Tuesday morning of the National Advisory Group (NAG) conference kicked off with a session about defining company culture.
Many business owners talk about their company culture but often can’t define it. A well-defined culture is crucial for attracting top quality talent and keeping the customers coming back to your stores.
Tony Harris, president Thorntons Inc. explained to NAG attendees that at Thorntons company culture begins with the company’s core purpose. “This is not something you make up. It’s something you discover. Our core purpose is to be people’s favorite place to stop when they are on the go,” Harris said.
Identity, Harris noted, determines behavior. “When you’re trying to be someone’s favorite, would you be friendly or unfriendly, fast or slow, in stock or out of stock? It’s difficult to impact employee behavior if they don’t know the why behind what you are asking them to do. But when we show them ‘this is our purpose,’ then the behavior part comes more easily.”
That purpose begins with core values. Thorntons also encourages team members to take ownership. “It’s a lot easier to act like an owner, if you’re actually an owner,” Harris said. That’s why Thorntons, two years ago, began an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). Today employees own 25% of the company. “We felt it would further engage our team. It doesn’t change things overnight but it does happen,” he said.
Thorntons also works to build recognition into its culture beginning with the four basics of leadership:
“If you don’t have goal setting and communication, it’s hard to build trust. If you don’t have trust it’s hard to build accountability,” noted Harris. From handwritten thank you notes to cents off fuel prizes to a general manager conference where the general manager of the year wins a car—Thorntons makes recognition a key part of its strategy.
Thorntons also makes it a priority to get involved in the community and give back, including through Champs Cares, an organization that takes care of employees in need.
Delight More Customers
Henry Martinez, senior vice president human resources, CST Brands, noted that when CST Brands spun off from Valero a little over two years ago, defining the company culture of the new entity was a top priority.
At the time of the spin off, retail assets were less than 3% and there wasn’t a focus on retail operations. “We went off site and spent several days talking about a variety of things and culture was a large part of the agenda,” Martinez said.
“When people come together social norms are established. And we wanted to define it because if you don’t your employees will. We needed to decide how we wanted people to feel and how we were going to invest our employees in the business,” he said.
Efforts to engage employees have paid off. “We just launched our third engagement survey and we had 40% participation,” he said.
CST Brands wants employees who want to serve people first.
“Delight more customers every day is our mission statement,” Martinez said.
The company’s core values include:
After the acquisition of Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, CST Brands, merged the mission set by Nice N Easy Founder John MacDougall into its operating philosophy: “Be nice, have fun, sell stuff and be the best.”
In defining a new identity after Valero, CST Brands also made the dress code more casual: jeans and company shirts. “An employee that is comfortable is going to be more engaged,” Martinez said. And where Valero was a very clean-shaven organization, CST Brands welcomes facial hair.
Like Thorntons, the brand also does much with community involvement, including its Country Run 5k program. The chain is also open to participating in charitable causes and events on a micromarket basis, including ideas its employees bring to the table.
Glenn Plumby, senior vice president operations, Speedway, spoke about company culture from a customer perspective.
“We are Speedway. That’s really our rallying cry,” said Plumby.
Having a confident presence from employee attitude to store selection helps customers know the chain is serious about convenience and value.
“Swagger was something we felt we had lost about five years ago, and it is something we looked to recreate. We wanted employees to have their heads held high and know it’s their job to make their customers happy. We even have a swagger class.”
Speedway’s values include safety, environmental stewardship, integrity, corporate citizenship and inclusive culture. Its mission is to be the customers’ first choice for value and convenience.
Strategies to be successful in the minds of its customers include an industry leading loyalty program that is the cornerstone of its marketing strategy and has approximately 5 million active members; and a math mentality—in other words, decisions grounded in economics. But more than anything, Speedway relies on its frontline employees. “Our people are our No. 1 asset,” Plumby said.