How a Funny Name and Six Core Values Revolutionized Convenience

THE WAWA WAY

Win the Hearts of Your Customers

In August 2011, Philadelphia magazine described a burly, 300-pound, 24-year-old man named Jeremy Plauche, getting the logo of a convenience store called Wawa tattooed on his inner biceps. Plauche, according to the magazine, works night shifts for the rescue squad in Millville, NJ, but is originally from Louisiana. “I tried to explain to my friends there what Wawa was and what it means to people who live up here… and they kind of didn’t believe me,” Plauche tells the magazine. “Wawa is part of our culture. It’s part of our way of life.”

From the couples who marry at the Wawa where they met to the Facebook group People Who Miss Wawa How, consisting of former Wawa customers who have left the chain’s service area (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and now Florida), Wawa is indeed a way of life for its fans. How does a regional convenience store elicit such devotion from its customers and even its employees (like those who kept a store on Long Beach Island open during much of Superstorm Sandy even though some had had their houses washed out to sea)? The history and principles of Wawa, as presented by former Wawa CEO Howard Stoeckel in a new book, The Wawa Way, can offer lessons for any business seeking to engender fanatic customer and employee loyalty.

Private and Shared Ownership

One key to Wawa’s success, according to Stoeckel, is its unique ownership structure. Nearly 40 percent of the company is owned by the Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP), with the rest owned by Wood family members. The shared ownership with Wawa “associates” motivates all employees to make the stores a success, Stoeckel writes. Perhaps even more important, Wawa does not face the short-term pressures of a public company. “We’re not making decisions, as a lot of companies do, based on what Wall Street analysts or minority investors will think,” Stoeckel writes. “We’re making decisions based on the best long-term interests of the business.” One example are the concrete posts in front of every store to prevent customers parked in front of the store from accidentally plowing into the store (as happened a number of times). Deciding to put the posts in front of every single store “was hard to justify in terms of return on investment, but in terms of living our values and protecting people, it was the right thing to do.”

The Six Core Values

The true secret to Wawa’s success, however, is that it lives its six core values, Stoeckel writes. The ESOP and concrete barriers are just two examples of Wawa’s core value of “valuing people.” Stoeckel also recounts numerous stories of how associates “delight customers,” from bringing a Thanksgiving dinner to a wheelchair-bound customer who would be alone for the holiday, to lending a $200 coffee pot to a customer when the store ran out of coffee-to-go boxes (the customer cared for an invalid spouse and usually bought a coffee-to-go box every morning). The Wawa Way is also filled with examples of how the company follows its remaining four core values: “embrace change,” such as the decision to add fuel to its business model; “do things right,” “do the right thing,” and “have a passion for winning.”

Any company will have ups and downs, and Stoeckel is candid about some mistakes the company has made – including a poorly thought-out strategy for adding fuel to the mix in the 1980s and some questionable products. Wawa continues to excite the passion of its customers, however, because as it moves through different strategies and decisions, it continues to remain true to its core values and traditions. This is a manual on delighting customers.

Is Being Busy Impairing Your Productivity?

In What Keeps Leaders Up at Night, business psychologist Nicole Lipkin writes “Keeping busy may make you happy, but at some point excessive busyness can overwhelm your coping capabilities. That’s when we become too busy to win. Excessive busyness can impair performance and produc­tivity, making you increasingly forgetful, fatigued, and prone to poor decision making and problem solving.” In a Soundview Author Insight interview, she points out there are ways to recognize if you’re too busy to win:

Being too busy to win speaks to the constant battle most of us are fighting in this constantly wired and connected global community that we live in. When you think about it, our brains are kind of like these shelves from IKEA. You set it up, and over time you forget the directions said you only can put 50 pounds on the shelf. So you keep piling books on that shelf, and tchotchkes on that shelf, and you ignore that the middle is starting to sag. You put another book on, another book on, then snap, and your shelf breaks, and you act surprised. Well, our brains are equivalent to a shelf from Ikea.

As we start piling more and more on, that shelf starts sagging. Most of us completely ignore the symptoms of that sagging shelf, and we keep allowing more and more things to pile up on it and inundate it. Some of the symptoms, which I’m sure you’ve experienced from time to time, I know I have, are let’s say going to the supermarket or store and completely forgetting what you went there to get, or rereading over and over the same paragraph in a book and retaining absolutely nothing or forgetting simple things, struggling with sleep, or struggling with staying asleep, and the list goes on and on and on.

