By:  Dagmar Farr, Chief Member Relations Officer and Senior Vice President, Membership and Education, Food Marketing Institute
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I often hear our members asking how do food retailers meet the challenge to identify, recruit, train, and retain top talent? David Smith, president and CEO of Associated Wholesale Grocers, Inc. and co-chair of Future Leaders eXperience, says it’s with a very focused HR strategy. As a member of FMI’s Wholesaler Committee and Wholesaler Share Group, I spoke with David recently on why people are the most valuable asset to any business. Without teammates, operations can’t take care of the needs of their fellow members or customers. It’s a collaborative effort shaped by executive leadership teams and it covers every area of today’s food retail operation. 

Smith continues, “The foundation for being a great place to work is the environment and culture of the organization. It is our leadership and teammates that form the environment and culture at AWG and articulate what we stand for. We define our core values as Humility, Accountability, Transparency, and Serving (H.A.T.S.) and this is our foundation for all employees' engagement and performance.”

Humility -We encourage and expect genuine collaboration, involvement and teamwork. We are active listeners that embrace retailer, employee, and vendor feedback to continuously strengthen our service to all. It’s a mindset. 

Accountability- Together, we are unyielding in delivering on our commitments and achieving results. Our employees are innovators and solution oriented; empowered to exceed member expectations.

Transparency– Transparency means that our members, employees and vendors clearly know our business practices, and we insist on honesty, openness, consistency, and completely ethical dealings, even when it’s difficult.

Serving – It is our passion to serve our constituents, members, employees and vendors, and continually improve our level of support. 

In addition to defining, communicating, and living out AWG’s Core Values as expectations, the company has worked to align its total compensation, rewards and benefits strategy with its business goals. 

“We have tackled the issues of pay, teammate work flexibility, alternate work hours and shifts, technology-enabled productive employee shift-swapping, engagement and feedback, employee programs and recognition,” explained Smith. “Our overall offerings to our teammates are very competitive throughout our operations and they all tie directly to performance for the benefit of our members.”

AWG is also tapping into new avenues for great entry-level teammates, including a new apprenticeship program, as well as veteran outreach and recruitment, and more part-time jobs. Additionally, the company makes continuous improvement to encourage teammates and leaders to be creative and innovative. If employees find new and better ways to improve a process, AWG makes adjustments to evolve and focus on doing things well and always doing the right thing. 

“We provide our teammates timely and constructive feedback and communication, as well as rewards and recognition. Our teammates have a voice and their voice matters in our plans and decisions. We have implemented a company-wide uniform teammate training and development program,” said Smith.  

As a result, AWG has experienced higher teammate retention rates. The company surveys teammates annually for job satisfaction scores, and the result of the feedback influences its growth and improvement plans. 

Smith added, “We are very proud of our workforce and feel well prepared for the future and our capability to take on significant growth.”

Know a future leader? Invite them to attend FMI’s Future Leaders eXperience, May 14 – 16 in St. Louis, Missouri.