Canada's business magazine for traditional natural health retailers

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Mission-driven employees

Mission-driven employees

It’s fair to say that most employees of natural food retailers choose to work there because they believe in what the store does.

It’s fair to say that most employees of natural food retailers choose to work there because they believe in what the store does.

Drawing on a database of 240 natural food retails where colleagues and I have conducted employee surveys, I see a strong correlation between job satisfaction and direct experience with the store’s mission. For example, those who strongly agreed with “I would recommend this company as a good place to work,” also strongly agreed with “I see a clear link between my work and the company’s mission,” and “I believe this company operates consistently with its mission statement.” By the same token, those who disagreed with the first question also tended to disagree with the following two.

But it’s not enough to have a mission. Leaders must make sure the mission manifests in a real and concrete way in employees’ day-to-day work.

One owner’s vision

At Sunnyside Natural Market in Calgary, the owners’ vision has created a vibrant community of staff, farmers and customers. When Patty Nowlin and Pat Guyn took over 10 years ago, they had been long-time shoppers. In building the new website, Nowlin and Guyn articulated their vision, their purchasing ethics and principles, and “Our Commitment to You and Our Planet.” That commitment mentions not just the customers, but also local farmers and staff. (Take a moment to look at their website: www.sunnysidemarket.ca/philosophy)

Over the years, Sunnyside has attracted staff who are themselves passionately committed to this vision and these principles. While Guyn and Nowlin look for interest and commitment in job candidates, the applicant pool tends to be self-selecting.

Like many of their coworkers, Tyler Doucette and Matt Gigg applied intentionally. Now that he does hiring himself as assistant store manager, Doucette remarks that, “Many people come specifically to apply because they know what we’re about.” Part of new worker orientation involves visiting the website and reading the owners’ guiding philosophy.

But what seems to make that philosophy come alive for staff is the personal connection with local farmers. Sunnyside employees are paid for one farm visit a year, while purchasers visit more frequently. “I’m proud of having personally visited every ranch selling to Sunnyside,” says Gigg, now head purchaser for meat as well as editor of the newsletter. Moreover, employees are encouraged to take a paid workday once a year on any of Sunnyside’s supplier farms in order to help out.

Sunnyside employees are also motivated by a strong sense of community with customers. As Doucette puts it, “Our customers shop here for the same reason I work here,” and Gigg describes the staff and customers as a “close-knit group.” Knowledgeable staff members have conversations on the floor with customers about the sources and sustainability of the food.

But Guyn and Nowlin go further by involving staff in charting the direction of the company. Input is encouraged in daily to weekly department meetings called scrums, and in twice yearly all-staff meetings. Purchasers have direct influence on bringing in new products. Having so much input is one of the reasons Doucette has stayed. “I have a lot of autonomy in purchasing. Pat and Patty are very open to hearing ideas about new products and new firms in line with our values.”

Meanwhile, a task force – consisting of the owners, store manager, assistant store manager, head purchaser and other employees – has been doing research in preparation for an initiative to label and completely phase out GMOs in the coming year.

What Sunnyside’s example shows is that an inspiring mission can attract good staff, but to retain them and motivate them for the long haul, the mission needs to be made real in their daily work, and they need a voice in interpreting it. •

 

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