Companies have been struggling with how to engage frontline workers, a group that has gone above and beyond these past few years. And one company has found a solution: empowering frontline workers in order to engage them.
With 330 stores and 24,000 employees, Foodstuffs North Island is New Zealand’s largest grocery retailer. The company has five store brands, each location is a cooperative that is run by an owner-operator. Beekeeper customer success manager Yuxdi Farias got a chance to talk to two Foodstuffs team members about empowering frontline workers.
- Ruawai Te Rata, Internal Communications Consultant, Foodstuffs
- Simon Kennedy, Chief Digital Officer, Foodstuffs
The team at Foodstuffs, also called Foodies, are committed to being a great place to work and making healthy food available to their communities. Every year, the company and staff deliver millions of meals to people in need around New Zealand. It’s a culture the company has built over its 100-year history.
Ru and Simon shared stories from Foodies that covered topics including:
- Frontline workforce challenges and how to overcome them
- How to deal with rapid change
- Future of frontline empowerment
Here’s a brief recap of the discussion. Be sure to watch the webinar for all the key takeaways.
Overcoming Frontline Workforce Challenges
The rising cost of living and concerns about their and their families’ well-being is putting a lot of pressure on frontline workers.
These external stressors are making it more difficult to engage frontline teams. Their priorities have shifted to what they want in a career to help take the pressure off.
They’re looking for:
- More predictable shift schedules
- More flexibility
- More recognition and acknowledgment
“Our workforce is becoming more globally diverse and it’s getting younger. The result is that the old archaic ways of working are not acceptable anymore.”– Yuxdi Farias, Beekeeper
Simon added that there are also specific challenges to operating a 24/7 business with a large, geographically dispersed workforce. At Foodstuffs, they’re overcoming these challenges by embarking on a journey to digitize their entire workforce. So far, 40% of their employees across 60 stores are now connected to Beekeeper.
They use the communications platform to celebrate employees, strengthen their culture, align their values, and give workers the information they need to grow within the company.
Foodies also make sure employees have opportunities for growth through learning and training programs. Their goal is to have two-thirds of their hiring happen from within their workforce so skills development is a top priority for Foodstuffs.
“We’ve recently deployed a new learning management platform that gives us the ability to properly track, record, recognize and therefore celebrate training accomplishments that people achieve. And then we can bring that to life through our Beekeeper platform to make sure people know about the good stuff that’s out there.”– Simon Kennedy, Foodstuffs
And fun is also a part of the engagement strategy at Foodies. Ru shared an amazing 75-year tradition: their annual Checker of the Year competition and company-wide Excellence Awards.
Watch the webinar to see a video of the excitement!
How to Deal with Rapid Change
After the multi-year pandemic, Foodstuffs has learned how to quickly react to unexpected disruptions and change. They leverage technology that enables rapid communication and have built a culture that aligns everyone to a shared purpose and values. In a crisis situation, the entire workforce now has an intuitive sense of how to come together.
New Zealand was hit by huge floods this past January and, just weeks later, Cyclone Gabrielle hit, forcing them to close 10% of their stores. But the entire company was united in prioritizing the well-being of the workforce and making sure New Zealanders had access to food.
When one store had no employees who could make it to work due to storm damage, they put out a call for help on Beekeeper. Another Foodstuffs store under a different brand sent employees over to work the checkout lines for customers. And when two employees lost their own homes, they showed up to work because they knew their neighbors needed them. “Those kinds of stories show up for us every single day and it’s amazing,” said Ru.
“We want to, in the future, make sure that our brands are really strong, people want to stay with us, people want to work for us because of the continuing on our focus with having great career opportunities, having great learning and development available and just showing people what a great place it is to work here at foodies.”– Ruawai Te Rata, Foodstuffs
The Future of Frontline Empowerment
Empowering the frontline has become a key strategy for organizations these days. And the team at Foodstuffs knows it is an essential ingredient for success—operational excellence hinges on building a strong, engaged workforce.
Simon and Ru talked about empowering their frontline teams by:
- Creating an awesome place for awesome people to achieve awesome things.
- Developing people and creating pathways for growth
- Celebrating people.
- Building a culture worth belonging to
- Having leaders worth following.
At Foodstuffs, this last empowerment tip is critical to the culture they’ve built. In order to become an owner-operator of a Foodstuffs store, people have spent several years working their way up in the organization. This creates a continuity of culture and values that leaders then share with their own teams.
“One of our key focuses in this environment of the rising cost of living, and trying to keep our prices as low as possible for customers is for us to become as efficient and productive as possible. In order to do that I think empowering the frontline with digital tools to set them up for success, the right information, having great communication and Beekeeper’s really helping to support us with that.”– Ruawai Te Rata, Foodstuffs
Connecting and empowering the frontline is possible by continuing on the digital journey and engaging more workers through Beekeeper. It builds on the longstanding culture that Foodstuffs has created that will keep them going through the next hundred years and, as Simon says, “retain the awesome talent we have.”