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Molding today's managers.

The high tech, high volume stores coming off the drawing board these days are changing the qualities supermarket operators look for in management people. Today they need managers who are sharp and sophisticated and as comfortable with computers as they are with people.

Because of this, a number of chains have been refining their selection and training techniques. Although the goal of finding the best people remains paramount for everyone, the methods being used to find these sharp trainees now differ.

Some chains, like Publix, still embrace the traditional method of promotion from within. But others have begun searching in new places for managerial candidates. Safeway and Kroger, for example, still rely heavily on in-house promotions for new managers, but also recruit off college campuses.

"We've been concentrating on management development for the past six to seven years," says Jack Stemm, director of training at Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix. "We have a series of three-day workshops at three different levels. These are conducted nearly every week of the year with the exception of the summer months and the holiday seasons. We try to get employees into the programs as soon as they are promoted to a new level of management."

At Publix, all management candidates must come up through the ranks. It usually takes an employee eight to 15 years to go from entry level to store manager, and no one is considered for a management job--regardless of previous experience--unless he has first put in three or four years as a Publix stock clerk.

The first level of management training at Publix is for the position the chain calls "manager trainee," a post similar to the third person at many other companies. The program, explains Stemm, is a basic leadership course that is held in an informal resort setting. "We use 'Leader Effectiveness Training' as the text for the course, but do not use the packaged program that goes along with it, since we develop our own."

For assistant managers there is a values and ethics workshop, held at corporate headquarters, that covers stress management and goal-setting. And for stone managers, there is the advanced leadership training program that Stemm says is based on Hersey & Blanchard's concept of situational leadership. Here, again, the text is only used as a reference, since Publix develops its own program.

These workshops deal strictly with human behavior. Stemm says the technical skills required of management personnel are usually learned on the job as each employee puts in time on the lower rungs of the lader. To give specialized training for electronic equipment--such as the chain's automated teller machines and front-end scanning systems--a "department on wheels" is used. The department is a traveling van that makes store calls. The van, run by the ATM department, is used mainly when a new program is being developed, or when new hardware or software is introduced.

Although Publix managers start their careers in entry level positions, many of them are college educated. "I believe it is more important to have a formal education today, and it's happening at Publix," says Stemm. "As we brought newly promoted trainees into a recent workshop, we surveyed them and found that cover half had some college training. More and more also have degrees." He explains that a number of trainees are attending college on their own while working as stock clerks.

Campus Capers

Some supermarket companies, anxious to obtain college-educated management people, sponsor students at colleges offering food distribution courses. Others, including Oakland, Calif.-based Safeway, has broken with tradition by seeking out management talent on college campuses.

Marilyn Fowler, Safeway's management development and training manager, says the chain's recruiting efforts just started last year. The company sends employee relations people from its various divisions throughout the country to schools with food distribution programs. There they talk with soon-to-be-grads who are considering retail management careers. Appointments are set up for follow-up interviews and selected students are put through a vigorous management training program after they graduate.

Despite this effort, the company's own employees who are eligible for advancement are the primary candidates for management training. The college recruiting is considered supplemental, says Fowler. "Going outside is a departure for Safeway," she says, adding that the desired ratio for Safeway trainees to outside recruits is 60-40. One of the reasons for looking elsewhere, Fowler says, is the desire for "new blood" and the benefits of "picking up individuals who are getting specific training in retailing."

The opportunities to get this type of training have probably never been greater, with food marketing, management and distribution programs sprouting up with great frequency at colleges throughout the country. Among the schools with well-respected food marketing programs are Cornell University, Michigan State University, St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, University of Southern California and Western Michigan University. Along with these schools, most of which offer four-year bachelor of science degrees in food marketing, there are a number of colleges with two-year associate or one-year certificate programs, as well as those offering individual food distribution courses.

"We see retailers coming in and recruiting more than in the past," says Charles Mallowe, administrator of The Academy of Food Marketing at St. Joseph's University. "Their recruiting techniques used to leave a lot to be desired, but nowadays, retailers offer students structured training programs."

He says that out of 56 graduates of the class of 1984, 32 were placed in the food and allied industries. However, only five went into food retailing. "Normally, 20% go into the retail side," says Mallowe. "This has increased. There was a time when most wouldn't consider the retail side. Now, retailers present jobs in a more positive way."

