The New Face of Agility
Interview with Heather Murray
Training & Implementation Manager
A growth mindset through the struggle helped this hospitality trainer stay agile and mentally strong.
Agility has been lauded as a crucial business strength in an uncertain world. How do you train for agility in a rapidly changing landscape?
When you think of agility, your mind’s-eye might see Michael Jordan, tongue out and suspended mid-air, fluidly adjusting the ball. All of the careful training, relentless practice, and expert knowledge combines with pure athleticism to make that impossible shot look effortless. And the crowd goes wild.
Today’s face of agility comes in a more unassuming form. During the pandemic, we cheered on some feet-on-the-ground hospitality trainers who were having to react faster than they ever had in their lives. Bringing their knowledge and experience to bear in order to react quickly, but thoughtfully.
CHART member Heather Murray and her team moved with speed, coordination, and endurance in March of 2020 when our world changed. Heather spoke with us about her thoughts on agility.
What is your role in training at Sheetz?
As the Training & Implementation Manager at Sheetz, I lead the Performance Development Specialist (PDS) Team. We are a 20-person field training team, supporting new-to-role team members across Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina.
Our team is part of Sheetz’s Talent Development Department, and we support operations. Sheetz is headquartered in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and has more than 600 stores, with approximately 30 team members per store. Sheetz is approximately 20,000 people total. The PDS Team supports those regions with high growth and high turnover that need additional resources to support training.
“Having to adapt to the ambiguity and navigating through mistakes showed me that I am capable of amazing growth.”
How did you get into hospitality training?
I joined Sheetz at 19 years of age, and I have been here 19 years! This was my first part-time job in college. I was a Store Team Member, and then after I graduated, I moved up in operations, becoming a Store Manager in 2008. I managed a store up until I joined the training team in 2015.
I went to school to be a teacher. My college degree is in family and consumer sciences education. I always wanted to go into adult education.
What does agility mean to you as a hospitality trainer?
Trainers often talk about agility as learning agility, which is where you take a lesson learned and apply it in a new situation. To a trainer, agility is a competency that can be developed.
I now think of agility on a much broader scale. Businesses that are willing to change and grow are the ones who are going to succeed. This is what agility means to me – the ability to adapt and adjust. You think you have a plan, and it suddenly changes. It can be overwhelming as change is hard for everyone. We work through what we have control over, and accept what we don’t.
How can agility be developed?
We focus our development organizationally on the concept of 70-20-10. Ten percent is external educational resources like reading a book or listening to a podcast. Twenty percent of the learning is from others, such as mentors, coaches, or people who watch you in action and give feedback. The 70 percent is the core; the hands-on experiences, those tasks and projects that stretch you and give you the chance to react in real life.
What is your best example of your team’s agility during the pandemic?
We put the classroom out of business!
We had a training class that had taken us a year to complete. We had just rolled it out in the first quarter of 2020, and the pandemic hit. All of that blood, sweat, and tears was not totally lost, but we had to rapidly change and come up with a new implementation solution.
While our Leadership Development Team immediately flipped to virtual learning, the class that the PDS Team was working on dealt with hands-on practice and was meant to be face-to-face, so we could not flip to virtual so easily. We needed a solution, and we needed it quickly.
We had to pause, go back and look at the objectives, see what we were already offering through e-learning, and determine how to make this class something Store Managers could implement themselves. We could not bring people out of the store for a gathering, and it was all-hands-on-deck at that point with the uncertainties of the growing pandemic.
What was the solution?
The solution we came up with was a mini, in-store classroom led by the Store Manager that took the employee through the same experiences. We also took the existing e-learning content and made it more specific. This required more work on our part, but we came up with a very strong course with integrated activities. I’m not sure we will ever go back to the classroom model of before.
Was there any other good that came out of the pandemic?
The pandemic brought to light the need for technology and infrastructure. We had all of these things we wanted to accomplish, such as testing our digital platforms, but we had not rolled them out company-wide. COVID required us to do that. If we wanted to serve our guests safely, we had to be ready. We also now pay more attention to how we keep people connected.
How did the culture at Sheetz encourage agility?
“Pioneering” is a core value in our DNA and you can’t do pioneering without change and being agile.
What do you mean by DNA?
Our culture—the openness, the communication, the willingness to try new things—what we call our DNA, is built by our leaders. Caring…compassion…people first…are values that run through our DNA.
One of the things I love most about Sheetz is that we are committed to growing our people. We are family-owned and operated, and all 20,000 team members are part of that family. This is a company that could never go on Undercover Boss because all the family members and corporate leaders are visible, present, and very accessible. They visit stores regularly, come into our operations, interact, and listen. They make changes on that feedback, which is so powerful.
It is not “Mr. and Mrs. Sheetz” – it is Stan, Steve, Adam, Travis, Joe, Ryan and Emily. You can access everyone in the company through our corporate intranet. There is that transparency in communication. People remember the first time they met a Sheetz family member. Those are signature moments in people’s employment histories.
What are you most proud of on the subject of agility?
I am most proud of the struggle. This might sound silly, but being in the middle of the year-long project that was going to have a large impact on training, and not having that come to fruition as envisioned made me grow. While trying to find solutions, sometimes I felt like I was pulling my hair out or on the verge of a breakdown, but getting through the experience excited me. Having to adapt to the ambiguity and navigating through mistakes showed me that I am capable of amazing growth.
How were you so relentless in figuring out the ambiguity?
We didn’t have a choice! I have a strong support system both personally and professionally. This was crucial in that I am the type of person that can’t solve a problem unless I can talk about it. I’ve got to get it off my chest, or else I will obsess!
What are some tips you could give others for the remainder of 2021?
To embrace a growth mindset. Be willing to do things differently. We have to change, adapt, and grow, or we will stop being relevant.
Positivity, energy, and willingness to try are contagious. Being mad and stuck will leave you behind.
Finally, tell us some interesting things about you!
I’m a Leo, so I have strong skills in talking about myself!
I live in Altoona, Pennsylvania, which is where Sheetz’s corporate office are located. We are two hours east of Pittsburgh, and forty minutes south of Penn State. I have managed a remote team for years, keeping them connected to internal teams.
Last summer, I read Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead. So, I’ve been doing some values work around compassion and empathy, which is pretty relevant in our current political and social landscape. I’m very fortunate to be able to align those values with the work that I do.
The development that has been afforded to me through Sheetz, who cares so much about its people and customers, has taught me that my purpose in life is to develop people. I get great satisfaction out of watching people grow. I’m privileged to get to do that each and every day as part of this family and will continue until Sheetz kicks me out!