The thing is, unless you have significant mental health illness or are struggling with a significant learning disorder, as humans, we’re supposed to be able to remember what we went to the supermarket for. We’re supposed to be able to read a paragraph, get it, and move on to the next. We’re not supposed to be in a chronic state of edginess or agitation.  These are the signs that our shelves are sagging, but most of us ignore them and chalk it up to just life. The problem is, the more you ignore these signs and symptoms, the worse you get. The truth is, and we all know this, you can’t be great when you’re too busy. A ball or two is going to drop. We just need to stop and pay attention, because the signs are very, very obvious.

In the interview Lipkin also expresses the challenges every leader faces and how to overcome them. She also talks about what causes “good boss gone bad” syndrome and how to self-diagnose. Soundview subscribers can log in to their online libraries to listen today!

The Third Metric to Redefining Success

THRIVE

Don’t Judge Yourself; Don’t Judge Others

“The architecture of how we live our lives is badly in need of renovation and repair,” writes Arianna Huffington, founder of the media company the Huffington Post. “What we really value is out of sync with how we live our lives.” The reason, she argues in her new book called Thrive, is that success has come to be defined by two things: money and power.

To achieve money and power, men and women are living unsustainable, high-stressed, non-stop lives that physically destroy their bodies, leave little time for joy and reflection, and culminate in the realization that acquiring money and power is not the fulfilling quest of a life well lived. As former Merrill Lynch managing director Roseann Palmieri explains, “I’m at the table. I’ve made it. I’ve networked, I’ve clawed, I’ve said ‘yes,’ I’ve said ‘no,’ I’ve put in all this time and effort and I was underwhelmed. What I was getting back was not acceptable to me.”

For Huffington, the current success metrics of money and power are only two legs of a three-legged stool. Without a “third metric” based on well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving, our lives, like the defective stool, topple over, she writes. In the early pages of her book, she presents a range of evidence, from alarming health statistics to stories of highly “successful” yet unsatisfied people who left their careers, that proves the adverse impact on both men and women of today’s high-stress quest for money and power.

Huffington believes the path to the third metric will be especially blazed by the career women who find the current metrics of successful “not acceptable.” “If we’re going to redefine what success means,” she writes, “if we are going to include a Third Metric to success, beyond money and power, it’s going to be women who will lead the way – and men, freed of the notion that the only road to success includes taking the Heart Attack Highway to Stress City, will gratefully join both at work and at home.”

The Shimmer of Rain

Having made the case that a third metric of success is vital, Huffington then explores in four inspiring, information-packed chapters how to bring “well-being,” “wisdom,” “wonder” and “giving” back into our lives. Huffington – who recalls how her mother, who never went to college, “would still preside over long sessions in our small kitchen in Athens discussing the principles and teachings of Greek Philosophy to help guide my sister, Agapi, and me in our decisions and in our choices” – weaves ancient and modern philosophy, academic research, and stories and quotes of successful people, from the world-renowned to the ordinary ladder-climbers who realize that the view from the top is not enough to make the journey worthwhile.

The Experience of Wonder

The opening pages of her chapter on wonder are typical. Huffington begins with short anecdotes about experiencing a sense of wonder on a drive to an airport, as the falling rain “gave everything a beautiful, almost magical, shimmer.” At the airport, she hears everyone complaining about the rain: wonder is in the eye of the beholder. She offers a beautiful short poem on rain by Albert Huffstickler, then quickly moves the reader through discussions on the wonder of children (“Mommy, what makes it go?” one of her young daughters once asked as they watched the star-filled sky); the wonder at the root of spirituality, which is not religion; wonder as the connection between outer space and inner space; how photography interrupts wonder (“…by so-obsessively documenting our experiences, we never truly have them); the power of love, backed by a Harvard study; art museums as oases of wonder – all in the first six pages of a fascinating 45-page chapter.

The chapter ends, as with all her chapters, with three simple practices to help people live in the moment: when stressed, focus on the rising and falling of your breath for 10 seconds; pick an image that ignites joy in you, and go to it whenever you feel “contracted”; don’t judge yourself; don’t judge others; “then look at your life and the day ahead with newness and wonder.”

