NEAT MEAT: Calm down and connect!

In 2018 Neat Meat’s Melissa Ryder won the Skills Highway Champion Supreme Award. She was nominated by the company’s Operations Manager, Allan Dobbie and the training provider The Learning Wave for the changes she’d made to her way of working and dealing with others at Neat Meat. “I couldn’t believe it and the award last year encouraged a lot of other staff. We now hear ‘please can we go on the course,’” says Melissa.

Recently the Skills Highway team visited Neat Meat to find out what was happening there and what Melissa is up to a year down the track.

Based in Auckland and Queenstown Neat Meat processes, markets and distrbutes high quality meat products to over 500 customers. With a staff of 70, Chief Executive Officer, Simon Eriksen says they are a business that likes to please – the farmers and the customers. To do this the company needs people who can problem solve and and communicate. “Seventy percent of the work is routine, but 30 percent is unique and the only solution is people,” says Simon.

And this is where Melissa comes in. Simon describes her as someone who has empathy for the customer and someone who goes the extra mile. But it wasn’t always like this. Before the ‘Neat Teams’ programme and fairly new to the company, Melissa said she didn’t say much, lacked confidence and didn’t understand what others at work were talking about. “I never opened my mouth. I did as I was told,” says Melissa.

She thought the the culture on the shop floor was fairly harsh and people were not overly respectful of one another, which likely contributed to the high turn over rate which has reduced dramatically during the last year. Melissa notes that since the time of the programme staff have opened up and are prepared to say what they can’t do. They are also kinder to each other, “The back stabbing and gossiping has stopped.”

Since the programme Melissa has been promoted. “I don’t think I would have been a supervisor without the course. My old habits were, ‘Don’t ask, just do the bloody job’. I didn’t know any other way.” While she has changed the way she works she is also now in a position to support others and direct some of them to the Neat Teams programme. As a result she see changes to their ways of working, “We see a new work ethic and they’re not shy to say they don’t understand.”

Learning about team dynamics has had a considerable impact on the way Melissa forms teams and gets them working together. She knows her staff’s preferred ways of working and how this impacts on work within the team and with her. “I realise I need different sorts of people and all sorts. This is how I strategise my department. I try them in different jobs, appreciate them all and work to their strengths.” Out of this has developed a more flexible workforce that is able to shift between teams and jobs. Now the teams are able to communicate without using management. “We have our systems up and running. The course has built trust between the employer and the employee,” says Melissa.

There has also been a big change in Melissa’s home life. “The training made me stronger in family life with my kids. I need to talk, sit down, understand my kids.” As a single parent she often felt overwhelmed by the need to work to put a “roof over the kids’ heads”. The learning from the course has helped her to, “calm down and connect,” with her boys. In the process she has learnt more about them and what they like to do. She discovered that her 10 year old loved to bake and he’d not told her this because she was, “always too tired and grumpy when she came home from work”. They now bake together.

Melissa is ready for the next challenge and feels ready to move up in the company, to “be a boss”. She wants to think about what she can do apart from working in her current department, “I’ve got Dispatch where I want it.”

So, a year down the track Melissa is a supervisor who sees an overall change in the way she works and the culture of the workplace. She is now called Ma by her team and co-workers. “I’m feeling like and old lady, but it’s a sign of respect. I got the name ‘Ma’ not long after the training programme.” But she is very aware that the work is not about her. “It’s not Ma’s way, it’s Neat Meat’s way.”