It is Always About our Associates

COO Dave Nelson presents his coin to associate Lamorty Kirkpatrick Jr., during his visit to Fort Hamilton.

COO Dave Nelson presents his coin to associate Lamorty Kirkpatrick Jr., during his visit to Fort Hamilton.

 

What is your philosophy on leadership and motivating associates? 

I think it is essential you understand people and circumstances require you to adjust your leadership style to best fit the situation. Successful leaders recognize it is more about the needs of your associates, customers and the organization than it is about yourself. In my mind, good leadership is the ability to get people to work for you because they want to.

I want my teammates to know they can trust me to support them and be their advocate. I want them to be comfortable and have fun at work and I want them engaged.

My responsibility is to ensure our people have the resources they need to meet the objective and are on track. We have tremendous talent at the Exchange who often have the best ideas, so I need to get out of their way and allow them to run with it.

When it comes to motivating associates, I’ve always admired the Southwest Airlines approach to business: have fun and make money. Their employees come across as being highly motivated and engaged.

  

Valuing, engaging, and encouraging our associates to share their ideas and creating an environment they want to work in are essential to our success.

We have formal initiatives, such as the awards program, flexible scheduling, tuition assistance and continuous professional development programs to recognize and motivate our associates. We need to fully utilize them. At the same time, I think the biggest opportunity is to improve the associate experience. We invest tremendous resources for improving customer loyalty. What are you doing to improve associate loyalty? We all understand our associates play a critical role in how our customers perceive us in terms of their experiences. Organizations are at their best when its associates enjoy what they do. Valuing, engaging and encouraging our associates to share their ideas and creating an environment they want to work in are essential to our success. Associates throughout the company play a critical role in creating the best work environment. We own it and we determine the culture of our company.

What are your top priorities? 

Our senior leaders have developed excellent overarching strategic priorities supported by outstanding directorate-based initiatives to help us achieve our goals. They touch every important facet of our mission. Our 2015 financial results certainly validated that our strategies were on target with record-breaking earnings and dividends. While we will see tactical changes going forward, our focus will continue to be on the strategic priorities. The operators understand their role is program execution, and they are truly fantastic at it.

The good news is we are prepared for the challenges ahead. We are making investments in our technology, logistics, e-com, retail, food and services businesses, to name a few. We successfully launched our Ship from Store platform, expanded our online offerings; we are preparing for the all-important omni-channel/mobile experience; and we are looking forward to the approval of the veterans online shopping benefit. And we continue to make investments in our most important resource, our associates.  We have online training for everyone and developed leadership programs for middle management and senior executives. I’m most excited about the leadership training being developed for our junior managers. They are clearly our future.

Do you expect any challenges as you take over the position of EVP/COO and how do you plan to overcome them?

I expect there to be many challenges. We lost an extremely valuable teammate with Mike Howard’s retirement. He definitely left the company better than he found it. In addition, during the past three to five years, we have lost many other exceptional associates throughout the company. Within the DoD, we are feeling the effects of a declining customer base, budget cuts and changing policies, which impacts how business is conducted.

Our purpose is to take care of past and present troops and their families. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Externally, the competition has never been fiercer, customers have never had as many choices and never have they been more informed about their options.

In spite of these challenges, there is no doubt we will take the company to the next level because of the quality of our associates.   

What do you see as the greatest strength of the Exchange and how do you plan to leverage that strength?

It begins with our mission and ends with our people. Having a mission such as ours is a tremendous motivator. It is a mission we should be loyal to, proud of and 100 percent dedicated to. Think about it: our purpose is to take care of past and present troops and their families. It doesn’t get any better than that, unless you actually serve in the military.

It is obvious to me the quality of our associates is the other difference maker. They are resilient, unafraid of challenges and passionate about their purpose. There is no better example to support this belief than our deployment mission. We have associates volunteer to deploy to the most dangerous parts of the world, working in the harshest of conditions.

We have directorates that develop remarkable strategies to support this highly complicated mission. You will not find anyone else outside of the Exchange who can develop and execute business plans like our team does to make us successful in these locations. And, you will not find a single competitor with associates who are more dedicated to their customers and their mission. Our mission and associates clearly provide us with a competitive edge.

Are there any other thoughts you would like to share? 

I’ve been fortunate to have a few assignments in headquarters and many in the field. It has given me a keen understanding and appreciation of how everyone contributes and their importance to our mission. It really is a team sport. I hope everyone understands we are not only in the retail, food and services business, we are in the people business.

It is always about our associates, customers and business partners.  I am so very proud of them, our accomplishments and our mission. You should be, too.

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