How To Identify And Retain Fantastic Talent with Marcy Hamrick of Publix & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series, Real Human Resources

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Give employees the opportunity to make a difference. Make this a part of your organizational culture and create an environment where decisions for the good of a greater cause — no matter how large or small — are always invited or welcomed.

Education can provide an edge for anyone looking to advance their career or find a new opportunity. This HR Strategy Series provides a way for millions of professionals to learn what it takes to find this edge. The goal is to aid HR leaders in their hiring and retention strategies, as well as to teach prospects what hiring managers are actually looking for.

As a part of our syndicated series, I’m talking to top experts in the field about their five ways to identify and retain fantastic talent. Today I had the pleasure of interviewing another Human Resources expert at the top of her game in Marcy Hamrick.

Marcy Hamrick is the manager of talent acquisition for Publix, a supermarket chain headquartered in Lakeland, FL with more than 1,200 stores across the southeast. Marcy joined the company in 2012 and provides leadership to the recruiting team, which helps staff the more than 200,000 positions in Publix stores, corporate offices, distribution centers, and manufacturing plants. She is passionate about finding the right associates to start their careers at Publix and says her favorite part of working for Publix is “finding the best candidates to fulfill our mission with a servant heart.”

Thank you for being here! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always had a passion for education and received a bachelor’s degree in childhood education and a master’s degree in adult education. I found my way to talent acquisition and human resources through the education and training side of the industry. For the first part of my career, I designed and developed the tools that help new employees acclimate to their roles and advance their leadership skills. These roles taught me a lot about people — how they think, what engages them — and that knowledge has been invaluable as I’ve moved into a talent acquisition role. At Publix, we’re known for our customer service. Recruiting the right talent to deliver it is one of the most important ways we’ve continued to keep this legacy alive nearly 90 years later. We can teach anyone how to bag groceries, but the exceptional service we provide is what’s most important.

Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I had the opportunity to work in one of our stores as part of my onboarding to Publix. For five days, I worked across various departments in my local Publix store — where I shop myself. Even though I knew how hard our retail associates worked beforehand, having lived it myself brought a new level of appreciation. My body hurt. My feet hurt. Most days my head hurt, too. But I felt fulfilled. I stocked our shelves, bagged customers’ groceries, baked bread from scratch, and ensured the right shelf tags were in place along the aisles. All of those tasks have a direct impact on our customers and having experienced it firsthand was an amazing experience that I value to this day.

Are you working on any exciting new projects at your company? How is this helping people?

Connecting our associates to meaningful ways they can help their communities is always a focus for us. Associates across our more than 1,200 stores participate in our perishable recovery program in partnership with Feeding America member food banks where we recover food that can’t be sold, but is still wholesome, and donate it to those who need it the most. To date, through this program, Publix has donated more than 427 million pounds of food or 356 million meals to families in need.

Outstanding. It’s always nice to hear about programs that give back! Let’s now jump to the main focus of our series. Hiring can be very time consuming and difficult. Can you share 5 techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill? Please share an example for each idea.

Publix has a unique culture of service that guides how we identify talent. From our corporate headquarters to the associates working in our stores, we look for people that embody the lessons left behind by our founder, George Jenkins — or “Mr. George” as we call him. He always said that our associates should “treat customers like royalty”, and knew that hiring for the right talent to do this was critically important. Therefore, we always start with the inherent values of the person:

  • Will they work hard? No matter what your day-to-day roles and responsibilities may be, you can’t be afraid of hard work.Across any job class at Publix, you will find that people are willing to work hard for this company and what we stand for as a customer-centric business.
  • Will they be an “owner”? You have to think of your job as if you own it, which means that you come to work every day with the responsibility to either make it or break it for your team and — more broadly — the company. Publix associates are expected to bring this mindset to every aspect of their day-to-day job, from taking the initiative to fix something that looks out of place, to offering suggestions that improve how customers experience our stores. Our very popular single serve and half size cakes and pies in the bakery came from an associate suggestion. Mr. George was smart to instill this sense of ownership in his associates from the very beginning by giving them an actual piece of the company to own. Publix associates really do own the company because they are also shareholders.
  • Will they embrace your culture? You should be able to see this person as someone who you not only would want to work with every day, but as someone who would make your company a better place to work. Our culture is the heart and soul of Publix. When we say that we make shopping a pleasure, this is on all sides of our business, and coming to work every day should be a pleasure, too.
  • Will they serve others? You don’t have to be in one of our stores — or even in retail — for this to apply. Whether you are serving a customer or the associate working next to you, finding someone with the willingness to serve others shows their ability to be a leader. This means taking the time to build relationships with the people around you and striving to do the right thing always. Mr. George taught this to associates from the early days at Publix through his lesson to “be there.” He wanted his associates to know that he cared for them as people, too, and he did this by routinely visiting stores and working alongside associates. On occasion, he would even loan his car to an associate if they needed it. Today, this legacy continues annually with our “Be There Month” where leaders across the organization work side-by-side with associates to help them and learn from them. I also often see this mentality on my small yet mighty recruitment team, where we all find opportunities to lend a hand or offer assistance to one another.
  • Will they be open and honest? The ability to openly, and honestly, discuss challenges and solve problems collaboratively is important at any level of any organization.

