One convenience store chain shares its story on how it transformed its employee pool into a deep resource.
By David Hite
Roadrunner Markets, part of Mountain Empire Oil Co., is a 92-location convenience store chain located in the Appalachian region comprising southwest Virginia, Northeast Tennessee and western North Carolina. We have more than 700 employees, each with a strong work ethic with a special emphasis on customer service and professional relationships.
I was hired in 2014 as the company’s manager of training and development. My background isn’t in the area of c-store management; I come from a blend of education, manufacturing and government.
Before arriving at Road Runner Markets, I worked as a training consultant for a Fortune 100 chemical company for seven years, and spent another seven years as a business professor and training consultant for a variety of manufacturing, city government and small businesses. The c-store industry has been an exciting journey full of amazing challenges, but mostly opportunities to expand our small business.
Most of my 20 years has been in the area of people development and process improvement, so I wanted to take a very systemic approach to building our talent management strategy. We have a knowledgeable store management team that is an extension of the corporate training role.
Early, I started spending time learning about who had a passion for developing employees and managers. I developed an educational advisory board made up of store managers, area managers and division managers, along with experts who have extensive knowledge in specific areas of the business.
The most difficult challenge when building a talent management strategy starting from scratch is deciding where to start. The simplest approach was using a common process called ADDIE (Analyze, design, develop, implement and evaluate), which is a foundational concept in training.
ASSESSING COMPANY NEEDS
I had to determine what the goals of the business were. What were the specific needs of the workforce? What performance gaps existed? What knowledge, skills and abilities were needed to produce the business level goals? During this process, we took a look at what resources, workforce processes and information gathering were needed to benefit our employees at every level.
From store visits and one-on-one interviews to focus groups, we collected as much insight on the culture as possible. Biannually, Roadrunner has a large store manager meeting where all managers come together to celebrate their successes.
The company implemented a Roadrunner Culture Assessment that provided a 20,000-foot view of the manager’s level of engagement along with information about training needs from their perspective. We also crafted an exit interview survey so that we could collect information from employees who left the company. All of these activities help frame current and future needs when it comes to building a strong workforce at Roadrunner Markets.
DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION
Once we assessed what the highest level needs were in our organization, we began developing solutions in the form of mini-pilot projects with the goal of improving employee engagement, building on existing knowledge or developing capacity to grow the competencies of our employees. On the next page are some of the most impactful projects that we implemented:
- Roadrunner Scholarship Program: This program provides a $750 scholarship that can be used to help c-store employees with school expenses while they are working with us.
- NEO Employee Talent Survey: Roadrunner hired a talent recruiting specialist who has focused our hiring and selection efforts. When new employees are hired, they participate in a 6-8 hour orientation class. During class, they complete a talent survey, which helps us learn about their interests, background, hobbies, long-term goals, skills and advancement potential.
- Secret Shopper Program: Roadrunner also implemented our own internal secret shopper program where we select new employees to visit stores and provide input on various quality aspects during their visit from customer service and store image to alcohol compliance. This engages employees as well as gives them a look into quality, which is a major component of our vision.
- NRF Certification Option: The National Retail Federation (NRF) provides a certification for individuals who are in the retail industry. We have partnered with this certificate program as the foundation for our leadership training as well as an optional development opportunity for employees wanting to gain skills in retail.
- Leadership Development Program: Last fall, Roadrunner rolled out a 10-week leadership development program for store managers. Most of these managers haven’t had any formal leadership training; it developed a broad curriculum that covers core areas within the NRF program plus advanced skills in the following areas: coaching, interviewing, engaging employees, time management, delegation, emotional intelligence, advanced communication skills, problem solving and conflict resolution. In addition to the classroom elements, we’ve included a 360-degree feedback process where they get developmental feedback from their Area Operations Manager and their employees.
- Training Store Certification: This year, the company will begin a certification program for our highest potential store managers who we’ve identified as having an excellent performance history and who are also known as store managers who have the strongest “people development” skills.
Ask any professional training department what the most difficult challenge is for them and they will all give the same answer: evaluating training effectiveness. After just one year, the measures in place have given quite a bit of insight. How have these targeted activities been helpful at Roadrunner? In just one year, we’ve seen a significant drop in turnover along with an increase in employee engagement.
An ongoing challenge is to ensure that managers continue applying these skills back in their c-stores. One measure that we are considering for 2016-2017 is a survey to measure employee job satisfaction. If an organization doesn’t value learning, then it will simply stagnate in a competitive and ever-shifting marketplace.
David Hite is the manager of training and organizational development for Roadrunner Markets/Mountain Empire Oil, based in Johnson City, Tenn. Prior to joining Mountain Empire Oil, he was the department chair and professor for business programs at Virginia Intermont College for six years. As an HR/Training consultant, he has worked with Volkswagen Group of America, Northup-Grumman, Tempurpedic and the U.S. Department of Energy.