How it’s done

by Jim Kline
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How do they do it? This is a question I ask myself just about every time I shop at a family-owned and ­managed full-service supermarket near our office in New Jersey. What is it that raises this question in my mind? It is the employees’ exhibited knowledge and demonstrated competence, their commitment to customer assistance and satisfaction and a strong work ethic. But what makes this even more notable is the number of part-timers — students, teachers, retirees. They work weekends, holidays and off-shifts, they have the challenges of dealing with the public, and the jobs are repetitious and laborious.

Sound familiar? Yet, in spite of the work required by these positions, they attract and retain good workers, who, regardless of age or prior experience, expertly perform their jobs. So, how do they do it? It has taken some ferreting of information to get a glimpse of the answer.

It starts with a defined culture that sets the standard for every member of the organization. A culture that establishes it is everyone’s job to make sure customers have a positive shopping experience, where they easily find what they want, the products are displayed appropriately, quality is promised and delivered, the environment is pleasant, and where paying for the purchase is hassle-free. It is a culture that is innovative. Groceries can be purchased online and delivered curbside, dieticians are on-staff and ready to assist, childcare is available, and shopper’s assistants are on staff for those who need it.

What does it take to deliver this? Planning! It takes time to prepare for and hire the right people.

For starters, this means having well-defined jobs and knowing the skills and tasks required to perform them. This particular establishment uses its job definitions in many ways. They are used not only to ensure that the company’s hires are successful in performing their jobs but also in preparing for pre-employment interviews, developing of training programs, mentoring new employees, and conducting performance reviews. This market has taken the job description to the next level; not only does it describe what the individual is expected to do in a specific job, but it also addresses the skills an employee will need to perform that job.

At the pre-employment interview, the interviewer explains the nature of the job, speaks to the skills a person will need to be successful and assesses what the candidate can bring to the job and what skills he or she would need to learn. What is key in the process is determining if the individual has the ability to learn — and the desire to do so. If the person has both the ability and desire, the market’s management team is confident it can provide the training!

Another key attribute that the company looks for is attitude. Is the person demonstrating a sincere commitment to the job and what it will take to be successful? Is the attitude consistent with the company’s culture, which places true value on positive interaction with the customer and fellow workers? The proper attitude and work ethic are personal traits this company expects workers to bring to the job.

Each position is well-defined, and job descriptions have been refined through years of experience to reflect current job requirements. Training is targeted at the skills required to perform a job. Each individual receives basic training: job expectations, safety and — perhaps most importantly —the company’s culture. Then, it is onto job-specific training. Where and when appropriate, the company conducts formal training programs and provides training materials to employees for their reference. On-the-job training follows. Oftentimes, this is concurrent with any skills enhancements that the company offers. When workers perform the job, they are not left alone. They have identified resources to turn to if they need help, and those resources are always close at hand.

At some point, on-the-job training transitions to become something more along the lines of a mentoring program. Workers look out for one another; it is a part of the culture. When someone gets stuck or needs a hand, someone is there to assist. The employees know their jobs: shelves stocked and orderly, the market clean and tidy, checkout lines short and efficient, and bagging is done to customers’ satisfaction (no soap in with the lettuce!). It is interesting to watch management allow the system to work the way it is intended. I have seen some coaching, but they tend to focus on the bigger picture — store layout, planning and providing value-added assistance to the customer and employees.

I hope you’ll agree, there is something here to be learned from this New Jersey “mom and pop shop.”        


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