The four stages of market management

Spoiler alert: The stages correspond exactly to the  four stages of competence:

  • 1. Unconscious incompetence
    The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.
  • 2. Conscious incompetence
    Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.
  • 3.Conscious competence
    The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.
  • 4. Unconscious competence
    The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

I have been thinking about how we can organize the role of market manager to reduce the learning curve, and the fear some managers have of relying on others. We also need to  lessen the numbers who burnout and leave the job just as they reach unconscious competence phase.

My experience (from my human resources corporate training, my own management of markets, supervising market managers and observing them for the last 15 years) is that the market job takes about 16 months to 30 months to move through these 4 stages. The length of time it takes has something to do with “the strength of the stimulus to learn” but since that is usually strong with new market managers, it usually has more to do with the organization’s structure for training and for providing feedback. Of course the way managers learn is changing as millennials move into those jobs which is a matter I’ll tackle in another post.

Market managers are asked to master the most difficult work right away: to confidently manage dynamic logistics for a group of small businesses who are working side-by-side with their direct competition. In far too many cases, there are no manuals, no detailed history recorded or clear written process when dealing with risks or crisis.  Not all managers are offered a performance review or even clear deliverables or goals so they can correct as they learn. (I feel compelled to point out that I find it startling how few non-profits understand that their success is based almost entirely on the skill and labor of its people and how rare it is to find supervisors spending any time becoming more adept at that part of their job. )

So those 18-30 months can be quite stressful and without a clear training plan a negative feedback loop can be created, especially among watchful vendors who are rightfully expecting high productivity.

Often, the most difficult phase is #2 when the community doesn’t view the manager as new any longer and becomes impatient with every mistake- and yet as you can see from this timeline, mistakes are commonplace in the “conscious incompetence” phase. Mistakes are often caused by someone bravely trying something new or testing a varied way to do a task that needs updating. It is a process for learning but one that does need positive correction from the supervisor to okay the adjustment and acknowledge the validity of it as a learning process.

So markets can do a better job preparing the community for a new manager  by allowing the manager to ease in to some of the more difficult tasks, space to make little mistakes and even better, to formalize a system for dealing with risks so there won’t be guesswork. A copy of every market map should be kept, filed and noted with weather, no-shows or risk issues written so new managers can review past years. These are also helpful in cases of slip and falls or property damage suits,as legal proceedings may come much later and the data from that day may very well help your team defend your market and at least remind you what happened and why. Sets of laminated pictures of the market set up, the storage area, the table layout for new managers to know what is desired during set up can also make it easy to have volunteers to take over those duties so the manager can then move on to new tasks.

On the subject of conflicts, is usually a good idea for markets to have an off-site process for any hot button issue, new manager or not:  Disagreement between vendors or about a rule should not be hashed out on market day. Instead,  a temporary solution for that day is all that should be offered.  Have the manager quietly ask those involved if the discussion can happen that next week by phone, in person or via a video conference call if possible. Not only does this allow everyone to simmer down (including the manager) but it also allows some time for the manager to get some input from senior vendors or board members. Most importantly, it sets a tone for future issues.

Other suggestions:

• The new manager should have an hour of weekly reading from the files and by scanning some of the most important articles and magazines on community food while on the clock.

• They should be introduced in ever widening circles to the members of the community – even if they are local – as the manager by board members, anchor vendors and volunteers.

• If a market hires a new seasonal manager annually, it might be helpful to have a market business card with a line for the manager to write in their name, and also allows board members to do the same.

• Asking new managers to keep a journal of the day also helps get them through these early stages. I used to ask my new managers to write me an email on their smart phone even if I had been onsite with them all day. Some of them drafted it all day when they had a minute, and then sent it to me as they got in their vehicle to go home or from their laptop first thing on the next work day from their scribbled notes. That email was broken down into logistics, vendors, shoppers, other and helped them analyze their day.

If systems are put in place and care is taken to help the new manager move through these stages, one can easily gain a market manager loyal to the organization and ready to move to the stage of unconscious competence soon enough.


Another idea for the evolution of the market organization to make it more sustainable is outlined in this post from Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC):

Worker self-directed nonprofits enable staff to organize their labor and compensation in a way that is sufficient and sustainable for them. At SELC, for example, our collective decision to each work only 30 hours per week and only be required to spend 15 of those hours at the office has opened up tremendous possibilities. By choosing when and where we work, we regain a tremendous amount of autonomy over our lives. This flexibility lets us attend community events or be responsive to the needs of our loved ones in ways that a rigid eight-hour day does not.

