How Can Retailers Increase Labor Productivity?

Convenience Summit Europe explored the Good Jobs Strategy to improve employee outcomes.

June 11, 2021

Smiling Store Clerk with Arms Folded

By Sarah Hamaker

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—How can retailers encourage their employees to work smarter and harder? By employing the four choices of the Good Jobs Strategy. During “Strategies to Increase Labor Productivity” at the virtual NACS Convenience Summit Europe 2021 last week, Zeynep Ton, MIT professor; Henry Armour, president and CEO of NACS; and Kristian Planke Styrmo, director of people development Europe for Circle K in Norway; tackled that question and more.

“How do we design a system so that people generate more than $15 an hour?” was the question Ton wanted to answer. “Making [the system] based on the person’s worth almost makes it sound like if we just focus on the ability of our workers, then everything will be fine.” The research behind her book, The Good Jobs Strategy, indicated that it’s both finding workers with the skills and incorporating a system designed for high productivity and high contribution of the employees in what she calls the four pillars.

“The first choice is focus and simplify—being very clear about what you offer your customers and be the best at that and give up certain other things,” Ton said.

The second pillar is standardization and empowerment. “Standardize all those routine processes,” Ton said. “But empower them to make decisions, … [which] enables customers to generate more sales and lower costs because you know what the customers want so you can adjust according to their needs.”

The third operational choice is cross-training. “Having a person specialize on one task tends to be such a way to limit efficiency,” Ton said. “If you can cross-train a person to do both customer-facing tasks … and non-customer-facing tasks, … you can adjust to customer traffic.”

Operate with slack is the final pillar. “Staffing your environment with more hours of labor than the expected workload sounds counterintuitive,” Ton admitted. “But what I’ve found in my research is that when retailers are understaffed, they make mistakes and lose sales as a result of those mistakes.”

Overall, companies that employ the Good Jobs Strategy are “obsessed with creating value for their customers,” Ton said. Good Jobs Strategy retailers also see employees “not just as cost to be minimized but seeing that they can generate sales and profit.”

To help convenience retailers attract and retain top-notch people, NACS partnered with the nonprofit Good Jobs Institute in January 2020 to bring the Good Jobs Strategy to the industry. The Good Jobs Strategy, which is a combination of investment in people and smart operating choices, increases employee productivity, motivation and contribution and promotes operational excellence. Case studies show that implementing the Good Jobs Strategy can grow a business and increase customer loyalty.

Retailers can access the Good Jobs Calculator, designed exclusively for NACS and the convenience industry. This tool allows retailers to use their own data and customized assumptions about the amount of improvement or uplift achievable, and executives can run scenarios on the bottom-line impact of a Good Jobs system.

The NACS Convenience Summit Europe ( is where global retailers gather each year to gain and share knowledge on strategic industry issues, while taking a deep dive into how these core, retail-centric themes will impact the industry today and in the future. This year’s event took place virtually June 1-3; next year the event is taking place in Berlin, Germany, from May 31 to 2 June 2, 2022.

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and NACS Daily and NACS Magazine contributor based in Fairfax, Virginia. Visit her online at