Swann's Song

Hall of famer helps WPMA attendees navigate with confidence

LAS VEGAS -- Whether he liked it or not, Lynn Swann was going to be the daughter his mother never had. While his two brothers were off playing football, his mother enrolled then 8-year-old Lynn in dance classes. That training helped him unlock the grace and talent that would one day earn him membership to a very exclusive club: the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

As he told attendees at last week's Western Petroleum Marketers Association (WPMA) 2006 Convention & Convenience Store Expo, sometimes the tools needed to succeed come from unlikely places. [image-nocss] I was never the best athlete, Swann said at the event's Grand Finale Awards Luncheon. There was a huge gap between where I started and where I ended up. It came down to attitude; do you want to put the work behind the talent?

Retailers from Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Washington were among the 4,500 people attending the three-day Navigating with Confidence conference, WPMA executive director Gene D. Inglesby told CSP Daily News. Michael Reagan, son of former President Ronald Reagan, provided the conference's keynote speech and set up Swann's message of conquering the odds.

Swann's remarkable career almost wasn't. In his sophomore year of high school, Swann got cut from the varsity football team and was relegated to the junior varsity squad. Instead of sulking, he practiced even harder and awaited an opportunity. Just a few days later the varsity squad's top wide receiver broke his arm, pushing Swann into the school's starting lineup.

He went on to the University of Southern California and played in two Rose Bowls, winning a National Championship team in 1972. Two years later he was drafted by the NFL's Pittsburgh franchise and became a cornerstone of the Steelers dynasty. He won four Super Bowls in the Steel City and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

Swann, who recently nabbed the Republican endorsement in the race to become governor of Pennsylvania, said his success has come as a result of teamwork, preparation and discipline, the same skills businesses need to thrive in today's environment. Being a winner, he said, sometimes means making the person next to you better than they were before.

Terry McKenna, principal of Employee Performance Strategies Inc., Chantilly, Va., echoed that sentiment in his workshop, Retaining a High-Performance Workforce. McKenna's company trains more than 15,000 front-line employees in the convenience-store industry each year. He gave WPMA attendees a step-by-step plan for findingand keepinggreat employees.

McKenna said the reasons employees leave jobs have not changed in more than half a century: boredom/disenfranchisement, unhappiness with a boss, inadequate salary or benefits, lack of recognition and limited advancement opportunities. Teaching employees transferable skills like customer service, problem solving and teamwork can be a great retention tool. Offering fair wages, showing appreciation, being sympathetic to personal problems and exercising tactful discipline, meanwhile, are among the costs of entry.

Furthermore, McKenna said retailers can improve retention by becoming more like coaches, not bosses. Retailers must be visible and out on the playing field to observe performance while it's happening; provide instant and continuous positive feedback; and make adjustments where needed. Of course, making adjustments to put the best team on the field means weeding out the poor performers.

Good coaches get rid of the nonperformers, he said. Be ruthless with nonperformers; they're holding you back from making more money. If I'm a retailer, I'm thinking, How can I differentiate my store from the competition?' [Better customer service] at the end of the day is going to make you a lot of money.