How grocery giant Kroger is beating the labor crunch—and what you can learn from them
To face the uniquely challenging times the grocery industry is currently contending with—burnout, labor shortages and shifting customer demands— your organization needs to focus on building resilient teams in order to drive the business forward. But how and where do you start?
On March 10, Axonify’s CEO Carol Leaman chatted with Senchal Murphy, Senior Director of Training & Onboarding at The Kroger Co. for a webinar that explored how the grocery giant has cracked the code when it comes to building a futureproof workforce.
We’ve gathered three key takeaways from the lively conversation, moderated by Progressive Grocer’s Editor-in-Chief Gina Acosta, that offer insider insight into how you can attract, train and retain the best frontline workforce.
1. Show your associates they’re valued from day one
Keeping 400,000+ associates engaged and doing the right things for the operation and customers in a retail environment that’s constantly changing is no easy task. But Kroger met the challenge by investing in key organizational priorities, including staffing and hiring retention.
According to Murphy, she’s most proud of how the company has prioritized attracting and retaining staff by ensuring that the lines of communication are open.
“We’ve leaned into it that way for the last two years,” she says. “We also continue to deeply listen to our associates and understand what’s in their hearts, on their minds and what more they need from us as their employer. Whether that’s supporting them in their ongoing career growth or meeting them where they’re at.”
Helping associates understand their role in bringing your brand promises to life with consistent, clear employee communication and management will foster a sense of belonging and purpose.
“I believe deeply listening to our associates and pivoting our plans and our strategies to support accelerating our associate strategy and experiences has been critically important,” adds Murphy. ”We’re a company that believes that you can come for a job and stay for a career. And we see that in all aspects of our company. So ensuring associates see their career opportunities and that they can grow into almost any position they want is another key priority for us.”
The labor market has been forever changed by the last two years. Overdue conversations about what frontline workers really want and need are finally happening and employers are listening.
“The frontline space is the single largest segment of employment; it is not a temporary situation. The fundamental shifts we’ve seen on the frontline are something we’re going to be dealing with for a very long time,” says Leaman.
“It is difficult to find employees, to get them to show up for work after you’ve hired them and to convince them to stay with your company for an extended period. Kroger is just such an exemplary example of what many organizations who are struggling with these issues can do. The way they think about the career of the associate, for example, are the same things that all grocers should be thinking about, regardless of size. Understanding what your business’ options are, and then prioritizing the ones that are going to work for your organization, is really the way to go.”
Learn how to build a resilient workforce that’s ready for anything.
2. Boost the KPIs that matter with personalized training
Every company has individual, team and company-level business targets to meet, and with the right support, your frontline can become your competitive advantage as you work towards achieving those goals, together.
Murphy says it starts with meeting associates where they are with the right digital training, then supporting them throughout their career journey.
“We’ve seen a large benefit from our partnership with Axonify and really leaning forward into training in the flow of work,” she states. “We’re there to support the knowledge and personalized training of each individual so that it isn’t that one-size-fits-all. The associate, depending on where they start and their level of knowledge, can progress through the content they need to know to do their jobs well, as quickly as possible. And it gives them the maximum opportunity to retain that knowledge and turn it into action on the job.
“What we know is focusing on the associate and what they need as an individual and making it very targeted in terms of what that knowledge needs to be, and making it fun and fast and fitting into their shift, is the best way that you can use technology to support not just the baseline knowledge they need to know to do their jobs well, but give them the opportunity to learn new things and then make progress in their careers.”
3. Think outside the box when it comes to hiring—and retaining—staff
Trying to find the right people, get them on board with your brand and then getting the best out of them for as long as you can is a big challenge in a talent desert.
Kroger has taken a few non-traditional steps to achieve their hiring and retention goals and keeping their talent pipeline full even through the ongoing labor shortage.
“We’ve had a lot of tremendous success in hybrid hiring events, where candidates can join us in person for an interview, or they can zoom in and connect with us where it’s most accessible and comfortable for them,” says Murphy.
When it comes to a retention strategy, she notes that while it’s important to focus on new hires, it’s equally crucial not to forget about shining a light on current staff who have worked hard during tumultuous times.
“Oftentimes, we’ll look outside the organization, we’ll continue to do that, but we have
400,000-plus amazing associates. So, really connecting with every candidate and existing associate to get across that we’re a large company with a tremendous amount of growth opportunities and taking measures to ensure they see what success looks like for each one of them, is important.”
Kroger’s expansive strategy of effective tools, resources and guidance behind each critical career step reflects a company that’s more focused than ever on connecting and retaining talent, developing engaged leaders and advocating for their associates’ wellbeing. And they’re pushing the conversation forward about what a career on the frontline might look like, and should look like, in the future.
If you missed the live session, watch ‘How Kroger is Beating the Labor Crunch’ on-demand below.