SUPERVALU has been on the cutting edge in their adoption of enterprise social technologies to drive a massive turnaround of the company. I caught up with Erin Grotts, the Director of Internal Communications at SUPERVALU, to ask a few questions.
Maria Ogneva: Please introduce yourself and tell us what you do at SUPERVALU.
Erin Grotts: My name is Erin Grotts, and I am the Director of Internal Communications at SUPERVALU. SUPERVALU INC. is one of the largest companies in the U.S. grocery channel with annual sales of approximately $35 billion. SUPERVALU serves customers across the United States through a network of approximately 4,300 stores composed of 1,102 traditional retail stores, including 797 in-store pharmacies; 1,332 hard-discount stores, of which 935 are operated by licensee owners; and 1,900 independent stores serviced primarily by the company’s traditional food distribution business. SUPERVALU has approximately 130,000 associates.
M.O. What are the different jobs that exist in the field and at headquarters?
E.G. As a nearly 140-year- old company, we are steeped in tradition and are proud to be home to many devoted associates who’ve been with us for decades. Jobs vary across the retail division – each store has hourly store associates, department managers, assistant store directors and store directors. These retail associates roll up to a banner (that’s what we call chains of stores under the SUPERVALU umbrella, such as ACME, Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, etc). We have Store Support Centers (headquarter locations) to support all of our field operations as well as for our wholesale and independent business.
M.O. How did you used to communicate prior to launching Yammer, and how have things changed between then and now?
E.G. Prior to Yammer, we connected to each other through internal email publications (coming out of the internal communications group),SharePoint sites and large town hall meetings. As we started using Yammer, we pulled the plug on the numerous weekly email publications because we realized that news is not one-way – it needs to be collaborative. Now associates know to go to Yammer to learn and share news. They also use it to give leaders and peers feedback on different initiatives or processes. Our job in internal communications has shifted. We are shifting from “gatekeepers” to “curators.” We find the great things our associates are doing and help promote and share them more broadly. We have a Yammer profile called “The Grapevine,” which sources and reposts news and posts tips. Our news breakdown is: 20% official company news and 80% associate-generated news. Communications Coordinator Ashley Brooks and I, supported by a cross-functional Yammer champion group called the ySquad, function as community managers and facilitators by encouraging conversations, training others and surfacing news and featuring hot new groups.
M.O. Who is the ySquad and how does one become a member?
E.G. The ySquad is a cross-functional group of volunteer Yammer champions who are committed to a deeper level of training. They help discover great content from across the network, connect people, facilitate conversations and drive adoption. To form the squad, we put out a call for volunteers. We didn’t limit participation, and members are self-selected based on the upfront time commitment required.
M.O. How did you discover Yammer? Who was the first person or group to use Yammer?
E.G. It was the CEO’s vision that brought Yammer to SUPERVALU, but it was the grassroots support of users that helped it stay. CEO Craig Herkert was brought to SUPERVALU and implemented our company turnaround strategy. Craig said once (in response to an associate question): “I am most afraid that people will continue to do things the way they have always done them. When you are turning a company around, there needs to be engagement from every member.”
Honestly, I was skeptical at first. We still have a typewriter in our Boise office, and I wondered how this new technology was going to work here. But you can’t underestimate people’s willingness to try something new, especially when you have long-time associates who really care about the company. People will jump at the chance to connect with company leadership and share their ideas and opinions. Our associates were ready to change; they just didn’t know how. We gave them a voice.
As we turn our company around, our CEO Craig Herkert stresses the importance of radical transparency.
Associates need to know what’s going on, and Yammer gives them the chance to do so. Senior leadership is also able to see where the challenges and opportunities are. Just like any large company, issues can get “masked” at a certain level, which means the C-suit doesn’t always get the full picture. With Yammer, the days of this problem are over. We are lucky that our executive team believes in the profound impact that social media has on a company and are ready to expose the good along with the company’s problems and challenges. Our CIO Wayne Shurts coined the phrase “Business fast and simple,” and if something makes us more agile, the management team is up for trying it out. I feel very lucky to be at a company where innovation in the internal communications space is really valued.
M.O. What do you mean when you talk about the turnaround at SUPERVALU?
E.G. SUPERVALU is focused on acting as one company, working toward a common goal of delivering increased value to all of our customers and meeting their needs store by store to become America’s Neighborhood Grocer. Internally, we are working to drive an open, transparent and agile culture, while continuing to bolster what makes us great – our associates, history and heritage.
M.O. How does SUPERVALU use Yammer?
E.G. One of our main use cases is around sharing best practices across stores. We know that feeling and operating like one company is a key to our success. When we first launched Yammer, we invited store directors from different banners to the network. Once they started using it, they could see how their store was like other stores – no matter what Banner name was on the outside of the building. Now they can share information to drive sales across banners.
Groups have been instrumental in our usage of Yammer. We have over 1,000 groups, ranging from seasonal best practices, to gluten free food ideas, to big sporting event promotions. There are even hyperlocal groups for beach stores or college stores. We also use Yammer’s external networks to communicate with franchisees, suppliers and other outside parties. We have an onboarding network for new recruits which helps them get used to the culture and understand what to expect on their first day of work. We pride ourselves on our deep tradition, and these values are critical to impart on new hires. Yammer is also a great resource for processing new-hire paperwork and aligning everyone via online chats called ”Yammer Chats.” The new hire experience can make or break associate retention, and Yammer helps us provide an excellent onboarding experience.
M.O. How do you make Yammer part of everyday processes?
E.G. It’s important to really understand what makes up an associate’s workday. What systems do they use? Are they sitting at their desk? Are they on the floor helping customers or sitting behind a desk doing project management? You have to meet people where they are. Because our store management staff should be mobile, we deployed iPads to Store Directors. Driven by our CIO Wayne Shurts (who was recently named as one of the top socially visionary CIOs), the iPad rollout signifies our deep commitment to helping associates become effective through technology. For personnel who don’t Yam yet (for example, in distribution centers), we are soon deploying “Yammerfalls” on large display screens.
M.O. What business benefits were you able to realize by using Yammer?
E.G. Apart from being a culture changer, Yammer has helped us drive hard business benefits. By sharing best practices, stores have the ability to be more effective and agile. When a store director posts a great sales-driving idea (with photos and sales stats), other store directors can easily implement the idea in their own stores.
The connection between field and office is rather dramatic also. For the first time in a long time, people who sit in the offices can understand how their decisions might affect the stores, distribution centers and the people who work in them.
M.O. What does Yammer mean to you personally? What’s your elevator pitch?
E.G. Here is my pitch: “It’s the way people will get their work done, whether they know it or not. Gone are the days of hierarchies and politics that come with them.”
About Erin Grotts:
Erin Grotts is the Director of Internal Communications for SUPERVALU, one of the largest companies in the U.S. grocery channel. As America’s Neighborhood Grocer, SUPERVALU serves communities across the country though a network of approximately 4,300 stores. Erin leads all company internal communications for 135,000 employees in the traditional retail, Save-A-Lot, wholesale and supply chain areas. She has been responsible for the integration of social media as a primary information vehicle across the company. Prior to joining SUPERVALU, she managed communications functions at Starbucks and Harrah’s Entertainment.