The Power of Volunteerism And Employee Engagement

Posted in: small business, small business news, staffing, staffing industry- Oct 01, 2014 Comments Off

By Rachel Rosenfeldt

Last week, Massachusetts released its employment numbers for August, showing a 0.2% increase in the unemployment rate. The state, following on the heels of the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, has (not-so-subtly) suggested this bump in unemployment can be directly attributed to the dramatic Demoulas family feud that disrupted operations at the Market Basket grocery chain throughout July and August.

After a six-week protest that garnered national attention when employees walked off their jobs and customers boycotted in response to the firing of Arthur T. Demoulas, the grocery chain’s popular leader, Arthur T, announced he had reached a $1.6 billion agreement to buy out his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, and take over operations of the chain.

What struck me about the stories connecting Market Basket to the unemployment figures is that, despite the drama of the Demoulas family conflict and its coverage in the media, the core of the Market Basket story is still – and has always been – about the employees. Whether considering Arthur T.’s determination to continue leading the business, Market Basket employees’ willingness to risk their jobs to fight for a leader whom they believed in, or customers’ support for the people who make the business run, the Market Basket story showcases some clear lessons about the power of employee engagement and the differences between leadership and management.

The Power of Employee Engagement and Volunteerism

Arthur T. crafted a vision for Market Basket that employees and customers believed in, creating a supportive environment that rewarded employee participation. The employee response when their beloved leader and company visionary was fired was a direct result of that supportive environment. Employees felt empowered to stand up for the company values they believed in and put their jobs on the line to get the company back on track. At the same time, those employees understood their part in helping the company recover from the boycott. While the majority of office workers and support staff at Market Basket refused to go to work as part of the boycott, most store teams continued to show up at their locations each day, even when stores had no goods to sell. What this meant was that the moment the dispute was resolved, staff were back on the job, volunteering to work tirelessly to get Market Basket back on the track to success.

Importantly, while not every Market Basket employee was involved in the boycott, the vast majority of employees stood behind the protests. Crossing that 50% threshold of employees in support of change was critical to restoring Arthur T. to the helm and bringing his vision and values back to the company.

Leading with the Head and Heart

There’s a simple recipe for success in Arthur T.’s leadership at Market Basket: leading with the heart, as well as the head. Even the best business minds know it takes more than logic to create a company with a strong culture that engenders the kind of intense loyalty among both customers and staff that we have seen in the Market Basket saga. Arthur T. crafted that culture through his vision of Market Basket as a place that not only made logical sense to consumers with their regular low prices, but also felt like a home to employees, treating them like part of a family.

So often, business leaders get trapped in the economics of running a company – focused on the logic of the business and forgetting to foster company culture and spirit. But head-and-heart leaders such as Arthur T. remind us of how important the human aspect is – employees who identify with their company’s core values feel a passion toward the business and their jobs that can accomplish some pretty amazing things. In Market Basket’s case, it transformed employees into change agents for the company… just when it needed them most.

What’s Coming for Market Basket

The next few months will be critical time for Market Basket and Arthur T. as the company recovers from the feud and charts a new path ahead. The company leadership will need to reinforce and continue to deliver on the values that define Market Basket. But Arthur T. must also ensure that the company has the flexibility to adjust to and accommodate future change. Ensuring that Market Basket’s vision is put back in place will remain a top priority as the company bounces back from this crisis and will be a determinant of its immanent success or failure.

Article Source: Rosenfeldt, R. (2014). Market Basket: The Power of Volunteerism And Employee Engagement. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnkotter/2014/09/26/market-basket-the-power-of-volunteerism-and-the-value-of-head-and-heart/