A Sterling way for a pharmacy retailer to build a greater sense of belonging
Sterling Drugstores, a long-standing independent chain of Midwest retail pharmacies, redefined its purpose in 2014 as, “We build healthier lives through caring relationships.”
A year later the company surveyed all employees and found out they indeed cared deeply about their customers but wanted better communication, more consistency from all levels of management and more training—feedback that’s not uncommon to employee surveys.
Sterling’s president, Sam Ewing, was struck by another finding in the survey results. “Employees wanted a greater sense of belonging to something larger than the store in which they worked,” he said. He decided to embark on a journey “to create culture of engagement” on the belief that alignment to the brand promise would benefit employees and grow the business.
Ewing sequestered his top lieutenants in a remote area of southern Minnesota for a leadership retreat (in the middle of February, no less) to instill in his leaders an awareness of communication behaviors, or a “common language,” among them. He turned to SOCIAL STYLE, regarded as the world’s most effective interpersonal skills model, as the lynchpin to implementing its new strategy.
Ewing hired The People Difference, a TRACOM associate, to conduct the training. The leaders took the online self-perception survey before the retreat to learn how they viewed their individual styles and versatility. During the retreat, they learned how to apply this neuroscience-based model to drive higher performance and lead more engaged teams.
Following a productive two days, the leaders went back to work. And work they did. In concert with other engagement strategies—mandated quarterly meetings with employees, new interview and review processes among other engagement tools—the leaders used their newly formed understanding of their behaviors to alter how they coached employees and dealt with customers. Momentum was beginning to build.
Fast-forward a year, to the second Sterling leadership retreat. Yes, again in the woods in the middle of a Minnesota winter. (Ewing: “Fewer distractions.”) This time around, leaders wanted to know how others perceived their behavior, so they could use that feedback to communicate even more effectively with employees who may not share their preferred behavioral style.
The group took the next logical step by employing the managerial multi-rater version of SOCIAL STYLE and Versatility, to get an outside-in view of their behavior—a look in the mirror. This mirror comes courtesy of colleagues the leaders invited to take the survey on the their behalf. During the training, The People Difference consultant informed the leaders, “This feedback is a gift to you from your coworkers, who have these perceptions of you from working with you. But you may never have known what those perceptions are, if not for this assessment.” Leaders received individual profiles detailing the feedback—rather, gift—from colleagues, in many cases showing gaps between their perceptions of themselves and those of their survey responders.
The leadership team used the book The Versatility Factor, by John Myers and Henning Pfaffhausen, as their guide during the training. The application of SOCIAL STYLE and Versatility techniques helps leaders more effectively delegate, give corrective feedback, increase the productivity of direct reports as well as coach and mentor. It also helps leaders head off or resolve unnecessary conflict caused by “interpersonal friction.”
This kind of “versatile managing” helps increase support and respect from direct reports, who become more receptive to following you as a competent, trustworthy leader. The tools help improve any kind of business, social or personal relationships, independent from the cultural backgrounds of the people involved By the end of the retreat, there were a lot of dog-eared, highlighted pages in leaders’ copies of The Versatility Factor books.
“This is the closest thing there is to a ‘magic pill’ when it comes to interpersonal effectiveness,” one leader said following the retreat. “All it takes is learning the concepts, referring to the materials and tools I received, and then putting the applications into practice on a consistent basis.”
In mid-2017, Sterling conducted another employee satisfaction survey. The results are encouraging: * 87.9% of employees who answered the question, “How happy are you at work?” scored it a 7 or above on a 10-point scale. * 95.3% of respondents answered Yes to the question, “Would you to refer someone to work at Sterling?”
“There is no doubt in my mind that one of the reasons for the increased levels of engagement we are seeing is the fact managers are more aware of their own and others’ behavioral style,” Ewing said. “They are better able to communicate with their employees on an individual basis, and this has created better teams.” Sounds like just the right medicine for building an engaged culture.