Fostering a Bright Future

8/6/2013

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 & Go’s Grow People department, often holds a number of surprises, but that’s not for lack of organization on her part.

“You have your planned day and then you have everything that comes up that’s not planned,” Phelan said. As the architect and operator of the first human resources department in Kum & Go’s long history, her workday is a combination of long-term projects and daily tasks that are just as important.

Many of Phelan’s 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.

“It’s like putting in a highway system after the city’s already been built, so it’s kind of delicate and takes twists and turns,” she said. “But it’s a lot of fun as well.”

A major focus of Grow People is talent management and career development. “We’re focused on preserving the great practices from our past, while building additional capabilities for our future,” noted Phelan. “From entry-level positions to senior leaders, we are committed to developing our talent within our stores and at the Store Support Center.”

Part of this process means challenging some of the long-held practices of the organization. For example, before redesigning Kum & Go’s training processes last year, Phelan’s 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 associate’s 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. “For example, it’s up to the general manager to maintain a professional work environment at their store. While there isn’t a policy to dictate what that means, our associates are empowered to let our values guide their decisions,” she explained.

Since there’s no way to create guidelines for every possible situation an employee might face, general managers are encouraged to do what’s best for customers and the company without clinging to rules.

For the most part, these changes to Kum & Go’s company culture have been well-received, but there are still growing pains.

“We still have work to do,” 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. “Just because you’ve put a new system, tool or process in place and you’ve run it for its first annual cycle doesn’t mean that it’s fully embraced, embedded, valued and leveraged by the organization,” she added.

SPEAKING FROM EXPERIENCE

Phelan’s 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 company’s human resources department, where she focused on hiring, learning and development, and acquisitions.

“Early in my career, I saw the exciting advancement opportunities within the c-store industry,” Phelan said. “Whatever you want to focus on in this industry, you can do [that] or rise to whatever level you aspire to be in the organization.”

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.

“I grew up in Iowa, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to return home and help lead Kum & Go’s cultural transition,” she said.

Phelan devotes time to working with Kum & Go’s senior staff and extended leadership team on planning for the company’s long-term future, including succession planning.

“It’s important for our leadership team to be able to think about both short-term and long-term projects and priorities,” the senior VP said. “We are all focused on our areas of expertise, yet we work as a team to develop a path for sustainable success. We ask ourselves, ‘What’s right for the short-term, while also supporting our long-term vision?’”

Ultimately, Phelan’s goal is to create a brighter, more ambitious future for Kum & Go — and even for her own eventual replacement. “My job is really to architect a strong Grow People function for this organization that sustains itself long after I’m gone.”

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