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In WFM Show, Marie Robinson - EVP & Chief Supply Chain Officer - tells us how they switched to a customer-centric strategy by improving their drivers work-life.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

That’s the famous quote Marie Robinson, EVP & Chief Supply Chain Officer at Fortune 500 company Sysco draws inspiration from everyday.

In the latest episode of the WFM Show, she tells us that change - for the last 18 months - has been THE mindset at the world’s leading wholesale restaurant food distributor. During this time, they've successfully implemented a customer-centric strategy that puts their employees first. 

It all started right before the pandemic hit. Marie and the leadership team sat down (to not only refine Sysco’s vision and mission) but to define its purpose. They asked themselves two questions which quickly became their guiding lights: “Who are we when we’re at our best?” and “when we’re performing at our highest level, what is it we’re doing?”  

The answers helped to create Sysco’s purpose statement, that is “Connecting the world to share food and care for one another.”

“Our industry is all about bringing people together to share food in many different settings - whether it's a school cafeteria, a restaurant or even a hospital”, Marie says.

But to live up to their purpose, they had to turn their drivers (aka "Sysco’s face to the customers") into superstars. And so the path to a successful customer-centric strategy began. Here’s three valuable lessons from their journey:

1. Care for your employees and they’ll care for your customers

Recognition and thanking employees is powerful. And it’s something that’s stayed with Marie for over 20 years. In one of her first senior roles at Walmart, the CEO called her to personally thank her for her awesome work. She was both stunned and amazed that the CEO (!) of all people would take the time to just say “thanks”.

Marie has now brought this mantra to Sysco.

“All our work starts on the back of the truck, so it’s incredibly important that our drivers know we truly respect their role and value the work they do,” she says. “I believe that if we care for them, they will care for our customers and things like sales become that little bit easier.

“You have to pay competitively, you need good benefits but it has to do with the way we engage with and the level of respect, with which we approach everything about the role of our drivers and their job.”

2. Find the right solutions that enhance performance holistically

This cultural shift is how Sysco double-downed on elevating the employee experience. Not only did their drivers get new uniforms (made with cutting-edge athletic materials!), Sysco is transforming their ENTIRE driver experience.

“We're on the journey with Quinyx and with others to try to find the right solutions that enhance driver performance holistically - from the moment that they're wondering what's my schedule next week to when they're actually executing on that route.”

They're now experimenting with a few simple ideas that can have a BIG impact for the workforce's engagement (if curious, have a look at Quinyx engagement features). One example is letting their drivers tell them about their workday by sending a sad face, a smiley face, or a really happy face, which could have a significant effect on measuring the employee wellbeing.  

Marie continues: “The important thing is that there has to be somebody behind that screen and actioning the feedback we receive from the drivers. You can't collect that kind of information and ask for that kind of input, if there's not someone who says: ‘Oh no, you know what went wrong during your day to day and how can I help you with that?’”

They also launched driver training academies, which coupled with their simple “smiley face initiative” and innovative use of tech, is designed to attract the right people, give them the skills they need, and support them throughout their working career.

3. Shift to simplicity

Today, tech plays a huge role at Sysco. But this wasn’t always the case. Until recently, their scheduling practices were stuck in the dark ages.

“A year ago we were still posting schedules like it’s a McDonald’s in 1985,” says Marie (something Quinyx Founder & CEO, Erik Fjellbjorg knows all about...after all, it was while working a summer job at McDonald’s that he developed Quinyx!) Some schedules were still posted on paper and posted on a wall, which led to drivers calling in and asking what their schedules were for the following week.

“What’s more, we didn’t have the ability to do things - like look at forecasts and shift our staffing - to make sure that we're deploying those human assets in the most efficient manner.”

With the help of Quinyx, Sysco has solved these problems and can now simplify the number of solutions their drivers use. But Marie stresses that the job to boost their drivers’ experience to the max is not done. There’s still a lot more to do behind the scenes and the drivers play the main role in the deployment. 

“We have a dream where we will get to a really streamlined tech solution in the truck with one device that the drivers can use for everything and help them monitor and self regulate their own productivity.”


Now’s your chance to get golden insights and go deeper into how Sysco created a best-in-class employee experience. Watch the full Born to Connect episode or listen to our podcast.

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