Town & Country Markets was founded in 1957 out of a shared interest in bringing fresh, high-quality groceries to Seattle-area Bainbridge Island. Until the founders (sons of immigrants who hailed from Japan and Croatia) teamed up, the island didn’t even have a supermarket. So the trio introduced Town and Country Markets—a place staffed with employees who had a passion for food and for serving the needs of the community.
T&C Markets has since grown from that single store to a regional operation with six locations and over 1,000 employees. But despite its growth, the company stays true to a set of core values that, based on the original vision of the founding families, drive every business decision and customer interaction—even as grocery customers are looking for things like technology-driven shopping experiences, a return to local produce, and food delivery services.
“What [people are] looking for is always changing,” Central Market Store Director Tom Hall told Kitsap Daily News. “How they connect, interact and celebrate food is always changing. We have to be in tune with that and adjust to people’s needs.”
T&C Markets’ most recent industry challenge? One much closer to home: How to consistently communicate its core values to over 1,000 employees (and growing) across locations. The company decided to revitalize its learning program to infuse T&C Markets’ core values into its existing compliance and training processes. To get there, the company partnered with Cornerstone OnDemand to turn this vision into reality—ultimately developing a continuous, intentional, and engaging learning and development program for its employees. From tutorials on how to organize a cash register to lessons about environmental sustainability, infusing core values into each lesson has helped T&C Markets employees connect their daily tasks to the larger mission the original founders set out to achieve.
Promoting Company Values Through Continuous Learning
T&C Markets’ values, which range from Diversity & Inclusion to Knowledge & Development, have always been a guiding light for the company.
As T&C Markets continued to grow, that need became ever more dire. Nicki Sunwall, Learning & Development Manager and Skye Tucker worked to implement Cornerstone’s learning software—specifically the Cornerstone Create Tool, designed to help businesses leverage existing learning content and create new lessons using pre-built templates. T&C Markets went with Create to easily develop new content, tailor specific courses to different roles and departments, and deliver both new and existing learning content seamlessly across the company. The Tool also allowed them to infuse their values into each and every lesson—or in some cases, create entire lessons devoted to those bespoke values.
Today, the Cornerstone learning platform, branded internally as “The Learning Compass,” is a continuous experience for employees. New hires are invited into the platform to take a series of introductory lessons, including one that goes over each of the company’s values. Moving forward, employees receive lessons monthly. These lessons ensure employees are up-to-date with training and compliance, empower them to explore new areas, and create opportunities to keep T&C Markets’ values top-of-mind. Continuous learning helps onboard new employees and upskill existing employees, but more importantly, it highlights the imperative value of knowledge and development (one of T&C Markets’ core values).
Intentional Learning and Development
For T&C Markets employees, finding time for learning can be challenging: It requires them to leave the store floor, taking time away from assisting customers.
“We know our employees’ time is already really precious,” Tucker says. “So when we’re taking them off the floor and giving them space to learn, we always want to make sure that’s time well spent. ”
This commitment to intentional learning is multifaceted: First, to help minimize disruption to the workflow, T&C Markets created new lessons in the style of Cornerstone’s Microlearning® philosophy. Focused on individual concepts delivered in minutes, microlearning helps employees make time for development—minimally disrupting their shift.
Second, T&C Markets’ learning content does more than provide information to employees—it also connects back to a larger goal or initiative by uncovering the “why” behind the “what.”
Lessons about kitchen safety, for example, teach employees how to properly operate specific equipment. They also explain why compliance is so important to the company. This learning strategy ensures employees are equipped with training and knowledge, while keeping customer experience top of mind.
Take one of T&C Markets’ recent lessons for front-end checkers as another example: This lesson not only teaches employees how to keep registers organized, but also explains how it will help employees work effectively with people in their department—true to its “People Working Together” value.
Increasing Employee Engagement
Beyond ensuring employees know how lessons tie back to both company priorities and its values, T&C Markets works to ensure the actual content of the lessons are interesting, too. Most lessons incorporate multiple forms of media. One lesson about one of T&C Markets’ core values might include photos, videos, statistics, or interviews.
T&C Markets’ learning content also often features members of its leadership team or managerial staff. A lesson about Stewardship features expertise from Tony D’Onofrio, Sustainability Director at T&C Markets, and Susan Allen, the company’s Senior Brand Development Manager. Featuring subject matter experts adds color to the content and contributes to overall understanding of the lesson. Employees can also easily put faces to names at the company.
“These leaders often travel to different markets, and folks will say, ‘Hey, I saw you in that video. I know who you are,’” says Nicki Sunwall, Learning and Development Manager at T&C Markets. “And they now have connections with not only our core values and our company culture, but with members of our leadership team.”
T&C Markets also looks for methods outside of the platform to increase learning engagement. For example, the company launched a friendly competition between each of the six markets to drive participation—and the approach paid off. T&C Markets’ gamification-driven learning strategy resulted in a 100% lesson completion rate in many of its markets. T&C markets also hosts regular, interactive discussions about lessons to encourage staff to share what they’re learning—and even what they’d like to learn more about.
Fostering A Culture of Learning at T&C Markets
T&C Markets continues to communicate its core values to employees, creating a culture where workers are excited to learn. In fact, when asked about their learning experience thus far, a majority of employees are interested in more learning opportunities. The values-driven approach is a competitive differentiator for the company, since more employees today are motivated by mission and purpose.This commitment to learning can also drive retention, with 70% of survey respondents in one study reporting that job-related training and development impacts their decision to stay with a company.
Building on Foundational Values
What’s next for T&C Markets? The company’s leadership is currently discussing the creation of more operational, compliance-like trainings using Cornerstone. T&C Markets plans to experiment with new types of content like instruction manual videos that feature employees across teams and locations, sharing guidance on how to do their jobs most effectively. As T&C’s leadership receives more employee insights and feedback on learning and development content, the Create Tool will let them effortlessly tailor content to meet the evolving needs of their employees.
While T&C Markets’ method for distributing learning content is fresh and modern, the themes are as old as T&C Markets itself—and it’s safe to say to say its founders would be proud that these values are as relevant now as they were at the very start.
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