What does it take to motivate today’s chain store associates?

Feb 14, 2014

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of an article from Convenience Store Decisions magazine.

QuickChek, RaceTrac and Ricker Oil are all working to engage employees by creating a strong culture, working to reward and recognize employees and, most importantly, gain their continued feedback in order to best motivate them in the future.

Recognizing employees for a job well done doesn’t only mean a cash reward.

"As we think about rewards, we need to think about Millennials. By 2025 they will make up 75 percent of the workforce and they want non-cash rewards," said Karen Mitchener, director of human resources for Ricker Oil.

Many rewards programs are based on tenure, which in a high turnover industry can leave out key employees. Other programs focus on a static employee of the month award, which can get stale.

Ms. Mitchener recommended tying the rewards into company values and goals, such as superior customer service, mystery shop results, teamwork, positive store inspections and cost-cutting goals.

While managers might be getting a bonus if goals are met without a hitch, frontline employees also need motivation, and their manager’s reward doesn’t reach them.

Ricker’s points-based variable compensation program rewards according to individual metrics, such as holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. It also considers store metrics that include team payouts, such as when one employee passes a mystery shop.

"Ensure points can be managed on a timely basis," Ms. Mitchener noted. "If it’s not timely it defeats the purpose."

Finding their employees wanted recognition, communication and trust, RaceTrac switched from only recognizing milestones to giving out a service award every year. Its Employee Assistance Program includes complimentary fresh fruit delivered to team members, wellness challenges and competitions, free personal trainers, Zumba and kickboxing classes and RaceTrac’s annual Run for Research 5k.

QuickChek provides college tuition reimbursement to eligible team members. Assistant Store Leaders and Store Leaders can further their development through QuickChek University (QCU), a 10-part in-house leadership development program that even includes trust falls and a poll climb.

QuickCheck recognition includes "way to go" notes, birthday cards, team members of the month, and quarterly award winners. Monthly town hall meetings, weekly communication meetings and store meetings are all venues for repeatedly making your message clear and gaining valuable feedback from the staff.

Any recognition effort should also tie back to the retailer’s culture. Said Robert Graczyk, QuickChek’s vice president of human resources, "If it’s a family culture you want to create then maybe don’t schedule a meeting for 8 a.m. on a Saturday."

What are some obvious and less obvious tips around constructing store employee recognition and rewards programs? How should rewards differ for managers and non-managers? What works in high-turnover environments?

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21 Comments on "What does it take to motivate today’s chain store associates?"

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Bob Phibbs

Any time and any way you can reward employees is good. The metrics are where it gets sticky.

Frank Riso

First of all, we have to ask ourselves, what are the new workers accustomed to? Games. They have played them since their first toy tablet. So it is games — or a better term, “Gameification.” Every time they complete a task, a training course, a good customer service — they earn points. Once they have enough points, they can get a day off with pay or order a gift, etc. Applications can be incorporated into game-like solutions and POW…we have every new associates playing and working to meet individual goals.

David Livingston
3 years 8 months ago

I recently spoke with the management at Woodman’s in Wisconsin. What seems to motivate their employees is making millionaires out of them with their ESOP program. I’m pretty sure employees would appreciate cold cash and stock rather than a “way to go” note.

Rewards should be equal among managers and non-managers. Of course managers make more but as a percentage of pay, the rewards should be equal. Town hall meetings, birthday cards, and Zumba classes are kind of a cheap, low-cost way of rewarding employees. I would think most employees would not be too thrilled with that and would much rather have financial incentives.

For high-turnover environments, you don’t want to have a reward program. The whole purpose of a high turnover environment is the high turnover.

Jeff Hall

As RaceTrac and Ricker Oil have discovered, Millenial employees seek recognition, communication and trust, none of which necessarily require a monetary form of reward.

Rather, employees first want to understand how their role and efforts fit into the larger whole, and how the bigger picture is aligned with purpose and values. Creating this understanding enables employees to have a sense that they can and are making a difference.

Communication is also key, as Millennials expect transparency and open lines of communication throughout the company. Finally, brands must make every effort to instill and nurture a workplace and culture of trust. Any company wanting to build employee loyalty and reduce turnover should be dedicating effort and resources, top-down, to building mutual respect, honesty and meeting its promises into the very fabric of the organization.