With so much noise and competition out there, what are the top 3 ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?

  • Submit for “best of” awards and recognitions. Publix is widely recognized as a best company to work for and is ranked as a best employer. We’ve been recognized as one of Fortune’s Most Admired Companies for the last 15 years.
  • Provide great experiences to encourage word of mouth references. Whether you’ve worked here or shopped here, people know Publix for the experiences they’ve had in our stores. People love Publix and spread the word about what it means to work for us. In some cases, we’ve even had generations of families that have all worked for Publix because of the experiences their relatives have had with our company.
  • Networking. Show up in the right places. Attend events, visit a popular business lunch spot. Make it your job to know where your talent is going and be there.

What are the 3 most effective strategies used to retain employees?

Publix founder, Mr. George encouraged a spirit of openness, dignity, and respect across all of our associates — regardless of job class — and that philosophy stays firmly intact today. It is a large part of what continues to make Publix a great place to work. Organizations can put this in play by striving to:

  • Define clear career paths at all job levels. Mr. George created a place where anyone could be successful and build a long-term career for themselves. He showed his associates the opportunities they had for a future at the company and rewarded the talent that instilled his cultural values. Today, approximately more than 12,000 of our associates have been with the company for more than 20 years. Our very own CEO at Publix, Todd Jones, started his career with the company in the 1980’s as a front service clerk.
  • Create a culture of serviceEmployees crave an employer that builds connection between people and communities. When teams are able to engage in activities that do good for a greater cause they feel a sense of purpose and belonging. Publix hosts an annual Publix Serves Day where associates across our company, all on the same day, take time from their day to serve their communities. We also hear countless stories of Publix associates coming together in difficult times to help one another. Just one example are the dozens of Publix associates who volunteered to support associates impacted by Hurricane Michael last year. These associates traveled to the Florida panhandle to support recovering stores and their associates during a time of need.
  • Constantly show the employee their impact. What helps our associates go above and beyond, consistently? They understand the impact they have on their customers, teams and, more broadly, Publix. This gives them the power to do something special and engages them to do more. We make sure that every Publix associate clearly understands our culture and knows the role they play in delivering it to our customers. We have a recognition program called My Publix, My Part where managers award an associate they observe reinforcing one of our core values with a card. The card describes the action observed, the outcome achieved, and entitles the associate to a free Publix product.

In your experience, is it important for HR to keep up with the latest trends? Can you give some examples of what this looks like?

When you are in the business of people you must stay relevant. One way we’ve done this at Publix is by keeping our training and education programs up to date across generations. The core foundation of the programs is still rooted in the lessons from Mr. George, but updated to resonate with the changing demographics and values of the workforce. For example, we’re finding that sharing personal stories helps new associates connect and engage, so we have implemented more opportunities to do that in our trainings.

Can you give an example of a creative way to increase the value provided to employees without breaking the bank?

Give employees the opportunity to make a difference. Make this a part of your organizational culture and create an environment where decisions for the good of a greater cause — no matter how large or small — are always invited or welcomed. People want to feel like they can make a difference in the world, and have meaning greater than themselves or their job. Another major point is for human resources to always be visible and present for employees. This goes for both reactive problem solving and proactive career pathing conversations.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I am passionate about education and would want to find a way to improve experiences for underserved youth across our school systems. Half of the battle in improving the quality of education for children in need starts by helping them solve problems at home. For example, if a child is hungry, they probably won’t be in the best state of mind for learning during the school day. I’d start here. The growing number of hungry children in our school systems is something we need to solve and I’m proud to work for an employer that is taken a stance to fight hunger for families across the country.

We definitely share a passion there! Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Begin — the rest is easy.” These words came from Mr. George and I have relied on them to encourage myself, other Publix associates and family members. Sometimes things get challenging — personally or professionally — and it can be difficult to take just the first step. Oftentimes we find that once we get started, it’s not as hard as we thought it was going to be. Just take that first step. In my time here at Publix this lesson has been relevant many times. I have applied for three different job opportunities in my seven years at the company and each time there was a fear of failure. But with each new role, I learned, and when another opportunity came around it allowed me to be more confident — which is ultimately what led me to my current role today as manager of talent acquisition. Who knows what’s in store for me next, but rest assured, I will begin and see where it takes me.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?

Honestly, I would choose to dine with my Dad. I don’t get to see him as often as I’d like and miss him tremendously. He is the most influential man in my life — a true role model of generosity, love, and devotion. He is my top choice. No doubt about it.

Thank you so much for your time and for providing these valuable insights!

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