181: NMG’s Chief People Officer Shares Tips to Help You Get HR Right

Written by Rob Stott

August 22, 2023

Human Resources can be a very tricky area for independent business owners to navigate, especially when trying to formalize the department. Nationwide Marketing Group’s Chief People Officer Kelley Kenner-Patridge, who helped establish the group’s own HR initiative, and her team are helping retailers take the proper steps to be successful in the realm of talent and employee relations.


Rob Stott: All right, we are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast coming to you. You could tell if you’re watching the video version of this we’re high above the show floor in Nashville.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: We are.

Rob Stott: At the Music City Center watching it come to life behind us. This is such a cool perspective.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: It is.

Rob Stott: It’s incredible.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: The transformation is incredible. So we were on the floor yesterday and this is the second day, so we have seen the transformation from yesterday and can’t wait to see it tomorrow.

Rob Stott: It’s going to be neat, but to have it come to life, but to be able to sit up here in our lounge, our perch high above it with Ms. Kelley Kenner-Patridgr, our VP and chief people officer of the Talent Leadership Center, appreciate you taking the time, stepping just slightly off of the floor and away from the action for a minute to sit down for our podcast.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Thanks Rob.

Rob Stott: How are you doing?

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: I’m good. It’s been a really good day. Had an opportunity to connect with a few of our members and speak with them about what their needs are and hopefully able to meet those.

Rob Stott: Yeah. Well what I love about getting to do this, because we’ve been wanting to do one, right?

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Yes.

Rob Stott: But the timing of this is perfect, because just recently for our podcast listeners, we had Sweet Dreams and Greg Law and Kathryn Gaus on the podcast to talk about, they gushed over you guys, I just have to say. They gushed over the TLC team and what you’re doing and I mean we dove into HR and I mean Kathryn that’s what she does, Greg’s sister saw an opportunity to kind of transform that business and want to take the opportunity to follow up and hear from our side, because leaned into our services. But You’ve got a really awesome story that I’m looking forward to diving into.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Oh, thank you.

Rob Stott: But appreciate you again, just having the time and being willing to do this despite your reservations.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Rob, you talk me into any and everything.

Rob Stott: Got to be persuasive, what can I say? So what’s cool about our stories too, is that not only are we both from Philly, we have a Philly connection.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Yes we do.

Rob Stott: But we also started at Nationwide, not too far apart from one another. So 2019, I was October, you were a few months prior?

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: I was July.

Rob Stott: July, okay. So we like three months apart. And for anyone that knows Nationwide, I mean they had human resources to an extent, but there was no department.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Yes. I love the story, I don’t know if I’ve ever shared this with you, but I distinctly remember coming in and interviewing with Tom and team, and the reason why they wanted to have a HR person in-house sold me into wanting to come here and be part of the team. They said they wanted someone that the people in the business would be at the center of this individual’s desk.

Rob Stott: I love that.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: That care and that attention, that is fantastic. So anyway, we’ve been on this four year journey together and we’ve been able to do some pretty neat things. But listen, in everything that we have done, we are going to celebrate the wins, but we also know that We’ve got some more things to do.

Rob Stott: Yeah, for sure. I mean start from when you come into that role, obviously you’re interviewing, you realize they have a good mission that they’re trying to accomplish in bringing you in to do this. I mean, I am sure reservations thinking about coming to a group that hasn’t had it before. So what’s kind of your approach when you get into the role and start doing the work that you were brought in to do?

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Absolutely. We just heard this most dynamic presenter today, right?

Rob Stott: Mr. Scott Mann, I should say Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mann.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: He said one thing that resonated with everyone and that is, “It’s all about people.” When I joined nationwide, it was not my first intention to at all start changing or fixing anything. I really wanted to get to know the people that I was going to have the privilege to serve with every single day. So first and foremost, I built the relationship, deepening the trust, being transparent for people to get to know who I am and actively listening and asking those questions, “What is it that you are looking for that we can help build together?” And so, that was my initial approach. After about 60, 90 days, probably more like 90 days, 120 days because actually I was hired two weeks before primetime in New Orleans.

Rob Stott: You’re HR, I got to talk to you, we got to stop doing that, bringing people in before shows. Why is that the thing?

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Oh, goodness. We’re going to throw you in the fire, but we are there to support you.

Rob Stott: No better way to learn quick.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: We are there to support you.

Rob Stott: Hey, no better way to learn either.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: So that was the first. A little time after we started talking about what is it that the organization needed, what was it that the people really needed to start thriving and what do we need to do to build high impactful teams, deepen the relationship with the people that we work with. And so, we were intentional. First, is we looked at do we have the right systems in place? What additional talent are we going to need on the human resources team to be able to accomplish these goals? All the while surveying, asking about the needs. And then you start there, and I know that sounds so basic.

Rob Stott: But when you are starting from ground zero it has to be, right?