Stacy Graiko
Stacy Graiko
3 years 8 months ago

Many of these incentives (way to go notes, birthday parties) are not necessarily motivating in and of themselves, but they serve a more important goal of getting – and keeping – workers engaged with the company. Just because these jobs have traditionally been high turnover doesn’t mean they have to continue to be…and with a raise to the minimum wage, could they not be career positions for some people? Engagement becomes even more important in this case.

As far as the poll, I say front-line workers should be rewarded at higher levels than management since they potentially have a stronger influence on customer satisfaction.

Ian Percy

Honestly we were talking this way decades ago so the thoughts expressed in the article are really pretty elementary – i.e. express appreciation, ask people what they want, etc. “Motivation 101” at best.

One thing we need to get clear is that there is no such thing as a “non-motivated” person. When we declare people “un” or “non” motivated we mean we can’t get them to do what we want them to do.

EVERYONE is motivated to do precisely what they are doing because they see it as a better option than doing something else. Of course when that behavior or attitude doesn’t match what we would do or feel, we assume “they” have a problem.

My advice is to STOP trying to motivate people! Franky it’s annoying.

Only when one’s work is an expression of one’s highest desire will you see supernatural performance. That’s been shown to us repeatedly in the Olympics.

Steve Montgomery

Immediacy is a key word for motivating the Millennial workforce. This is a group of people that grew up with extremely fast access to information, products, and entertainment.

That means the time lag between the event being recognized and the recognition should be as short as possible. True, they like earning points, but that is a form of immediate reward. I did something and I got something.

Dan Raftery

Authenticism is one of the big factors that set performance reward programs apart. When store associates feel a genuine connection to “The Company,” the reward program will be viewed as the real deal.

This can only be done through regular personal contact with company leaders. They need to bring the personal recognition into the stores personally. Even the stores farthest from the HQ.

Doug Garnett
I won’t offer tips – just caution. These rewards programs require metrics. But the things that should be rewarded often (usually?) can’t be captured with metrics. Yet, too many stores persist and impose destructive metrics on their associates. We see it everywhere – most often in the meaningless “Will you fill out this survey?” printed on the receipt and foisted on customers by the cash register help. But here’s the problems… 1. The survey data is entirely invalid as survey data – because it’s a rare consumer who fills it out. (I have entirely stopped – it’s not my job. My job is to shop at the store.) 2. These surveys incent store associates to skew results (as I’ve too often heard: “…and I need 9s or above to avoid getting fired.”) 3. They focus associates on what’s meaningless (good survey data) instead of meaningful (truly happy customers). After all, the truth is that finding more reward from non-monetary things is not just for Millennials. It’s human nature. We as managers may find comp plans very meaningful. But even among managers it’s my experience that everyone wants more from their job than just a paycheck. My advice: let’s get real… Read more »
Eric Chester
Eric Chester
3 years 8 months ago

These examples from the convenience store industry point out a massive trend in retailing; focus on culture and employee engagement and your profits will soar.

For my forthcoming book – “On Fire at Work: How Legendary Leaders Ignite Passion in Their People without Bringing Them Out” (Fall 2014) I have interviewed two other giants in this industry, Chet Cadieux, CEO of QuikTrip and Joe DePinto, CEO of 7 Eleven. Both have poured a great deal of time, energy, and resources on improving their respective cultures so they can attract better people and inspire them to work harder and perform better.

Although the rewards should different by level of position, they must be customized for an individual rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. And they are much more effective when they are sporadic rather than handed out at pre-arranged intervals (i.e. 6 months, 1 year, etc.)

Employee engagement doesn’t just happen. Great workplace culture is intentional.

David Zahn

Obvious tip #1 – STOP assuming we know what would incent behaviors we seek, and ASK associates.

Obvious tip #2 – Tailor/personalize/customize offers to meet or suit individual preferences (not a “one-size fits all” incentive).

Less obvious tip #1 – Actually observe clerks, associates, and employees working (or even better – do their job for a day or two) and see the world as they do – the incentives may become easier to spot when you “go native.”

Less obvious tip #2 – Model the behaviors you seek. Don’t just ask it of others if you (as manager or executive) don’t abide by them.

gordon arnold

Buttons, badges and books will not survive the pecuniary needs of living outside of the parental domain. Simply put, whether one is schlepping carts or hiding from the phone, a living wage is the only real priority. Retailers that figure this out and find a way to provide for all of their employees will have their pick of the entire work force, which means employee production and customer service will soar.

