How Employee Engagement Makes the Difference at Sysco

April 11, 2013

Jerry Hampton, Director of Training for SYSCO

Jerry Hampton knows something about employee engagement. In fact, many would consider him an expert, as he has singlehandedly trained over 2000 men and women to sell -and excel- in the competitive industry of food service.

As the Director of Training for SYSCO, a global leader in the selling, marketing, and distributing of food products, Jerry is charged with creating a high performance sales culture. His team of 138 men and women pound the pavement daily in an extremely competitive environment as they work to grow their customer base. The job is intense, fast-paced and demanding, and rejection is a natural part of the selling process.

I recently had an opportunity to talk with Jerry about his 34 year career with SYSCO, and glean some insights as to how SYSCO creates a culture of performance and engagement among its team members.

The first discovery I made was that SYSCO truly BELIEVES in their people, and they put their money where their mouth is. Each sales representative undergoes an extensive training program to help them understand not only the company and suite of products, but more importantly the value proposition their product line offers. Anyone can be trained to memorize product features and benefits; however it takes a skilled professional to demonstrate the VALUE that SYSCO products will bring to a customers’ bottom line. That’s the ability to understand and apply both the art and the science of selling.

To accomplish this, the company conducts regular and ongoing training, on-site, led by Jerry and his team. Their training room is top notch, offering comfort and new technologies to enhance the learning experience. It is impossible to “mail it in” during one of Jerry’s training classes – his coaching style is personal and deliberate, requiring active interaction and involvement by all participants. Through this process of focused coaching, they create a branded sales process, and a consistent appeal in the marketplace.

SYSCO also sends select sales personnel to outside training. It started 1996 when Jerry sent a few people to the Dale Carnegie® Course to overcome a fear of speaking.  The results for these individuals were astonishing. After recommending that so many people to take the class, a colleague challenged him by saying “Have YOU ever taken the course Jerry?” to which he was had to reply no. “Then how do you know it’s any good?” Touché, he agreed and signed up for the next class. As a graduate of the program he became more convinced of its value to the individual, both at work and at home.

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Since that time, SYSCO has become a key global partner with Dale Carnegie. “This is a great program and it’s a serious investment,” stated Hampton. “After graduating from the course, our people are able to truly see the perspectives of others; they gain the ability to give sincere appreciation, to manage stress better, and to find new ways of doing business. In short, they get ‘out of the box’ and develop the enthusiasm to move new ideas forward.”

Craig Tomalak is one example. Craig started his Dale Carnegie Course in early 2013. After 10 weeks of working on his human relations and communication skills, Craig commented “This class forces you to view situations from various different perspectives – something we are all capable of but very rarely do.  I think we are all guilty of forming habits in terms of the way we handle situations.” The Dale Carnegie course gave him the opportunity to look inward and find those areas of growth and others. That new way of operating has helped him strengthen his relationships with customers and improve his results in the marketplace.

Food service is a demanding and competitive industry and salespeople run the risk of burnout and frustration. Pat Hoffman, a Detroit-area participant reported that the concept of “day tight compartments” was particularly helpful to him. Exercising greater patience, keeping things in perspective, and finding greater joy in the days work changed his outlook, and his results. This ability to manage stress more effectively is consistently reported back to SYSCO as a benefit of the Dale Carnegie experience.

Investing in PEOPLE is a cornerstone of running the SYSCO business. Just as they use only the highest quality ingredients in their food – they place only the highest quality training in their people. This investment in PEOPLE helps create a dynamic and engaged workforce that’s motivated and better equipped to delight their customers. And to Jerry Hampton, that’s what it’s all about.

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