Building a Bridge to Success


LAS VEGAS -- Although the operations and human resources departments of convenience store chains may sometimes clash due to different priorities, goals and views on company culture, it doesn't have to be that way, according to today's NACS Show educational session, "Bridging the Departmental Divide."

Pacific Convenience & Fuels LLC's Chris Wilson, director of operations, and Katherine Clark, director of human resources, shared their perspectives and how they've come together to work as a team. Susan Salibio, human resources director for E & C Enterprises, moderated the panel.

While it's easy to focus on one's own duties and skill sets, being aware of what other areas of the company do can greatly improve interdepartmental cooperation, according to Clark, who said her own experience working for a small company and "wearing many hats" gives her an edge in her current role. "I always think of the big picture."

The definition of departmental divide varies from company to company, but a common example is objectives that aren't aligned, the panelists explained. Human resources might want to reduce turnover to cut down on expenses, while operations might want to increase turnover for a while to bring in some fresh blood.

To be successful, an organization must have a consistent message so all employees know what they're working toward. Other common issues are a lack of understanding of the challenges other departments face, lack of mutual respect, differing definitions of a company's vision and culture, and simple personality conflicts.

Many of these conflicts can be eased if a company fosters an atmosphere where employees are encouraged to evaluate themselves and ask how they can change to adapt to the situation. "It's all about compromise — you have to think of the 'we,'" said Clark. "You have to be willing to make changes in yourself to make the relationship work if it's not currently working."

Wilson noted that a company with a "core value culture" that values consistency, efficiency, positive attitude, respect and teamwork will be better equipped to handle internal conflicts, but this must occur at all levels -- the company's CEO sets the tone and it moves down from there.

Company alignment and consistent messaging are extremely important, Wilson stressed. Sharing the same objectives, culture and mutual respect, and understanding each other's body of knowledge will build company camaraderie and employee effectiveness. Workers should all be able to identify their shared overall goals. "Effort is not what we're rewarded for; achievement is," Wilson said.

There are a number of ways to implement this atmosphere of cooperation. Both Clark and Wilson cited the importance of starting with the end goal in mind to establish a shared purpose early on. Employees should also be willing to alternately lead and support as the situation calls for, utilize each other's knowledge and expertise, and be prepared to listen to and consider all perspectives. And they must be willing to be wrong. "What's best for the company?" Clark asked. "Being wrong isn't a personal thing."

Ultimately, a successful bridge between departments comes from constant communication and the classic golden rule of doing unto others as you would have them do to you, the panelists advised. Wilson added one more piece of advice to encourage a cooperative atmosphere: "Laugh often!"

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