Thrive, as it should be, is a book to be savored. There is so much learning and wisdom in these pages that one might be tempted to take notes. But as with photography on a vacation, they would only interrupt the enjoyment of one of those books that everyone should have within reach at all times.

Book Review: A Team of Leaders

by Paul Gustavson and Stewart Liff

by Paul Gustavson and Stewart Liff

There is no shortage of problems to be solved within an organization. The difficulty arrives in the form of the environment in which employees and leaders attempt to create solutions. According to consultants Paul Gustavson and Stewart Liff, the path to more collaborative (and productive) solutions is to create a culture in which everyone has the freedom to lead. In their book A Team of Leaders: Empowering Every Member to Take Ownership, Demonstrate Initiative and Deliver Results, the authors outline the Five-Stage Team Development Model to help your organization forge a new path. This book is now available as a Soundview Executive Book Summary.

Gustavson and Liff perform an important service for executives early in A Team of Leaders. They redirect the search for a culprit in today’s lack of personal leadership from the people that comprise teams to the structure of the team itself. “In order to address the problems once and for all,” they write, “teams need to change their design.” The authors then proceed to outline the design components that form the individual areas that need addressed. These include the systems, processes, knowledge, management and visual management of a team.

A Team of Leaders demonstrates how you can use a better team design to maneuver through the Five-Stage Team Development Model. The ultimate goal, as explained by the authors, is to reach Stage Five. This is the stage in which your team has higher standards, revitalized energy and deeper commitment to work together. This frees up the leader to work on the broader issues of an organization. With carefully plotted ideas that correspond to solving immediate and future challenges, A Team of Leaders will be a welcome addition to any executive whose team is tangled up in process rather than geared toward success.

Reinventing Organizations

REINVENTING ORGANIZATIONS

Go for the Teal

A recently hired financial analyst from Pakistan named Shazad Qasim once approached Dennis Bakke, the co-founder of global energy provider Applied Energy Services (AES), and said he was going to investigate opportunities for AES in his country. Bakke was skeptical, but the decision was up to the analyst: under Bakke, AES used the “advice process” for decision-making, which meant that superiors had to be asked for their advice, but the decision remained at the lower rungs of the organization. AES is one of the “Teal” companies featured in a new book called Reinventing Organizations by Belgian consultant Frederic Laloux.

As Laloux explains, researchers in history and developmental theory have created a general framework that describes how humans have evolved through history in leaps of human consciousness. In Reinventing Organizations, Laloux shows how we are on the cusp of the next stage in human consciousness. The Evolutionary-Teal stage (all stages have assigned colors) — will bring its own changes to our organizations. In exhaustive detail and using pioneer companies that have already moved into the next stage, Laloux describes the structures, practices and cultures of Teal organizations and how they will emerge.

With each leap or new paradigm shift in the consciousness underpinnings of society, there is a corresponding leap in how humans collaborate, Laloux writes. For example, the Impulsive-Red period in human development, which started with chiefdom-led tribes 10,000 years ago, represented organizations that were ruled by iron-fisted leaders controlling their people through fear.

The Conformist-Amber consciousness, which followed with the shift from chiefdom to states and civilizations — as in Mesopotamia in 4,000 BC — included a deeper awareness of other people’s feelings and perceptions, Laloux writes. Today’s Amber organizations, he writes, are those with stable hierarchies and processes focused on the long term — organizations such as governmental agencies, the military and public school systems.

The Achievement-Orange paradigm emerged in the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, when the universe began to be viewed as a machine that could be investigated and explained. In organizations, innovation is a major goal. Multinational companies are usually Orange.

The more recent Pluralistic-Green paradigm is uneasy with power; in this stage of human consciousness, the idea is the destruction of hierarchies. Green organizations focus on empowerment and values-driven culture — companies such as Ben & Jerry’s and Southwest Airlines.

The Evolutionary-Teal stage leads to three organizational breakthroughs: self-management, operating on a basis of peer relationships rather than hierarchy; wholeness, which means the whole person and not just the professional self comes to the workplace; and evolutionary purpose, in essence, the organization itself having a direction and a reason for living.

Using 11 companies as examples, from a family-owned foundry in France to the iconoclastic Patagonia Company, Laloux explores how they operate through self-management structures and processes, strive for wholeness through their general practices and HR processes, and listen to their evolutionary purpose. This practical book will help leaders dissect their organization and find the opportunity to bring their company into the new Teal paradigm.