Employees at the Heart of the Organization

NACS Leadership Forum session addresses the importance of an employee-centric culture as an indicator of success.

February 16, 2015

MIAMI BEACH – Following a morning session focused on how customer-centricity can be an essential differentiator for companies, last week’s NACS Leadership Forum took a turn to look at another key focus area for businesses today: employees.

On Thursday afternoon, a series of speakers addressed the topic of “Employee-Centricity,” emphasizing the direct correlation between companies that rate high in work environment and high customer satisfaction. In other words: establishing a positive workplace culture will almost inevitably lead to happier customers.

McKinsey & Company’s Michael Burchell opened the session off with a quote to get audience members thinking: “Talent flows to where it is most valued.” In other words, the most talented employees can choose where they work, and inevitably they will choose a positive environment where their contributions are appreciated. The question is, how can an organization create that environment?

Burchell described several aspects of the process behind building a positive workplace, including various indexes, benchmarks and audits. He began by listing key issues for creating a great workplace, including:

  • strong commitment from CEO and senior management
  • high levels of trust between employees and management
  • genuine belief that people are indispensable to the success of the business
  • greater consistency of experience across groups
  • active communication forums between employees and management
  • perception of a special and unique culture, e.g., “we are not like others”

While there are any number of ways to achieve the goal of a positive work culture, Burchell cited 37 management practices that fit into nine categories — direction, accountability, leadership, motivation, coordination/control, innovation/learning, culture/climate, capabilities and external orientation — as a means of measuring the effectiveness and outcomes of organizational health efforts.

According to Burchell, there are four basic “recipes” for optimizing organizational health, and each unique organization will take a different approach, while using the basic “ingredients.” The four recipes for success are:

  • Leadership driven, in which leaders are the performance catalyst, set high expectations and help the organization achieve them.
  • Market shaper, in which the ultimate goal/methodology is shaping market trends and building portfolios.
  • Execution edge, which leverages people and know-how at all levels to achieve competitive advantage.
  • Talent/knowledge core, in which an organization’s collective talent and knowledge is its most important asset.

Particularly in organizations based on the “talent/knowledge core” recipe, managing and fostering employee performance is essential. Performance coach Rhonda Waters of the Human Performance Institute (HPI) emphasized that the key to achieving a sustained, high-performance employee culture lies in managing employee energy. “People are the greatest resource for enterprise success,” said Waters. “The most critical resource we have as human beings is our energy. It is the fundamental currency of leadership, employee performance and the customer experience.” Unfortunately, according to HPI research, we are essentially in a human energy crisis, in which demand continues to go up as capacity decreases.

Since time is a finite resource, Waters advocates for a paradigm shift in how people manage their resources, but managing their energy, not just their time. This, says Waters, is the key to extraordinary results. “It’s the difference between being engaged and simply being present,” said Waters.

Wawa’s Director of Associate Relations and Benefits Stephanie Capaccio joined the presenters to provide an industry perspective on creating an employee-centric culture. Capaccio reiterated the principal that engaged associates drive customer satisfaction. In numerous surveys, Wawa has noted higher customer satisfaction scores in stores where associate engagement is significantly higher.

“Engagement predicts performance,” said Capaccio. “If we can engage all associates at a higher level, we’ll see more profits coming back.” At the same time, she said, engaged associates are also motivated by customers, evidenced by practices such as holding personal conversations with customers a way of going “above and beyond.”

Wawa uses several strategies as a means to engage employees, not the least of which is an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, in which 44% of the company is associate-owned. Other facets of the company’s approach include:

  • Value People: recognition programs, listening tours, talent management, promoting from within
  • Servant Leadership: people come first, humility, respect, authority over power, accountability
  • Internal Care: formalized commitment to nurture and protect associates, devoted to addressing life events
  • Embrace Change: new stores, new products, new markets
  • Delight Customers: regularly listen to what customers say, recognition of customers and associates as partners
  • Passion for Winning: ownership culture, increasing employee commitment to company success. ESOP is a differentiator for Wawa in competitive job market.

Wawa President and CEO Chris Gheysens also spoke about the company’s corporate culture earlier in the week, read about his NACS Leadership Forum session here.

The NACS Leadership Forum is an annual, invite-only event, bringing together retailers and suppliers to provide thought leadership that is relevant to the convenience and fuel retailing industry, while strengthening existing relationships and building new business relationships. The event took place last week in Miami Beach.