Sobey's CHRO: 'Culture eats strategy for breakfast'

If you're not deliberate around making sure that your culture will support whatever plan you have, you're in trouble

Sobey's CHRO: 'Culture eats strategy for breakfast'

As part of Key Media’s HR Leaders Series, HRD spoke to Sobey’s CHRO, Simon Gagné about how the industry has changed over the years, the impact the pandemic had on Sobey’s and their priorities and challenges in 2022. After a misguided attempt at an engineering degree, Gagné decided to pursue industrial and labour relations. Time in the industry taught him the power of transforming culture to help businesses accomplish their strategic plan and he quickly realised the power of the HR function. He’s been focusing that power at Sobey’s for 25 years.

Gagné says the biggest change in HR is that it used to be transactional but now HR is more strategic and that helps to transform the culture so it can support what the business wants to do.

“If you don’t act on your culture, if you’re not deliberate around making sure that your culture will support whatever plan you have, you may be in trouble,” added Gagné. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

At the onset of the pandemic Sobey’s went into crisis mode. They became an essential service overnight. “All of a sudden, everything would close, but us”, says Gagne. “We always talk about a company’s sense of purpose, basically we’re selling food, we knew it was important to eat but we never were in a situation to become an essential service”. Sobey’s major focus now was keeping their staff and customers safe and keeping the shelves stocked. Keeping staff safe included ensuring they had access to mental health resources and continuing to have that access after the pandemic.

Now that Gagné can see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, he’s tackling the next challenge, ‘the war on talent’. A few years ago, Sobey’s was competing for talent with a few “usual suspects”, now they’re competing with banks and tech and IT firms. “Employers will really have to think about their employee value proposition so they can attract and retain talent”.

Watch the full interview here: HRD Podcast: Sobeys's CHRO reveals career highlights

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