Building a resilient workforce: 6 lessons we can learn from grocers

Not all heroes wear capes. In fact, many of the unsung heroes of the pandemic wear aprons and can be found unloading trucks, stocking shelves, and ringing out orders at your local grocery store. While they may not be the high-flying, villain-fighting archetypes you see on TV, organizations can learn from how agile and resilient grocery’s frontline workers have become.

While most businesses were forced to shutter, grocers were busy handling unnerved patrons, instituting ongoing changes to safety protocols and procedures, and meeting unprecedented demand. As panic-stricken shoppers were busy clearing off shelves, grocers around the globe were busy hiring at lightning speed. Their ability to keep society functioning has placed their frontline workers in the essential category, right up there with doctors, nurses and first responders.

We wanted to get more insights into the lessons grocery leaders have learned about keeping their frontline people safe and productive through the pandemic. So we sat down with Nick Starck, VP of People Strategy, Insights & Technology at Southeastern Grocers, and Carol Henry, HR Director of Longo’s, to hear their perspectives. You can hear the full conversation here, and we summarized 6 awesome tips that emerged below: 

1. Lead with empathy

“Where we’re at now…is really “hired hearts” and we need humans to be human with each other.”
– Nick Starck, SEG | Listen to the full 0:19 clip

Your employees are more than just members of your staff. They’re juggling work, their families and new stress levels brought on by the coronavirus. Focusing on their health, safety and mental wellbeing should be one of your top priorities.

Empathy has always been a key trait of a top leader, but it should be a trait of every leader in your business. Grocers everywhere are offering paid sick leave, childcare benefits and even cash bonuses for hard work. They’re closing down stores on holidays they would normally stay open for to give their employees a chance to rest. And the little things matter too. Help employees celebrate their achievements. Explore any opportunity to offer flexibility to your employees. Putting their wellbeing at the forefront will go miles towards inspiring them to do their best work every shift.

2. Don’t sacrifice your values

I think this is a time when you have to really double down on your values.”
– Carol Henry, Longo’s | Listen to the full 1:26 clip

Yes, things are so much different now than they were before. But now is not the time to throw your values out the window. In fact, smart grocers know that now is the time to lean into their values and focus on how they can execute in a more agile way.

Your values are what make you different than your competitors. Your employees can feel it. So can your customers. Ensuring you’re still delivering on your values is just as important now as it was before.

3. Focus on context

We’ve always been very focused on going where the business is rather than sort of dragging them along and saying, “This is what we want you to learn.”
– Carol Henry, Longo’s | Listen to the full 1:08 clip

Gone are the days when corporate pushes down information through the business about what they want everyone to be learning and doing. Being successful today requires collaboration and closely listening to what the business is telling you.

Your frontline employees are your boots on the ground brand ambassadors. They’re gaining first-hand knowledge and insights from your customers. Prioritizing the things they’re concerned about or flagging as important will not only boost your agility as a business, it’ll make them feel valued, respected and heard.

4. Open the lines of communication

We wanted to ensure all of our associates were informed on the decisions [we were making].
– Nick Starck, SEG | Listen to the full 0:44 clip

It was hard enough to get a message to your frontline associates before the pandemic (even while they were at work). To reach the people in the organization without corporate email accounts, head office has long resorted to posting information on bulletin boards and sharing key time-sensitive information through team huddles. But now, these traditional communication methods aren’t reaching your frontline employees fast enough.

Without the most up-to-date information, your employees can’t perform safely or productively. Informing them is the first step in getting them to change their behaviors. Smart grocers quickly prioritized frontline communication.

5. Build for speed

“We really had to shift very quickly here just because of the huge demand that came from our store operations team.”
– Carol Henry, Longo’s | Listen to the full 0:35 clip

The pace of grocery was already lightning fast. The coronavirus has put it on steroids. Safety guidelines, standard operating procedures and product availability change daily. As new information arises around the coronavirus, today’s safety measures may be replaced with different measures tomorrow. Keeping up with it all may feel like it’s giving you whiplash, but your frontline employees’ health and safety depends on it.

Grocers have learned how vital it is to pivot quickly. They’ve rapidly adapted to changing safety requirements, quickly informed and trained their associates on new operating procedures and even transformed their new hire orientation from an in-person classroom session to a virtual event in a matter of days. And to do this, they’ve had to forego traditional training and communication methods and allow new technology to accelerate the pace.

6. Power them with tech

“Grow empowered people… and have those folks supported by tools, technology and communications around them.”
– Nick Starck, SEG | Listen to the full 0:30 clip

The pandemic hasn’t just changed the way we work, it’s also changed how we access information. Shared devices like a break room computer or tablet have now become a health and safety hazard. Finding a new way for your employees to access information without putting themselves at risk can seem like a daunting task. Good news: your employees have the answer (and it’s right in their pockets).

Allowing your frontline to have access to their personal devices can have many positive impacts to your business. They are already familiar with the tech. They don’t need to leave their workstations to find job aids. And, they’re already cleaning them. Concerns like legacy IT issues, security and legal considerations have historically limited personal device use at work, but they don’t have to anymore. For more tips on implementing a BYOD approach, check out this blog post.

 

They might not be actual superheroes, but grocers everywhere are proving that you don’t need to wear a cape to have superpowers. They’ve learned to move like The Flash, arm their frontline with a toolkit like Batman and have the communication powers of Doctor Strange. Organizations everywhere can learn from them to adapt to this ever-changing business world. To get started building a frontline workforce that’s ready and resilient in the face of certain change, check out The Ultimate Guide To Frontline Training.

Learn how leading grocers use Axonify to drive better associate performance

Check out these common problems Axonify solves.

Caily is our resident retail whiz with a passion for CX. She’s spent more than a decade partnering with industry leaders to ensure success in strategic planning and omnichannel execution of national programs—so she knows the deal when it comes to the retail industry.

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