The reduced workweek shifts our financial calculus as well. Many of us who could use a bit more money accept consulting jobs or engage in entrepreneurship to supplement our incomes. Some staff can use their time to cut down on other expenditures that they would have been forced to incur otherwise, like childcare. And beyond the numbers of it all, many of us feel like the opportunities our flexibility provides are priceless.

This exact arrangement may not be best for all organizations. The essential point to notice is that we (with board oversight) get together as a staff and make decisions about how organize and compensate ourselves in order to make the best use of our organizational resources and provide ourselves with the lives we crave. Ultimately, this care for ourselves feeds back into the organization in the form of low turnover and high commitment. 








What Ruins A Performance Review?

As a human resources manager in a previous work life, I can tell you that this post linked below has some excellent points to consider. As more and more markets add staff (and I mean staff and not independent contractors!), those organizations must add the skills necessary to manage that staff; if the organization is run entirely by a volunteer board, then a handbook on staff management or completing a short course should be required for the Executive Committee or at least the president of each term. If there is a paid director, then certainly basic human resources training available online or possibly through local community colleges or non-profit training centers should be required.
Over and over, I hear from market managers that most of them don’t get an annual review at all or if they do, don’t feel the review is in-depth enough or fair or designed to allow for improvement; they often report that the review contains criticism of issues that were beyond their control or their work is measured in ways that is news to the staff person. All of those are no-nos.
It does seem odd that people management skills are often lacking in non-profits and community initiatives, since that is exactly what they rely on to get the job done.

What Ruins A Performance Review? | LinkedIn.

New Nationwide Study Shows SNAP Incentives at Farmers’ Markets Boost Healthy Eating, Support Farmers, and Grow Local Economies | Fair Food Network

From the conclusion:

A minority of funds went unused. Possible reasons for this gap include that tokens were lost, misplaced, or reserved for a future visit that did not occur. Regardless, a loss in purchasing power negatively affects the financial benefits provided by the incentive program, and means that SNAP participants have fewer funds to mitigate food insecurity. Future work should strive to better understand this problem in various communities and test innovative solutions to increase SNAP redemption rates. Additionally, further exploration will be helpful to determine what maximum amount of SNAP benefits
matched maximizes participation by SNAP customers. To better understand the health impacts on individuals who use SNAP incentives to purchase fresh produce, future research also should explore changes in consumption and other health behavior. Finally, examining the relationship between various implementation strategies and reported changes in consumers, vendors, and markets will help better identify promising practices for effective incentive programs. The cluster evaluation documented program innovations; influences of incentive programs on consumers, vendors, and markets; and lessons learned to inform a fragmented field of practice. The cluster program organizations are poised and ready to share what they are learning about effective program management, marketing, funding, capacity building, sustainability strategies, and achieving desired outcomes with fellow practitioners. After sharing program experiences, program implementation, and outcome data, and advancing ideas on how best to advance and implement solutions to food system issues of common concern through this cluster evaluation, the programs are exploring plans to launch an online “Learning Community” that would bring more program coherence to the field of practice and increase the field’s capacity to be more impactful.

New Nationwide Study Shows SNAP Incentives at Farmers’ Markets Boost Healthy Eating, Support Farmers, and Grow Local Economies | Fair Food Network.

Simple, visual manual for vendors

A few years back, a group of market managers and market farmers were formed into a Farmers Market Working Group by the Wallace Center to create some best practices and resources. We worked hard to offer useful tips and pictures that would actually assist market vendors with marketing their products. The resources also include some videos and all are available on the FMC Resource Library.

Getting Started With Farmers Markets

Tis the season: Michigan Farmers Markets Association hosts 2-day conference as number of markets grow | The Republic

The Michigan Farmers Market Association has been designing a Market Manager boot camp that sounds like a very promising way to train managers- much like the MarketU training that I had begun to design while working at (Rumor has it that may be almost ready to start their version in early 2013, so keep an ear out for that announcement by the way.) State convenings can be useful to outside audiences because of the new resources that become available to download after one of these conferences takes place. Presentations from outside experts, case studies from markets and program measurements are often available on their websites.

Michigan Farmers Markets Association hosts 2-day conference as number of markets grow | The Republic.

Street Vendor Project in NYC

As many of our cities and towns expect that the the farmers market movement will be formalized more and more for government needs, it helps to find others who came before us to know how to handle these interactions. The Street Vendor Project in NYC is an excellent example of how good information and recommendations can be offered to both the vendors and the city while recording the important history of street vending. Amazing site.

I particularly like the brochure designed in partnership for this project that actually hangs on my cubicle wall. This is a 2-sided brochure that explains a whole bunch of information with graphics. There are policy recommendations for the city, logistical details for the vendors and case studies for the researcher. Designer Candy Chang is one of my favorite graphic people and this piece has led me to many of her others.

Here is a link to get your own copy: