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How Harris Teeter Creates a Winning Company Culture

President Tammy DeBoer talks about the power of people at Grocery Impact event
Emily Crowe, Progressive Grocer
Harris Teeter Grocery Impact
The dynamic Tammy DeBoer, president of Harris Teeter, delves into the significance of company culture and its profound impact on organizational success during the opening day of Grocery Impact.

As Progressive Grocer kicked off its reimagined Grocery Impact event in Orlando, Fla., Harris Teeter President Tammy DeBoer took to the stage to share how her company succeeds by putting a laser focus on the power of its people. DeBoer, who leads the grocer’s more than 35,000 associates, explained that the company’s culture revolves around its customers’ ability to relate to its people.

Culture is indeed the driver of everything Harris Teeter does, and it starts with connections. “Our company’s culture is the biggest differentiator in everything we do,” DeBoer explained. “We can sell products, we can do our jobs, but the real differentiator is the culture, how we lead, how we live and how we interact with people.”

Continued DeBoer: “I know it’s a bit of a cliche but it’s really about how we make someone else feel. The words may not be remembered but the way we make someone feel is definitely remembered. It’s really important to make people feel appreciated, recognized, heard and empowered. All of these things create a really powerful culture and environment that cultivates positivity and really brings out the best in everyone individually and collectively.”

DeBoer went on to share five things that help create a good culture and ensure its success. Those include:

1. Write It Down

Knowing that the business was about more than just selling groceries, DeBoer and her team boiled it all down to being able to enrich lives. In an effort to further explain that mission, the company wrote down its guiding principles that all associates would live by every day and also serve as the basis of every meeting.

2. Leaders Must Live It

“Everyone is watching the leader,” DeBoer said. “It’s the words that matter. The actions matter and it’s really up to us to set the tone for our purpose and action, and our culture that we’re creating.” DeBoer shared an example of a store manager going the extra mile to help a customer who couldn’t leave her house to pick up Tylenol for her sick child.

3. Hiring for Culture

While DeBoer recognizes the challenges of turnover and employee retention, she stressed the importance of hiring for both the skillset and the culture. “You have to hire the people that really associate, align with and live your culture,” she explained. Further cultivating a culture where people don’t just have to go to work but want to go to work is of the utmost importance. 

4. Listen, Energize, Empower

“Our associates have a lot to say and for us it’s really important to hear what’s on their mind so we can continue to make our culture even better and even more positive,” DeBoer said. Harris Teeter has listening sessions across its operations to learn what’s most important to its associates. The grocer further encourages a high-energy culture to create a positive experience both for associates and customers, and also works hard to empower its employees to make their own decisions.

5. Celebrate

DeBoer stressed the importance of recognizing, celebrating and rewarding incredible results and actions of all associates. The grocer has a Service Excellence Heroes program where it recognizes an employee each month in its stores.

Grocery Impact is taking place Nov. 7-9 at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando.

Matthews, N.C.-based Harris Teeter, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Kroger Co., employs 36,000 associates across more than 250 stores in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Maryland, Delaware, Florida and the District of Columbia. Cincinnati-based Kroger is No. 4 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2023 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America. PG also named Kroger one of the Retailers of the Century.

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