Publix Supermarket Company is a privately owned supermarket retail chain based in the Southeastern region of the United States. We chose to research Publix because, as new residents of the Miami area, Publix is our hometown supermarket. With high and low level employees, an interesting dynamic can be studied between managers who are salaried between $45,000 and $80,000 a year and other employees who work at hourly wage rates. Our first goal in studying Publix Supermarket Company was to identify the leadership structure and its effectiveness. With this knowledge we will determine areas for improvement and recommendations on how to improve. We then will examine how motivation is related or not related to the current leadership structure. We anticipate that an established Supermarket chain like Publix will have a leadership structure that focuses on effort, performance, and reward just as House’s Path-Goal Theory suggests. We also expect to see transformational leaders who are able to motivate by inspiring a sense of team and purpose into their employees. To be more thorough and specific, we looked specifically at front-end managers.
In order to obtain the information necessary to analyze Publix, we took a trip to the Publix on Monza Avenue in Coral Gables. We went on a Thursday at around noon. Upon first analysis, this Publix is not as large as many of their other storefronts in the country. Located in a populated area, we thought it would be interesting to see how a small storefront can or cannot successfully accommodate a large amount of foot traffic.Our method of evaluation was a field study in which we performed interviews with managers, surveys with employees, and our own observations. As we entered the store we immediately were impressed by the organization of the front-end. Shopping carts were all lined up perfectly and cleaned and cleared of garbage. A bagger accompanied each cashier in order to speed up the checkout process. We proceeded to the customer service desk to perform an impromptu interview of the customer service employee. The woman we interviewed was Maria, who greeted us with a smile and asked how she could help. We asked her to tell us a little bit about the leadership structure at Publix and how the store ran from back-end to front-end. She responded by telling us how the whole operation ran. She described the process of national and local trucks coming into the unloading dock and being unloaded by the warehousing employees. The warehouse employees have a schedule of when the trucks come in and when they need to unpack, inspect, scan, and place the products on the shelves. This is a form of directive leadership and management by objective. The next phase of the store’s operation is the storefront’s quality control. Maria told us that one warehouse employee a day is responsible for monitoring the organization and cleanliness of the shelves. This means they have to dispose of used cardboard fillers, put back misplaced products, and monitor aisle cleanliness. The next phase of Publix’s operation is the front-end. Every morning when the store opens, the starting cashiers collect their till from the “money window” located near the customer service desk. These tills have $200 to start the day with denominations of $20 bills, $10 bills, $5 bills, $1 bills, and all the common units of change. Each cashier must go through a two-week training program after being hired in which they are taught everything from PLU codes to proper customer service. Managers were able to identify which cashiers were most efficient through their Items Per Minute (IPM) scanning rate. Good cashiers scan around 15.50 items per minute and the best cashiers hover around the mid 20’s in IPM’s.
The front-end has two different managers with two different management techniques. One of the managers, Jim, was known as the manager who was very hands-on. His leadership style and mantra was “lead by example,” so Jim would frequently do things such as bagging when the store got busy or cashiering alongside a new employee. Maria told us that when Jim was on duty, the cashiers were not afraid to flash their light and ask for help. The other front-end manager was Robert. Robert was on duty when we visited, so Maria told us to go talk to him.
Robert was at a podium that was adjacent to the customer service desk. He had his head down and was looking at his cell phone. Immediately this was an indicator that Robert may be a little different from Jim. We asked Robert if he could take a minute to briefly explain how he led his employees and what kinds of tactics he used to measure employee performance. Robert seemed disinterested, but agreed to provide some comments. We asked Robert about the Item’s Per Minute measurement to which he said he adheres to a very strict policy. If an employee has an IPM below 10, they are removed from the register and relocated to be baggers for the day. If the low IPM’s become a problem, an employee must go through the two week training process again. This is an example of a directive leadership style. Robert gives very specific targets and if they are not met, action will be taken. Along with discipline for negative results, Robert also mentioned rewards for those with higher IPM’s. Every week, a list of IPM’s are posted in the break room and the top two performers get to pick their hours for the next scheduled work week. Also, the best cashiers are often given the privilege of working in the express lane.
After our interview with Robert, we took a walk around the supermarket. We were quite impressed by how every employee seemed to be fully immersed in their given duties. As we walked down the aisles, we asked several employees to fill out our brief “leader-employee” survey, which was a brief version of Fiedler’s LPC scale. Only two of the employees agreed to answer, so our results are relatively limited. The surveyed employees had similar answers and returned results that showed their view of their boss was that they were relationship-oriented. It is very important to consider that employees may not have been truthful in answering the survey, so very few conclusions can be drawn from this survey.