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Right, because here’s the thing, if you don’t, the adoption becomes even more challenging. So if people are saying this is what we’re needing, then you say, “Let’s, figure out how we get there.” And when you do, it is, “Hey, these are the things that you are asking for. Here’s what we have and we’ll continue to look at this, grow it, change it, massage it, do whatever we need. So it really becomes authentically ours.” And that’s really the key, is starting basic, talking to people and then figuring out where in that space specifically do we start making those changes.

Rob Stott: Well, it’s funny I’m sitting here thinking about it to while you’re talking and you mentioned the point about the people that your team needs to thrive. And I think back to some of the podcasts we’ve done, early podcasts. We had Kris Kuester on just a few weeks into doing this thing and talking about the speed of trust and the program that he’s built there. And we’ve had John John Duisberg who is with CoolLeaf and the program that we’ve run there. And I’m starting to think, we’ve not talked on the podcast, but we’ve had HR discussions before having you on here and it’s clear just the approach and the different ways you can… It’s not all policies. That’s obviously an important part of it and a key part of any HR department. But it’s those things that are sort of building out the culture and everything else that you’re doing to just make this a place people want to be.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Absolutely. Work is done through people. And so, when you have built a place where people want to come, when you have a culture where people are seen and they feel that they belong, a place where we have created an environment where we want you to speak up so that we can hear your ideas, those things make the difference. I think also too, when you were talking with John and Chris and absolutely Sweet Dreams, culture is everything. And we’ve spent a lot of time, and I know you know this to be true, because you’re there at every town hall, you’re there every time I personally have reached out to you and said, “Hey, I want to bounce this off of you.” That’s the culture piece at play and we are intentional about it.

Rob Stott: Yeah, the funny thing is, and I’ve had this conversation with… I think I had it with Chris, I think I’ve had it with John on here as well. It’s easy for it to be perceived as something cliche that a company is trying to do?

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Yes.

Rob Stott: And it comes off like, culture’s like a buzzword that people want to say because it’s something they think they want to build. But the way it’s done, because we’re in the prime example of what Nationwide culture is like and being at primetime and you see the teams come together and just how it’s collaborate… We collaborate every day through Microsoft Teams and the tools that we have and the conversations that are had. But this is the embodiment of all that.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: It is.

Rob Stott: And to your point, we’re intentional about it. But it’s almost become sort of second nature where I think for a lot of us, speaking for me, it is, it’s not something I think about.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Absolutely.

Rob Stott: Because It’s become something that we were intentional about and now it’s just like I said, second nature.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: And think about that. You don’t even think about it, it’s second nature, it actually drives who we hire, because it’s so ingrained in us, we are looking for those specific behaviors that meet our core values of trust, leadership and collaboration. It drives who we hire, it drives who gets to the next level. It drives promotions. You’ve been promoted.

Rob Stott: Well, thank you. Just recently, yes.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Yes.

Rob Stott: Yeah.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: It matters. And so, when we are doing prime time, when we are here serving, it just comes out of our pores, our members feel it.

Rob Stott: Yeah, no it’s cool. And It’s a neat concept too, because it’s neat to see it happen organically, because that’s definitely how it’s been, it feels that way and really when you look back on it’s only been four years. This change has all happened within four years.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: It’s amazing.

Rob Stott: So what’s that mean to you, when you think about that? What you’ve seen, your hands are all over this and what the department is and… It is, you got to take the credit where it’s due.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: You are so kind.

Rob Stott: But it’s the truth. So what’s the feeling you get when you see what the TLC team has become?

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: It moves me. I am incredibly proud and it’s not me, it is because, and let me tell you why it’s not me. It’s not me, because we have people that you and I get to work with every day that says this is what we believe in, these are the behaviors that are important to us, these are the core values, this is what it looks like to be a high performer here. We believe in transparency as much as we can. We are pretty transparent.

I think it’s those type of attributes, those characteristics that have really fed into the creation of the things that you and I are benefiting from that yes, just the conduit, the talent and leadership team is the conduit by which some of these things come up from I’m really, really proud. Something that I definitely want listeners to know is something we always talk about at Nationwide and we’ve been more intentional recently about doing this and that is celebrating successes. We’ve done a lot together, we don’t always stop and celebrate. And now when you asked me that question, I’m thinking, “Oh, my goodness, I don’t think we’ve ever stopped to really celebrate. We’ve done some pretty good work around here.”

Rob Stott: You certainly have. If it comes in the form of a podcast and me asking a question, I’m glad that we could do it that way.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: But yes, I’m incredibly proud and excited.

Rob Stott: Right.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Right. Because, it’s like you see what you have been able to accomplish collectively…

Rob Stott: And you know what’s next.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: And you know can do more.

Rob Stott: And you know what’s next. And well, we mentioned that and kind of a perfect segue to talk about what you’ve done. We’ve mentioned Sweet Dreams at the top and watching Nationwide kind of grow its own HR initiative and what we’re doing here, what you’re doing here. To now, we’re able to turn around and offer that and it’s a program, that’s being built out. I know every day there’s work being done on the membership side. So what’s that been like?

