”
When one manages a larger number of people and functions, it becomes more important to also manage the flow of information among those departments and both up and down within the larger organization. 
Multi-department managers say it is critical to improve your communication skills and systems. These enable you to stay in touch with what your reports are facing in day-to-day activities and let you keep them up to speed on the direction in which you see the organization going.
“People get hurt when they are not informed or when they are forced to make decisions without sufficient information,” Freund concludes. 
“A lack of communication can undermine any reorganization.”           FM
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