Level Up: Next-Gen Leaders – Nicole Zube

At the 2024 NextUp Executive Symposium & Forum’s ‘Bold Strategies for Building Next-Gen Leaders’ panel, we had the privilege of hearing insights from top HR executives, including Nicole Zube, Executive Vice President (EVP) and Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO) of SpartanNash, about actively addressing the pipeline challenge to foster the development of the next generation of leaders.

What drove you to become a CHRO? What is it about this role that you love?

My passion for making a meaningful impact on people’s lives at every level of an organization drove me to become a CHRO. In this role, I have the unique opportunity to shape the workplace culture to be more inclusive, inspirational and empowering.

What I love most about being a CHRO at SpartanNash is the ability to directly influence our associates’ career paths and personal development, which I get to do often thanks to our People First culture. Through initiatives like SpartanNash University and our various leadership programs, I can see the tangible impact of our work on individuals’ growth, engagement and quality of life. It’s incredibly rewarding to lead efforts that truly deliver on our company’s People Philosophy of inspiring careers for a better life.

What do you find most challenging about being a CHRO in 2024?

I think building a thriving post-pandemic work culture is a challenge for many Human Resources leaders at this moment in time. During the pandemic, many people’s careers paths shifted dramatically, along with their work preferences and the ways they are accustomed to working – such as being fully remote. Since so many of our SpartanNash associates on the front lines —from cashiers to order selectors to drivers—must do their work in person and on-site, our corporate team has made it a priority to show up to serve them by being in-person as well.

There is a tough balance because we understand that work/life balance is important to attract and retain great talent, and we want to cultivate an environment where our associates can do their best work. Schedule flexibility and a flexible Paid Time Off policy are just a couple of the ways that we partner with associates to ensure they can take care of their personal and family needs and adapt to the expectations and preferences of today’s workforce.

What’s one thing that you try to do every single day in your role? What’s one thing you try not to do?

In my role, I strive to ensure that our People First values are actively reflected in our decisions and interactions. Every day, I make it a point to actively support and recognize our associates, whether it’s through awards, milestone celebrations or by ensuring that their voices are heard and valued. When I’m out and about with our frontline associates, if I see someone delivering great service or showing a fantastic attitude, I don’t hesitate to thank them and share their good work with their manager.

What I try to avoid is making decisions alone. I believe in teamwork and getting diverse perspectives, so involving our associates and our customers in decision-making and valuing their input is crucial.

We’ve heard a lot about the importance of mentorship and sponsorship – what distinguishes one from the other, and do we need both?

Mentorship involves guidance and development on a personal level, while sponsorship entails advocacy and public support for career advancement within an organization. At SpartanNash, we strongly value and integrate both into our talent practices, leadership development programs and recognition. We are very transparent on our definitions of performance, potential, and aspiration and ensure those with high potential have active mentors and sponsors. Our leadership programs and Associate Resource Groups (ARGs) provide a supportive network, visibility and development for our associates.

By celebrating achievements through various awards and acknowledging the role of mentors and sponsors during these events, we ensure that both mentoring guidance and sponsorship advocacy are actively practiced. This holistic approach is essential to our People First strategy, enabling all Associates to thrive and grow within our organization.

What changes or programs that you’ve put into place are you most proud of?

I am so grateful for the many opportunities my team has put into place over the last 18 months. I am most proud of our comprehensive programs like SpartanNash University’s Aspire, Propel, Excel and I-Grow programs, which outline the skills and abilities associates need to ascend to the next level and become effective leaders. We also recently launched competencies into our talent practices to aide in growing the necessary skills our associates need to demonstrate to help SpartanNash achieve high performance. Our development efforts, including the newly launched LinkedIn Learning, is another way we enable associates to develop, ensuring that our People First strategy is lived out daily.

What is the most surprising or valuable thing you’ve ever learned from a next gen Leader?

Our internship program has shown that fresh perspectives from young professionals bring invaluable energy and creative problem-solving to our b

usiness. I am thrilled by the engagement of our 100+ interns from more than 41 universities, who bring diverse viewpoints that challenge conventional approaches and drive innovation within SpartanNash. It’s so valuable to take their input to enhance our innovation, productivity, and overall company performance.

Let’s move on to some light-hearted questions so our NextUp community can get to know you better. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

“Your career is a marathon, not a sprint” is the best advice I received while working at P&G when I was very early in my career. I truly took that to heart and believe that gaining as many different and diverse perspectives help you be a better leader and contribute fully, no matter what role you are in. Soak up every opportunity you are given, excel in the role you’re currently in, and the next great opportunities will come your way.

What’s something that you keep in your office purely because it makes your day better?

I keep a photograph of my four grandparents sitting in the front row at my wedding on the cabinet right behind my desk. When I see their smiling faces and remember the role models they were to me and so many, I am very proud and inspired to continue being the best leader I can be – at home and at work.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever done for your career?

Having the opportunity to live and work in the UK was one of the best things I ever did for my career. To see the world outside of the US, to learn from so many different cultures, and to be so far away from corporate headquarters really opened my eyes and changed my life forever. I’m very grateful to Kellogg for providing me the opportunity and for the memories my husband and children were able to make together navigating a different country.

Thank you for tuning into the Level Up: Next-Gen Leaders series! Be sure to visit the NextUp Hub for more content, and connect with us on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook for updates.

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