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How grocery leaders are inspiring and motivating their employees

Execs from Pattison Food Group, Stong's Market, Summerhill Market and more weigh in
How grocery leaders are inspiring and motivating their employees
L-R: Pattison Food Group's Jones, Stong's Market's Bradley, Vince's Market's Giancarlo Trimarchi, IGA's Dominic Arsenault and Summerhill Market's Christy McMullen

Darrell Jones, president, Pattison Food Group: “Our people are the foundation of our business and without them, our company simply wouldn’t be what it is today. It’s so important for our team members to know that our company cares about and appreciates them – not just as team members, but as individuals. At every level, in our stores and offices, our people take the time to get to know one another, understand what’s important to one another, and provide opportunities to help them feel fulfilled at work.

"Our culture of appreciation and recognition goes back more than a century, and today, we are proud to offer our team members the opportunity to grow their careers in any department across our company from retail to real estate, I.T. to supply chain, finance to HR, or marketing to merchandising. There has never been more opportunity with the Pattison Food Group than there is today, and we believe in growing our people so they are prepared to take on new opportunities by offering a number of internal development programs as well as accredited programs through partner institutions.

"At the end of the day, motivation and inspiration comes from strong relationships between team members who are committed to doing the right thing and doing it well, and leaders who care about their people. We want all team members to feel fulfilled in their roles, no matter where they decide to work or in what capacity. Everyone in the Pattison Food Group plays a part in our collective success.”

Brian Bradley, president, Stong’s Market: “In these challenging times, today’s workforce is often looking for more than just monetary rewards. The best ideas in this business generally come from those on the frontlines and we encourage our team to constantly innovate and bring new ideas forward. Supporting a culture of innovation and providing autonomy to our team to try new things creates growth opportunities at all levels. Many employees also want to know what our company stands for and that it has values aligned with their own. We have a commitment to supporting our local community, and providing opportunities for our team to take an active role with these efforts helps with engagement.

Giancarlo Trimarchi, president, Vince’s Market: “The three key areas our organization is focusing on are: 1. Fostering an environment that provides empowerment and autonomy [for our team members] to take charge of their work and come up with ideas. When they have the power to make decisions, it makes them feel valued and excited about their tasks. 2. Recognizing and appreciating their hard work, whether through public praise or rewards. 3. Providing clear communication and making sure everyone knows what’s happening by talking to them clearly. This helps everyone understand their roles better and feel like they’re part of something important.”

Christy McMullen, co-owner, Summerhill Market: “At Summerhill Market, it is our employees that make us successful, and so it is essential for us to keep our employees inspired and motivated. We take a holistic approach to driving employee engagement; recognizing and rewarding their efforts as individuals and teams. To show our people that we appreciate them, we offer a variety of perks, including: competitive compensation, merit increases, paid healthcare benefits, an employee discount, opportunities for career advancement, training and development and our Superstars program. We also have a lot of fun with each other enjoying events like the boat cruise, picnic, lunches, ice cream days, holiday festivities, team contests and many more. But really, the most important thing is actually engaging with your team, listening to them and getting their ideas and feedback. Give them opportunities to implement their ideas even if it means mistakes will happen, and let them own both the wins and the losses and it will keep them engaged.”

Nicole Simard, HR manager, The Big Carrot: “The Big Carrot [TBC] is a niche natural food market, many staff members live the lifestyle and are motivated to help others do the same. Staff genuinely want to help customers be healthier and happier. TBC is a worker-owned store so staff are proud to be part of a positive environment and they come in every day with the intention of contributing to that ideal. To improve company culture, we conduct various employee engagement and endearment initiatives like themed giveaways so that employees feel valued and appreciated. Employees also appreciate our community donations, like the Shoebox Project to support homeless women and the Water First campaign to collect money for clean water for Indigenous communities.”

Dominic Arsenault, owner, IGA Coaticook: “Since COVID, and the arrival of the younger generation (18 to 30 years old), motivating employees has been even more complex since employees seem to be getting less and less involved emotionally in their working environment. The personal life seems to take most importance and work is a way to get their quality of life. Quality of life is a lot less negotiable than it used to be 10 years ago. Here are examples of what we do to help that aspect:

  • Flexible work shifts – very few evenings and weekends for full time employees and two days of work a week for students
  • Health and wellness program
  • Flexible paid days off

"Relationships or work atmosphere between coworkers is also critical to keeping employees motivated. Here are examples of what we do to help that aspect:

  • An active employee comity with outside store activities
  • Good presence and consideration
  • Search for teamwork profile personalities both management side and employee side
  • Hire a HR partner to put in place best practices to maximize employee experience
  • Employee assistance program

"With inflation hitting hard and with labour shortage, Salary has also come up quite high in keeping employees motivated. Here are examples of what we do to help that aspect:

  • Yearly study on salary positioning
  • Employee discount for all employees
  • Performance bonuses for managers
  • Christmas bonuses
  • In-house scholarship program for students
  • Health and wellness program financial participation
  • Increased progression in the salary latter (less hours to get a raise)
  • Paid days off program
  • Collective insurance
  • Dental insurance
  • Telemedicine coverage

"Like I said above, there is no secret recipe to keep our employees motivated and it requires more and more creativity as years go by. There will never be a finality. It is an ever-going evolving process. We must work with our teams to find solutions that make the most sense and meaning for them and that itself is the key.”

A version of this article first appeared in Canadian Grocer’s September/October 2023 issue.

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