The leadership style at Publix, according to the industry’s norms, is a directive style leadership, where a leader or manager tells a subordinate staff the tasks that are expected of them. Using Fiedler’s Model, we concluded that a job at Publix would best suit someone who is task-oriented. We based this on the three criteria of decent leader-member relations, very structured responsibilities, and relatively high leadership position power. In terms of leader-member relationships, Maria’s insight leads us to believe that one of the managers, Jim, has somewhat of a transformational leadership style. Employees know that Jim is concerned about their needs being met, and they trust they will not be disciplined if they ask him for help. Although we did not receive a lot of information about Robert from employees and he did not appear to be as hands-on with helping employees, we also did not sense that he was strongly disliked by staff either, so we had to assume that his relationships with subordinates must not be too bad.
From the quality control procedures to the extensive training program to the weekly measurement of IPM’s, it’s clear that Publix operates in a well-structured and organized manner. Maria explained that there was an easily defined set of responsibilities for each and every employee. By looking further on the Publix website, we were able to find different webpages describing opportunities for promotion within the organization, with descriptions of what each position entails that described the opportunities for promotion and what each promotion entails. Everything from Publix’s operations to employee responsibilities to promotion opportunities follows very methodical guidelines that are simple for employees to adhere to.
In terms of the leader’s position power, we’ve already discussed how managers have the highest position in a Publix store. As described on the corporation’s website, the store manager is the highest achievable position within Publix and therefore has the most given authority. Managers can hire and fire, adjust hours, and adjust wages. There’s no argument given the information that the managers have a lot of power over employees.
Due to Publix’s management focusing mostly on results, they run into a few issues regarding customer service. Our first example of this is the stress on cashiers’ IPM’s. Cashiers competing for the highest IPM’s may seem like a good idea, but it may further affect their ability to interact with the customer, cause build-ups at the end of the belt near the bagging station, and may lead to carelessness when handling customers’ groceries. As long as Publix is rewarding those with high IPM’s and punishing others with lower IPM’s, cashiers are going too be more concerned with their results than with the customers. We noticed this again when walking up and down the aisles: employees stocking the shelves were very focused on getting their jobs done, and none of them went of their way to ask us if we needed help looking for anything. In fact, there are other times when some of us have been shopping at this specific Publix and were even hesitant to ask someone stocking the shelves for help because they were so focused on finishing their jobs. If we translated these observations on the Blake Mouton Managerial Grid, these behaviors would be in line with a Produce-or-Perish Management, or a high concern for results and low concern for people. Although results are clearly important, too low of a concern for people may drive frustrated customers to shop elsewhere.
There are several different possible actions Publix could take to better improve customer service. First, instilling rewards for being a friendly or helpful employee would certainly help to increase positive customer interactions. This could be implemented by having a link to a survey printed on each customer’s receipt, similar to brief restaurant surveys that servers sometimes ask customers to fill out to receive a discount on their next meal. The survey could be similar, offering a small discount off of a customer’s next purchase for filling it out, and offering bonuses or other rewards to employees who receive positive feedback. This would be advantageous because it could not only promote good customer service, but also give feedback as to who needs to improve their customer interactions and give customers a good reason to fill it out and shop at Publix again. On the other hand, an increased concern in customer service will most likely slightly slow down operations. In addition, it may be hard for customers to remember the name of every single employee they interacted with, so accuracy of the surveys may not be high. Another option may be to remove the rewards and punishments linked to cashiers’ IPM’s. By doing this, employees no longer have to be overly concerned with getting sent back to the training program if they’re having an off day or worry about putting all of their energy into being one of the top two cashiers; they can focus mainly on making sure the customer is receiving high-quality service during their Publix experience. However, this will again most likely lead to slower checkout times.
In regards to leadership, Publix as a whole follows a very task-oriented leadership style and, as noted before, falls somewhere along the Produce-or-Perish quadrant in Blake Mouton’s Managerial Grid. In order for the organization to improve as a whole, it would be best to implement some relationship-oriented leadership into the management style, further increasing the organization’s concern for people and shifting them into the Team quadrant of the grid. From our observations and brief interviews, it appears that the store’s one manager, Jim, already exudes a lot of the qualities of a Team manager. Employees trust that they can go to him for help (concern for people), and he isn’t below helping out at a checkout station when the store is low on baggers (concern for results). However, the framework of the organization and our observations of the other manager, Robert, differ from the ideals of Team management. Better reorganizing the reward and discipline system to focus less on results and more on the personal growth of employees and the growth of the organization as a whole.
After our experience at Publix, we found that the supermarket does in fact structure the organization with rewards for more effort and high performance like House’s Path-Goal theory, which we saw with their IPM discipline system. In addition, we did find that one of the managers, Jim, has a transformational leadership style, which is what we had expected. On the other hand, Robert appeared to follow more of a transactional leadership style, but we still do not have overwhelming evidence to prove it. The framework of the IPM measurements along with the rewards and punishments also follows that of a transactional leadership system. We can also conclude from our observations and interviews that, similar to Blake and Mouton’s findings, the ideal style of leadership in an organization is that with a high concern for both results and people, and implementing both into the style of management brings about the most success within an organization.