In Conversation With Mary-Alice Vuicic, Chief Administrative Officer & EVP Human Resources & Public Affairs, Shoppers Drug Mart

In Conversation With Mary-Alice Vuicic, Chief Administrative Officer & EVP Human Resources & Public Affairs, Shoppers Drug Mart

Mary-Alice Vuicic, Shoppers Drug MartShoppers Drug Marts’ Mary-Alice Vuicic, Chief Administrative Officer & EVP Human Resources & Public Affairs, talks about winning Canada’s Passion Capitalists, employee engagement, employee turnover, and a new high-potential program.


Knightsbridge: In 2012, Shoppers Drug Mart was recognized as one of Canada’s Passion Capitalists. How does Shoppers foster and support its culture of passion?

Mary-Alice Vuicic: External recognition is great because it validates that we are on the right track and we’ve got something really special and unique going on here. It was a great way to finish our 50th anniversary.

The Canada’s Passion Capitalists program really gets to the heart of what’s going on in an organization and what’s driving performance and success. At Shoppers Drug Mart, we’re incredibly passionate about caring for the health and well-being of Canadians, and this vision and focus, which has lasted 50 years, really is behind our people.

KB: What is the company doing internally to cultivate passion?

MV: Number one, we’re clear about why we’re here, and that is to care for Canadians and to promote health and well-being across Canada. Our values are care, ownership, respect, and excellence. But care is our number one core value.

Through our own internal research that we did a couple of years ago, we identified that ‘care’ is something that people at all levels feel very, very passionate about at Shoppers Drug Mart. It’s a big driver of why they choose to work here and why they stay. We promote our employees’ ability to care for Canadians, whether it’s in the dispensary, supporting customers on the beauty side, taking care of the stores from the office, or helping patients in one of our health care businesses. We are always reinforcing our vision and enabling people in the organization to care for Canadians.

Our values motivate people because they see a strong alignment between their personal values and the company values. This is one of the reasons why our employee recognition programs are aligned with our values. For example, in the associate stores we have an Extra Mile Award for people who go the extra mile in demonstrating our values in their performance. In the office, we have a Beyond the Call Award. We also have a President’s List that, again, looks at people who exemplify passion for our values and for our performance.

KB: Shoppers Drug Mart’s employee engagement survey has over a 90% participation rate, which is an incredible achievement for an organization with over 50,000 employees. Can you tell us more about the surveys and how you’ve been able to get such a high return rate?

MV: Number one, people believe that we will act on the results. So each year in the survey, we have a question that asks people how likely they think it is that we’re going to act on the results of the survey. Over two-thirds feel that we will act on the results, which I think speaks to why people completed it in the first place.

Number two, our internal research has told us that people feel ownership for their areas, whether it’s the store they work in, the department they work in or the business they’re in. You hear words like “my Shoppers Drug Mart” all the time, “my Shoppers,” or “my store.” With that ownership, people feel invested in making Shoppers Drug Mart better.

Lastly, we also have a structured communication program when the survey rolls out every year. We follow up to ensure that people are given time in the workday to complete the survey. From a flexibility standpoint, they’re given the opportunity to complete the survey at home or in the workplace. And then at every department, every store, and across the organization, we communicate the results - where we’ve got strengths and where we have gaps, and what we’re prepared to do about those gaps.

KB: Flexibility is a potent engagement tool. How does Shoppers give its employees greater flexibility?

MV: Our employees have told us that the need for greater flexibility at work is important to them so we are working hard to meet that need at the store level by offering scheduling flexibility to accommodate our employees’ lifestyles. Because we have long operating hours and in every community we have at least one twenty-four hour store, which gives people the flexibility. We also offer flexible work hours in the office so that people can come in early or later.

We have also enhanced our vacation program for corporate employees as a result of information collected from the employee engagement survey. Now this is one of the most valued benefits and people feel it helps them manage their work life better. We increased vacation across the board, from entry-level to our most senior employees and we added a floater day. Within each department, employees can work with their leader if they need time off for family activities or other obligations. We encourage leaders & employees to allow for that flexibility when it’s required.

KB: Retail is probably the most competitive sector when it comes to human capital. Do you keep a close watch on turnover to measure engagement?

MV: Absolutely. Every organization is going to have turnover, and a certain amount of turnover is important for keeping your workforce current and ensuring that you’re creating opportunities for people. But we are very focused on not losing talented team- members and team-members who represent our values. We look at turnover, we link it to engagement, and we look for indications of where we may have challenges - whether it’s in a department or a role.  If we see increases in turnover or decreases in engagement, we put in place an action plan to address that. We’re very focused on keeping our finger on the pulse of how employees are feeling about the organization. Obviously with a significant new entrant into the marketplace, the war for talent has been intensifying, but we’re very pleased to say that we’ve been able to retain our top talent. In fact, we’ve invested recently in a new high-potential program that will continue to help retain our key people. Either way, competition makes us better. That’s how we look at it.

KB: Do you anticipate any new programs rolling out in the areas of engagement & retention?

MV: This year we launched our Accelerated Leadership Program, which has been a huge success, and we’re going to continue that program into next year. We’re also in the process of launching our new cloud-based HR system. Our objective is to put more and more information and tools on that system so employees feel empowered and have the access to make changes and seek information on their own. We’re also investigating a new learning management system that we’ll aim to purchase in the New Year. That will build on our existing Shoppers Drug Mart University.

KB: Could you tell me more about the Accelerated Leadership Program and what it’s designed to do?

MV: We identified high-potential, high-performing leaders in our organizations and put them in a learning program that focused on a strategic initiative for the organization. We had so much success with the program that we’re taking a number of the ideas that have been raised through the action-learning projects, and building them into our long-term strategic plans. It’s been highly motivational for the participants but also for senior management. We get more exposure to the talent and I think we’ve broadened our strategic planning capability. 

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