Inside Track: Trupiano aims to 'make work a better place'
SpartanNash executive backs idea that employee experience is key driver of business success.
Yvonne Trupiano became hooked on human resources when she took a college class focusing on the history of the labor force.
Trupiano was born and raised in metro Detroit and enrolled at Oakland University in the mid-1990s.
“Probably like many kids when you first go off to college, it was ‘What should I be?’ I wasn’t really familiar with HR, but I knew I wanted to be in business. And then I was fascinated by the HR class, just the whole evolution of human resources,” Trupiano said.
“It became very clear in my mind that this is the most important part of business. Sure, I could go into finance or I could go into sales or I could go into some other area. But the most fascinating (thing) to me is how people work together and how that drives the results of the company.”
The term “human resources” was coined in 1893 by economist John R. Commons in his book, “The Distribution of Wealth,” according to Investopedia.
But HR departments didn’t appear until the early 20th century when workers began forming unions and going on strike over dangerous and sometimes deadly working conditions.
Trupiano said the HR course covered that timeline as well as the eventual formation of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration lobbied for throughout the 1960s and established by Congress in 1971.
The field of HR also was shaped by legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, which founded the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, to name a few.
As the number of statutes protecting employees multiplied, personnel departments were forced to become more than a place where paperwork was drawn up, signed and filed. As a result, HR grew into an academic discipline and an industry unto itself.
Trupiano said even when she entered the field 20 years ago, HR leaders still were mostly concerned with compliance and weren’t yet thinking about people strategy.
“It really started to evolve to, ‘It’s not just about pay; it’s about having a good place to work and feeling like you’re contributing to society and these other things that motivate people,’” Trupiano said.
She said management theory and practice in HR has started to focus on “aligning the human capital with the business strategy.” This is about pinpointing what attracts, motivates, engages and retains employees — and also what prepares them for the future direction of a business.
“Starting off, HR wasn’t thinking about things like career development or engagement or training. It was just like, ‘Do your job and do it fast, and we’ll pay you.’ We’ve come a long way with thinking about the employee experience the way you think about a customer’s experience,” Trupiano said.
Out of college, Trupiano worked as a corporate recruiter for ASG Renaissance in Southfield for five years.
She then spent the next 12 years with Avis Budget Group, a car rental company, starting as an HR manager and specializing in labor relations, talent acquisition and employee relations along the way.
In 2009, she transferred to the company’s headquarters in Parsippany, New Jersey, to take on the role of director of human resources and labor relations. In 2013, she was promoted to vice president of HR for Avis, and ultimately became its head of HR for the Americas.
As she was getting ready to move to the U.K. in 2016 to take the next step in her career with Avis, aiming to ultimately become the company’s chief human resources officer (CHRO), Trupiano got a call from a recruiter with SpartanNash who invited her to interview for the role of CHRO there.
Her husband encouraged her to interview and see what she thought, as it could be a good time to return to their home state while their kids were still young.
The company, which had become SpartanNash with the merger of Spartan Stores and Nash Finch in 2013, was looking for someone to implement a new vision and a new strategic plan for its HR functions, to make sure it was hiring the right people and retaining their knowledge in the fast-paced and labor-heavy grocery industry.
“I thought, ‘Well, that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing. So I think I can take on that charge,’” Trupiano said.
Under her leadership, SpartanNash redesigned its HR team to function as a partner to each of its business departments. Rather than HR driving the talent acquisition and management as a lone wolf, the company created “centers of excellence” within each division that are accountable for identifying and communicating their talent needs to HR.
Trupiano also instituted a more casual dress code to mirror the evolution of workplace dress standards, which is part of her larger employee experience strategy.
She fostered a coaching-based leadership approach wherein traditional annual performance reviews were replaced by a quarterly check-in supported by real-time feedback, which she said better helps employees develop and succeed and helps managers do their jobs more effectively.
Her other accomplishments have included leading the recruiting and hiring efforts for several new executives, including a CFO, CIO, CEO, CMMO (chief merchandising and marketing officer) and several other vice president and management-level roles in the past three years.
Trupiano also oversaw the launch of a new careers website and currently is shepherding an internal communications platform that is under development to improve information sharing across the company.
“The way that people interact with their employer now is just very different,” she said. “Everybody has a higher expectation. You’re wanting to use technology the same way. You’re on your phone, and you can order whatever you want and get it at your house, then you come to work, and you have these old antiquated systems or processes, and it’s not easy to use and is not making your job easier or simpler.
“That’s really what we do. We think about how do we make work a better place and how do we make everybody’s jobs easier by way of simpler processes, better technology and those types of things.”
As a transplant to the region, Trupiano said she has noticed cultural differences between metro Detroit, the East Coast and West Michigan. For one thing, she said this area has more community involvement and people are more connected to each other.
“A new person started at Herman Miller, and the recruiter called me and said, ‘Oh, we have a new CHRO starting over there. Would you mind meeting him?’ That would never happen in New Jersey,” she said.
“I think when I moved here, I had 50 different organizations calling me about, ‘Oh, you’re a new executive in town and we’d love for you to be a part of this and a part of that and all these things.’”
She added the community offers a plethora of resource centers, groups for women and veterans and causes SpartanNash cares about and is starting to tap into.
Trupiano said SpartanNash wants the positive workplace culture it creates to spill over into employee participation in the communities it serves — through its foundation, volunteer days, Direct Your Dollars program, retail scan campaigns, and annual Helping Hands Day, which is a companywide service day in support of different nonprofits each year.
“I think keeping employees engaged in those opportunities is important but then also helping remind everybody that what you’re doing matters and leads to the bigger cause,” Trupiano said.