Mallowe says that grads going into retailing usually start out on a management training program that leads to a management spot. The other career paths that students often follow after graduation are sales and marketing positions with manufacturers and jobs in the food service field.

"The nature of the retail management job is more sophisticated today," Mallowe says. "It takes particular skills to run a supermarket today. A college education is becoming more necessary every day due to the technological skills required, and due to the situation of running stores doing a half million dollars--or even a million dollars--a week in sales, with very low profit margins."

One of the requirement at St. Joseph's is a computer literacy course that all students must take at the beginning of their instruction. "As they get involved in food marketing courses, they must know how to use the computer and how to interpret the information that comes out of it," says Mallowe.

He adds that a career in supermarket management can be financially rewarding, and cites retail offers to St. Joseph's graduates exceeding $20,000 a year. "This is high compared with salaries for the sales positions, but it is a tradeoff. A graduate must choose between being a sales rep with an expense account and a company car, and being on the retail end, with long working hours, but getting a larger cash incentive."

Frank Gambino, coordinator of the food distribution program at Western Michigan University and a former buyer/merchandiser with Chatham Super Markets, says a number of his students are sponsored by retailers such as Jewel, D&W Food Centers and other Spartan affiliates, and various Super Valu independents. The school also approaches food companies on the behalf of unsponsored students. And, as is the case at most colleges with food distribution programs, manufacturers award scholarships to students showing exceptional abilities.

Gambino says the food distribution program at Western Michigan is stressing electronics more these days through a course called Systems and Controls, which deals with computer operations within the industry. "Students come in contact with a scanning system, get front-end experience and learn how to use the data. We also have a number of supermarket strategy games that are worked off the computer," he says.

Milton Kushins, a consultant and recruiter at Roth Young Personnel Service Inc., which specializes in food industry management placement, doesn't think a four-year college degree is absolutely necessary for a store manager position. "For a supermarket manager, a two-year associate degree with fundamentals such as economics, accounting and a knowledge of the industry is what's necessary," he says. Kushins, a former executive at New York's Associated Food Stores, was once a professor of food marketing at Brooklyn's Kingsborough Community College. He bemoans the fact that the college was forced to drop its two-year associate degree program in food marketing due to lack of industry support in the New York area. Kushins says he wonders if existing food distribution programs are providing students with enough of a background in the store manager's job.

One program that seems to answer this need is a two-year supermarket management course offered by the Dakota County Area Vocational-Technical Institute in Rosemont, Minn. This program enables students to train in a full scale retail food store located on-campus. Don Hayes, the school's food marketing coordinator, says the program attracts young students just out of high school and individuals with six or seven years of industry experience, whose training might not have included some of the technical skills that are now required.

"Store managers today need finesse in dealing with people, as well as computer knowledge," says Hayes, who turns out between 35 and 40 food management graduates each year. "We have more job opportunities in our state than graduates in our program," he says. "It's a demanding industry that takes work and dedication."

Hayes says graduates usually come out of the school at the mid-management level and that about 10% to 12% of them go into the wholesale or brokerage end of the business. "those with math talent go into the electronic area, and many of our graduates have become scanning coordinators for independent stores in the last few years, starting at salaries of approximately $20,000 a year."

Jim Stevenson of the University of Southern California, which offers a one-year food industry management program, has not seen much college recruiting by supermarket firms. "The chains have never come to the campus recruiting and they still are not. I'm not upset with that because if I were operating a supermarket, I'm not sure I'd consider the college campus the best source of new talent either."

However, many chains do send their people to the well-established program on a scholarship basis. Stevenson calls it "a sort of mini-MBA," and says most attendees--usually in their late 20s or early 30s--already hold college degrees. Students sent by food companies are naturally obligated to return to their sponsor firms after the program is completed.

STevenson is a firm believer in store-level training and he points out that many chains have put together sophisticated programs of their own. "There is more emphasis on development than on training these days," he says. "That is, more emphasis is being placed on areas of management development such as leadership, decision-making and accounting than on 'how to bag,' 'how to check out,' and 'how to build a display.'"

