Franci Phelan, senior VP of Grow People, steers Kum & Go toward a more empowered future
A day in the life of Franci Phelan, senior vice president of Kum & Goâs Grow People department, often holds a number of surprises, but thatâs not for lack of organization on her part.
âYou have your planned day and then you have everything that comes up thatâs not planned,â Phelan said. As the architect and operator of the first human resources department in Kum & Goâs long history, her workday is a combination of long-term projects and daily tasks that are just as important.
Many of Phelanâs daily tasks revolve around maintaining and refining the role of Grow People. While Kum & Go has flourished for decades, the company never had a fully developed department to support its associates. In addition to a human resources department, other organizational functions have been put in place since Phelan joined the company in March 2011.
âItâs like putting in a highway system after the cityâs already been built, so itâs kind of delicate and takes twists and turns,â she said. âBut itâs a lot of fun as well.â
A major focus of Grow People is talent management and career development. âWeâre focused on preserving the great practices from our past, while building additional capabilities for our future,â noted Phelan. âFrom entry-level positions to senior leaders, we are committed to developing our talent within our stores and at the Store Support Center.â
Part of this process means challenging some of the long-held practices of the organization. For example, before redesigning Kum & Goâs training processes last year, Phelanâs team performed a 10-day study of company operations, observing, asking questions and learning how associates best learn in the store environment. They also discussed the potential paths between an associateâs entry point and moving up or laterally within Kum & Go.
Phelan now regularly attends regional meetings and demonstrates how associates are empowered to make decisions that benefit the customer, without harming the company. âFor example, itâs up to the general manager to maintain a professional work environment at their store. While there isnât a policy to dictate what that means, our associates are empowered to let our values guide their decisions,â she explained.
Since thereâs no way to create guidelines for every possible situation an employee might face, general managers are encouraged to do whatâs best for customers and the company without clinging to rules.
For the most part, these changes to Kum & Goâs company culture have been well-received, but there are still growing pains.
âWe still have work to do,â Phelan said. She noted how important it is to keep a finger on the pulse of the organization. Otherwise, you run the risk of being misaligned. âJust because youâve put a new system, tool or process in place and youâve run it for its first annual cycle doesnât mean that itâs fully embraced, embedded, valued and leveraged by the organization,â she added.
SPEAKING FROM EXPERIENCE
Phelanâs efforts and ideas for Grow People are grounded in her own experience in the convenience store industry. In college, she worked as an associate and manager for Circle K before being promoted to the companyâs human resources department, where she focused on hiring, learning and development, and acquisitions.
âEarly in my career, I saw the exciting advancement opportunities within the c-store industry,â Phelan said. âWhatever you want to focus on in this industry, you can do [that] or rise to whatever level you aspire to be in the organization.â
After graduating, Phelan pursued a career in human resources, focusing on strategic planning, organizational design, and talent management and development. Her work eventually transitioned to leading and transforming the human resource functions for several for-profit and non-profit organizations, including DuPont Pioneer and Miller Brewing Co.
Prior to joining Kum & Go, Phelan helped architect the human resources department for the philanthropic Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This gave her valuable insight when she moved back to Iowa to do the same thing for Kum & Go.
âI grew up in Iowa, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to return home and help lead Kum & Goâs cultural transition,â she said.
Phelan devotes time to working with Kum & Goâs senior staff and extended leadership team on planning for the companyâs long-term future, including succession planning.
âItâs important for our leadership team to be able to think about both short-term and long-term projects and priorities,â the senior VP said. âWe are all focused on our areas of expertise, yet we work as a team to develop a path for sustainable success. We ask ourselves, âWhatâs right for the short-term, while also supporting our long-term vision?ââ
Ultimately, Phelanâs goal is to create a brighter, more ambitious future for Kum & Go â and even for her own eventual replacement. âMy job is really to architect a strong Grow People function for this organization that sustains itself long after Iâm gone.â