Ralph Jacobson

I think merchants need to develop a real strategy around employee tenure goals. Traditionally high turnover stores may not necessarily want to change that environment by keeping workers there longer term. Labor expense per employee will increase overall, typically. However, there are ways to make the staff more productive and loyal while they are working at the store. Many suggestions in the article an in the comments can work well. Simply treating staff like they are human is a great start. Talk to them. Ask them for ideas. Say, “Thank you” all the time…for even a task that was not done perfectly, but just done well-enough.

Management needs to be rewarded in a manner that makes it desirable to actually work in management. If line-level staff make only pennies less per hour or week, then the basic incentive to become a manager isn’t apparent.

Stan Barrett
Stan Barrett
3 years 8 months ago
Of course, tip #1: figure out why they are working for you. Are you the first stop in a long career of retail jobs? Are you the most convenient place to work while they attend school? This list can go on and on. Tip #2: If they seek a career, can you provide it to them with well planned process that they understand — that is a motivator! I especially like the mention of “group rewards.” Not sharing in actual amount, but everyone knowing the goal they are seeking. If it is to “enhance the bottom line” then incent to find savings/increase sales. Not just have the manager cut hours since he is the only one rewarded (yes, we know this happens). Let everyone know — and share the reward. And just to relate — years ago in a retail “feed store” environment we were “spiffed” to sell a particular brand of dog food. Now, we all worked to make this sale happen — I took the retail order, a kid took it to the customer’s car, warehouse guys offloaded the original order, etc. So we just pooled it and had a burger and beer night TOGETHER. Moved to another… Read more »
Mel Kleiman

All kinds of great comments here. I wish I had time to get in earlier but here are a couple of quick thoughts for those of you willing to read down this far.

1. We manage and motivate an individual, not as a group.
2. Motivate people the way they want to be motivated and not the way you want to motivate them – or the way you want to be motivated.
3. The best way to find out what motivates people is to ask them what motivates them.
4. Don’t just tell them what to do and how to do it, but why it needs to be done. Why the job they are doing is important.
5. Recognition needs to be given immediately if you want it to have any real value.
6. Help people grow. If you help people get what they want they will help you get what you want.

Motivation is internal. We really don’t motivate people, we manipulate the things around them to get them to do what we want.

Craig Sundstrom

“Recognizing employees for a job well done doesn’t only mean a cash reward.” True. And as long as recognition programs offer things in addition to money, or as long they offer what people want, fine. But far too often managers – or execs, really – engage in their own game playing: offering frivolous/cheapie perks, while shortchanging compensation and masking under some euphemism their (seeming) long-term goal to rid themselves of anything with a pulse. Nothing says “thank you!” like a healthy pay stub…nothing refutes the notion better than an “attaboy!” email tacked onto a 0% raise.

Tom Borg
Tom Borg
3 years 8 months ago

Cavett Robert said it best, “People don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care.” No company operates successfully without good employees. Thus identifying and using what works to keep your people motivated is one of the key result areas for any company that is serious about thriving. One of the best ways to find out what motivates them is to poll your employees and ask them.

Creating a culture where upper management truly cares about employees, goes the furthest when it comes to creating and sustaining outstanding results.Rewards and incentives are key to keeping key employees and keeping them motivated. However you package and deliver them, and as I tell my clients, “Praise pays!”

Ed Rosenbaum

Recognition can take many forms, cash being only one. I almost always send cards at holidays such as today, Valentines Day. But I have a small staff which makes that easier for us than for larger companies. I also send gift cards on occasion for a job well done or sometimes for no reason other than to say “thank you” or “you are special and important to us.”

Mike Osorio
Mike Osorio
3 years 8 months ago

Just one more key point to add here. As well documented in Daniel Pink’s excellent book “Drive,” “the secret to high performance and satisfaction-at work, at school, and at home is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.” In other words, beware of relying on rewards and programs as these are not what truly motivates us. It is connection to a purpose we believe in. Of course we should recognize our employees when they exhibit the behaviors that are aligned with our service vision and with our company values. But as soon as you make the reward about money or other compensation, that becomes the very empty goal. Read the book.

Christopher P. Ramey

Non-management and local management are low on the rung. Separating them is foolish. They’re more likely to think of upper management from the same perspective.

It’s akin to marketing to consumers; you must craft messaging/programs that compel them to become loyal.

Verlin Youd

Ditto Frank Riso, comment #2 below. Hits the nail on the head!


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