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More retailers are enjoying the advantages that effective talent management processes, supported by technology, can offer.  This includes strategies for attracting, developing and retaining employees, ensuring a pipeline of qualified people, and building a culture of engagement and productivity.  Gallup research shows companies with higher-than-average employee engagement also have 27 percent higher profits, 50 percent higher sales and 50 percent customer loyalty.1

United Supermarkets, a family-owned retail grocery chain in based in Texas, is an example of an organization leveraging talent management to live up to its brand promise, maintain customer loyalty and control costs.  While there may be slight differences among their 50 locations, one element remains consistent: United Supermarkets still embodies the philosophies of its founder.

“United’s mission is to provide ultimate service to our guests, ensure superior employee performance and make a positive impact in the community,” said Tom Weis, director of training and development for United Supermarkets. 

This is especially important during the winter holidays – the busiest shopping season of the year.  With increased store traffic and sales, it presents an opportunity for team members to “wow” first-time shoppers with superior service and fair-priced, high-quality products – and hopefully convert them into return customers. 

Saving Time and Money

In 2007, United Supermarkets decided to invest in Cornerstone OnDemand’s learning and talent management software solution in an effort to streamline training and performance evaluation processes for its 10,000 team members. 

“Our performance review process was paper-based, making it very time-consuming and difficult to track,” said Weis. 

Automating the review process has allowed United to make employee evaluations more streamlined and reportable, so that managers can more easily complete reviews without getting behind on other responsibilities.  Additionally, they now conduct 45-day reviews for new salary and hourly team members, which has helped to increase retention rates. 

United’s training program presented a different set of challenges.  “We needed to figure out how to reach employees across all of our stores with targeted training while also minimizing out-of-store time,” said Weis. 

In previous years, United team members had to travel to one of the chain’s five hubs for training –requiring nearly three hours of driving round-trip for a three-hour class for most employees.  With the new, Web-based learning management system (LMS), branded “United Spirit University,” the company now offers online learning courses that can be accessed anytime, anywhere via computer or in-store kiosks. 

The ability to easily distribute mass training to large groups of people has saved the company an estimated $120,000 in new hire training alone the past year.  The learning portal also makes it easier for United’s learning and HR team to track course completion.  For example, United rolled out a new in-store labeling program, which they communicated to employees via a 13-minute online video accompanied by five questions.  Using the system, administrators were able to monitor employee response and share results with management, which showed an 88 percent course completion rate within the first month. 

Custom Courses Embrace Team Culture

For United, one of the benefits of online training has been the ability to create and share custom courses tailored specifically to support the company’s business objectives and instill United’s philosophies in its employees. 

To emphasize solutional selling in its stores, United created video vignettes featuring real employees in suggestive selling situations for specific departments, such as the bakery or deli.  Employees can view the vignettes through the LMS and then work with their managers to utilize these skills in their respective departments. 

“Being able to customize our training modules to include our own team members has really helped management and senior executives see value in the programs and create more buy-in,” said Weis.  “This was particularly important to our CEO, for which fostering a sales culture is a top priority.”

For the holiday season, United is distributing an online training series featuring the company’s COO to reinforce basic service concepts.  “He’s worked on the front lines and is well respected by our team.  For him to say directly to our team ‘Let’s not forget who we are,’ makes for a much more positive, credible and impactful message to our employees,” said Weis. 

Expanding Initiatives

With positive returns on United’s investment in talent management software to include its learning and performance processes, the company is expanding its use to support succession planning and leadership development initiatives.  The company also is creating a new onboarding curriculum to help new hires embrace United’s history, culture and mission from day one.  Initial use of the new LMS as part of the orientation process has already resulted in increased time-to-productivity of new hires, as well as an over 80 percent employee retention within 90 days of hire. 

“We believe our growth and success are tied to our commitment to service.  By aligning our talent management processes to support this commitment, and using the right technology solution, we’re more capable than ever of living up to our brand promise throughout the organization.” 

1.  Crabtree, S. Engagement Keeps the Doctor Away, Gallup Management Journal. January 13, 2005.