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: So it’s been a lot of fun. We’ve had an opportunity to really connect and work with our members. Sweet Dreams is a wonderful partner with us as well. Sherman’s has been a wonderful partner with us. We created an HR council from this. So what we are looking to do is continue offering training and create some new training spaces for our members. And then of course one of the questions that we consistently get is, “Hey, can you share resources?” So what can we do to absolutely begin to share resources with our members that ask. It’s a place where they can find vendors in the people space, be able to find, “Hey Kelley, where can I get forms? Hey Kelly I’m looking for this one specific piece, where can I go?” So finding those vendors, finding that space where we can meet what our members are asking of us.

Rob Stott: Which again is to reference the keynote from this morning something Tom said. A lot of the ideas that seem like they come out of the Nationwide team, it’s really the members that come to us, they need this help. They have a challenge they need to tackle and we’re there to help them do that. And you mentioned the partnerships, it’s also being able to lean into you guys. So to be able to call on you as a team and know that they’ve got some exceptional talent as a resource to bounce ideas off of and they may be facing challenges as well.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: And our members have been fantastic in recognizing that and have asked us to actually come out and lead these types of training or they’ll pick up a phone, they’ll call me, “Kelley, I’m running into this particular challenge. Chris I’m running into this particular challenge. Donna.” We are here to help to the best of our ability to navigate this space. Listen, people are beautiful creatures. We are complex and challenging all at the same time. And can you imagine in the context of running a business, being able to navigate the space that you have all these individual souls that are unique in their own special way. So how do we pull everyone together and I’m thinking?… So Here’s a fun fact. So Rob, I started taking rowing classes being from Philadelphia, on the Schuylkill.

Rob Stott: Love it, you always go out on the Schuylkill..

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: So we have this new facility, workout facilities called the Row House. And so, I’m starting to row. So using the analogy of how can we help members be in their proverbial boat and everyone rowing the same way. So we’re here to do some consultative pieces. We are here to, if it makes sense to be able to come out and provide that. We can even Zoom in through Teams or Zoom to be able to support. At the end of the day, these ideas are driven by our members.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And I mean don’t call out a member that maybe they don’t want to have their name mentioned or anything like that, but any unique surprises come out of this for you, in talking with the members and working with them that you’re like, “Oh well that’s…” Maybe a challenge I never thought about from an HR perspective that you’re able to navigate them through.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Yes, I have. You know what I’m just going to say, yep, I have.

Rob Stott: Well, that’s good enough.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: I’m going to say that. Yes, but here’s the reason why that’s fantastic. I am constantly learning. You can never say you know everything. And here’s the other thing, by a member calling myself or Chris or anyone on our team and speaking confidentially to us, if this is seen in any other business, we at least have a blueprint now, and we could provide not only what we believe to be a path, but we can also say it from a path of, “Hey there’s been another individual, another member that has had a similar experience.” And I think that is the type of information that people are needing to be able to navigate this people space.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And I appreciate that answer, even though It’s like from a journalistic perspective, you’re like, skirting an answer to that question, but really you did, because it shows that members can call on you and use you as that resource, someone from that HR perspective that they can go to and have trust in that you’re there to support them and protect them.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Absolutely. And confidentially.

Rob Stott: Right. Correct. Well this is awesome. I think it’s a really unique story that we get to tell and I’m happy that I got to do it with you here in Nashville and look forward to seeing more of those stories, more of those Sweet Dreams examples of members that are leaning into you and your team and benefiting here at Nationwide.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Thank you.

Rob Stott: Appreciate you doing it. See we got through it.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Wow. Thank you so much.

Rob Stott: We got through it.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: This was fun.

Rob Stott: It was great. All right.

Kelley Kenner-Patridge: Thank you.

Rob Stott: You bet.

Connect With Us!

More Podcasts

215: Understanding the Cost of Doing Business as an Independent Retailer

215: Understanding the Cost of Doing Business as an Independent Retailer

What if there was a way to benchmark your business against others in just about every aspect? That’s exactly what NMG’s new Cost of Doing Business study aims to solve.

214: Victrola Helps Bring Vinyl Back Into the Mainstream

214: Victrola Helps Bring Vinyl Back Into the Mainstream

Victrola is helping independent retailers capitalize on the resurgence of the record industry by offering innovative and modernized turntables. Don Inmon, head of product and brand there, dives into the category and their portfolio.

213: A Furniture, Bedding and Outdoor Update with Jeff Rose

213: A Furniture, Bedding and Outdoor Update with Jeff Rose

It was a truly action packed PrimeTime for the NMG Furniture, Bedding & Outdoor team. At the end of it all, we caught up with Jeff Rose, VP of the division, to talk about the new vendor introductions, the first-ever tour offered to Members of the World Market Center campus and other trends impacting the furniture, bedding and outdoor industries.