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A Terrific Culture

Eric Chester, today’s NACS Show keynote speaker, said positivity can engage and involve employees in decision making.
October 17, 2017

​CHICAGO – Take it from a guy who spent three years working the graveyard shift at a c-store to pay his way through college: The only way for a c-store to stand out is to create a culture that makes your store a terrific place to work.

Easier said than done. But just how to accomplish and grasp this holy grail was the focus of Tuesday’s General Session speaker Eric Chester’s address to attendees at the 2017 NACS Show.

For Chester, every c-store’s success boils down to one word: culture. “Culture is nothing that can be passed down from the corporate office,” says the author of On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Out.  A c-store’s culture is only possible on a store-to-store basis—and it ultimately determines everything. Every c-store’s culture, he says, is the answer to this simple question: How do things get done around here?

In an industry that’s infamous for poor employee retention, success is all about finding, developing and keeping great people. But to do that, says Chester, “You've got to win the culture wars.” And in order to win the culture wars, he says, “You’ve got to be a great place to work.”

How to be a “great” place to work? Chester will discuss this topic in some detail in his NACS Show speech. But it all boils down to what he calls the “seven pillars” of a great workplace culture. Those seven pillars are: compensation, alignment, atmosphere, growth, autonomy, communication and acknowledgement. Let’s look closer at each of them.

This one is more complex than it seems, because it’s not just about the paycheck—which must be at par, or, preferably higher than the competition. “Money, alone, is a de-motivator,” says Chester. That’s because so many millennials value time just as high or higher than money. “Great companies find out how to get on the same wavelength as their employees,” says Chester. That might mean a basic willingness to be flexible to employee scheduling needs.

Most employees like to believe that they share similar values as the place they work. “You want to feel you both have the same sort of approach to the world,” says Chester. “Most of us want to work for a company that we believe in,” he says. For many millennials, it’s about working for a company that shows dedication to a cause to which they also support. For some, it’s about environmental causes and for others it’s more about responding to local needs. In either case, says Chester, it’s all about standing for something beyond profit.

This is the answer to the critical question: Do I enjoy coming to—and being at—work? There can be lots of reasons for that. It might be simple things, like assuring that employees feel safe in the store. Or it might be something less tangible such as a “fun” factor, Chester says. In other words, are there any regular, organized employee activities besides an annual Christmas party?  If things like a softball or bowling league aren’t practical, what about fantasy football? “You need something that unites your employees and that gives them a sense of camaraderie.

This is critical for most employees to know—even if they don’t plan to “grow” at your company, they like to know that they can. Most want to know that they have a chance to advance in pay and job level. “Maybe my career path has nothing to do with this place but a great employer will know where you want to go and help you to develop the skills to get there,” says Chester.

Employees need to feel that they are trusted to make independent decisions—even if those decisions are sometimes wrong. It’s critical to ask employees for their opinions and encourage and reward employee innovation. “It means a lot to know that your employer believes you have a brain,” says Chester. 

This is all about an employer clearly and frequently updating employees on everything they need to know. Employees should not always be finding out about company-related things second or third hand. Part of that two-way communication, however, is also listening to employees. “We survey our customers all the time for their opinions, but we fail to do that with the people who work for us,” says Chester.

For more on Eric Chester, today’s NACS Show keynote speaker, visit NACS Magazine online.