Programs With Promise

At Safeway, after management trainees have successfully completed the necessary technical instruction, they move into Phase II of the program, or the assistant manager level. This gives them on-the-job training, and they are only pulled out of the stores for management skill seminars from time to time. "The candidates must have a certain level of competence to be promotable," says Safeway's Fowler, who explains that they must go through an assessment center before being considered for a management spot. This program consists of a two-day simulation of several aspects of a store manager's job, for which role-playing exercises are conducted.

"A trainee's performance is evaluated in areas such as dealing with customers and figuring out what store problems are from studying a set of numbers on a report," says Fowler. She points out that the success of those candidates recruited from college campuses is still unknown as none has yet reached the point of assessment. Getting to that point can take a year--or longer--depending on the growth of stores and the need for managers in each division.

Cincinnati-based Kroger, which promotes from within and also recruits on college campuses, uses the learner controlled instruction method for entry-level co-manager trainees. Under this program, the individual works in a store while going through 18 weeks of intensive training at his own pace via a manual and on-the-job training.

At Harris-Teeter Super Markets in Charlotte, N.C., a similar learner controlled instruction program is employed. Here, employees must be at the department head level or have at least two years of college to qualify for entry into the management training program.

Godfrey Bennett, vice president, employee relations, says stores are notified of openings in the program and applicants are interviewed and tested. The chain also does college recruiting for the program and--like Safeway--tries to have a 60-40 ratio of inside to outside trainees. "That's a ratio that we don't want to change," says Dennis Hayes, assistant vice president of human resources development.

He explains that the chain's learner controlled instruction program is similar to those used at many other firms, but is custom-designed to include some unique features. "These programs are usually administered by the headquarters staff. Instead, we have 10 store managers who act as mentors or supervisors in the program. Management trainees report to one of these managers and not to a headquarters person. We get a much more accurate assessment this way, since the trainee comes out of the program with a manager's signature on him." Hayes explains that store managers who agree to participate in the program are paid a bonus for their efforts.

Another difference in the Harris-Teeter program, Hayes says, is that the last four weeks are devoted exclusively to training participants on specific objectives. These include analyzing a P&L statement, counseling or disciplining an employee, handling the payroll, conducting weekly store meetings, evaluating problem solving in the departments, making sales projections, scheduling, routing paperwork, and managing relationships between the store manager, the district manager and the product specialists.

Hayes says Harris-Teeter has also been identifying approximately 13 roles that store managers play. The company is in the process of designing training programs based on these, in conjunction with the findings of a recent study on "The Store Manager of the Future" conducted by the Coca-Cola Company's Retailing Research Council.

Training With Computers

Harris-Teeter has also recently put 15 managers, who will soon be handling in-store personal computers, through a one-day computer awareness course. In addition to this, the chain is in the process of designing computer-assisted training programs on gross profit accounting for department managers.

Similarly, one major national chain is beginning to experiment with computer assisted instruction at the management level, as microcomputers are installed in its stores for DSD and time and attendance applications. The chain is also looking into interactive video training, which uses the computer in conjunction with a video disc player to provide the trainee with a visual scenario, eliminating the need for an instructor.

At Florida, N.Y.-based Big V Supermarkets, which runs 32 scanning stores under the ShopRite banner, more attention is focused on people management skills than on technological skills. "As the technology changes, it allows the store manager time to focus on the people," says Jim Krbec, director of training and development. Krbec feels Big V has been improving in this area. He explains that the position the company has been concentrating on in the last few years is that of the department manager. "These are key positions in the store and the managers know their areas, but are not always good managers of people. Through video-taped instruction, with the store managers acting as the leaders, we are trying to improve their management skills."

For management trainees, the company conducts eight or nine meetings a year at four different levels of management, including store manager, assistant manager, second assistant manager and night assistant manager. These stress various skills including the management, interviewing procedures and employee appraisal techniques. The company, which opened only one new store this year, relies almost exclusively on promotion-from-within for management trainee candidates. "We like people to come up through the ranks," says Krbec. "We don't go to college campuses to recruit because we're not a Safeway or a Kroger."
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Author:Linsen, Mary Ann
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Dec 1, 1984
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