How Blain’s Farm and Fleet improves their retail employee performance

Posted June 11, 2018 by


Andrew Marcotte knows how to improve the performance of entry-level retail employees. He is an HR Business Partner at Blain’s Farm and Fleet, a specialty discount retailer with 38 locations. Marcotte supports store operations and store management teams across all locations. He shared with us what they do to motivate, grow and develop entry-level employees and we have shared his insight below. Marcotte was selected as an official SHRM 2018 blogger. 

Managing store employee performance  

To start with, Marcotte says they implement several traditional forms of managing talent at Blain’s Farm and Fleet, including performance reviews, talent reviews, talent calibrations and mentorship of regional management. Recently, however, he says they are taking steps to make performance management more simple and ongoing. “We recently revamped our performance review that was reduced from 10+ pages to a one page document,” and they also hold “interactive discussions with each store associate throughout the year to keep a pulse on the workforce.”

What motivates entry-level hires to become top performers 

Marcotte says they strive to recognize good work and grow talent from their early careers, retaining them in leadership positions. “We have found that public recognition and opportunities for advancement drive entry-level hires to become top performers. About 95% of our store managers were internal promotions, which speaks volumes to our culture and opportunities that we provide to our associates.”

About 95% of our store managers were internal promotions

In fact, Marcotte says he has “numerous examples” of employees who grew from the entry-level role of associate into strategic leadership positions such as Store Manager, Regional Manager, and even our current Vice President of Store Operations. Recognition programs are a key part of developing that talent. “In the past year, we have expanded our recognition programs so that more associates are being recognized.”

Specifically Blain’s Farm and Fleet recognizes their store associates in two ways. First, they have a “peer to peer program that focuses on our core values.” Every month, they choose winners for each location. Second, managers nominate one associate per quarter–someone who shows exemplary customer service. “We then nominate one regional winner from that group and ultimately one overall winner from that quarter. These winners are awarded a store party in their honor and then publicly recognized by our CEO at our annual store management meetings with a reception dinner.”

Within a culture of ownership and accountability, store managers develop their own great teams

At Blain’s Farm and Fleet, says Marcotte, a key is “creating a culture of ownership and accountability.” Trusting their managers to make decisions regarding the development of their own teams has allowed for “a continuous response and better results across the board.” Managers are expected to work daily with their team members to “teach and provide feedback on performance.”

The fact that so many store managers grew from the same hourly positions that they now manage lends itself to positive team relationships. That “improved employee-manager relationship creates an open door for honest guidance,” says Marcotte.

Train store manages with blended learning and team buildingTo train their managers in effective performance management, Blain’s Farm and Fleet relies on a training program developed by their Learning & Development team, as well as bi-annual manager meetings. The training program is a “comprehensive blended learning program designed to deliver both operational and soft skills to help our new managers obtain the skills and techniques of a successful leader.” For the bi-annual meetings, they bring all store managers together “to share updates and provide developmental opportunities. These meetings allow for an open dialogue where managers can address their concerns.”

Marcotte says that dedication to training and professional development has improved their ability to “attract, develop, and retain key talent and was a key reason that we were recognized by Forbes as a Best Midsize Employer in 2018 and a top ten employer in the state of Wisconsin.”

Related: Workplace culture of happiness and leadership retains entry-level at Whole Foods

Challenges to a feedback-on-demand approach

I asked Marcotte where he stands on the current discussion about shifting away from annual performance reviews and moving toward more ongoing and on-demand feedback and coaching. He says he is seeing “a trend of companies that completely removed performance reviews turn back to a blended approach.” Retail, however, has a particular challenge with annual review. “Working in an industry that can expect higher turnover,” he says, “we need to find solutions that go beyond an annual review. Communicating a career path to associates is one possible solution. Research shows that employees today crave open communication and frequent feedback. Providing such a path will create an open line of communication.”

Marcotte’s HR team encourages managers to praise good performance immediately. They want managers to “catch their associates in the action of ‘doing something right’ so they can offer instant praise and recognition. This public on-the-spot recognition goes much further than any formal programs we provide.”

Andrew MarcotteAbout Andrew Marcotte: Andrew is currently an HR Business Partner at Blain’s Farm and Fleet, a specialty discount retailer with 38 locations throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. In addition to his enterprise role that allows for a strategic partnership with store management teams, he is an advocate for helping young professionals find their passions. Over the past several years, he has volunteered with the IL SHRM State Council on numerous conferences and events engaging the Young Professional members. He has also been selected as a member of SHRM’s YPAC and will lead membership initiatives in 2018.

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