Central Market and the Uncommon Bond: We took 160 campus leaders to foodie heaven to learn about leadership


As we plan our Thanksgiving feasts, some of us may be visiting a Central Market for special ingredients or creative ideas – or maybe, let’s be honest, to purchase the entire pre-cooked meal.

This year, if you talk to one of the many Partners walking around the store, ask them about the Uncommon Bond. While Central Market is a division of H-E-B grocery and shares their commitment to people, they also have their own unique brand promise, codified in a beautifully written booklet called the Uncommon Bond.

A team from Arlington ISD display the "green book" they developed for Hale Elementary after visiting Central Market.

A team from Arlington ISD displays the “green book” they developed for Hale Elementary after visiting Central Market.

Every employee is expected to know it and live it. Many even carry a folded copy tucked behind their name tag.

It says things like, “Our purpose: Helping Customers enjoy living through a more fun, informed relationship with food – regardless of where they are on their food journey.” It lists things they will always do (know more about the products we sell than our customers), as well as things they will never do (sacrifice quality, taste or uniqueness for financial gain in the short term).

As part of the Holdsworth Campus Leadership program, we took 160 principals, assistant principals and teacher leaders on learning tours to Central Market because in many ways, stores operate like campuses. There is a centralized structure, but each store leader has the autonomy to design and deliver the product that’s right for their neighborhood. And like principals, they are ultimately held accountable for results.

After reading Uncommon Bond and hearing from Central Market executives, participants observed how Partners on the floor put those words into action.

“The way the Partners fully embody the Uncommon Bond and are so willing to share it with others – they exhibit their true purpose in EVERYTHING they do.  This is a model I strive to emulate,” one principal said.

Central Market partners talking with campus leaders.

One of the biggest takeaways from the visit was the way Partners are empowered to “do what it takes to exceed the Customer’s expectations.” (Only the General Manager can tell a Customer “No.”)

“Their excitement and pride in their role enabled customers to have a great experience shopping there. It was refreshing to see such value and trust given to each person and what that leads to,” one participant said.

In surveys, campus leaders told us how much they learned and were inspired by the visit. Many went back to their campuses and created their own “green book,” reviewing their mission and vision to ensure it expressed the culture and values of the campus.

“Central Market blew me away. I want my campus to operate like that,” one principal said.

“It is amazing to study and then see a world-class organization in operation,” said another.  “When you visit a site, you get a sense of the culture that you just can’t get any other way.”

Campus leadership program participants visiting a Central Market store.One of our campus champions said: “I never experienced a grocery store like that. There were so many applications to school culture that it excited me.”

How can you develop and communicate your mission, vision and values? This toolkit from Building Public Understanding provides some great thought-starters and examples.

Watch this video to hear leadership insights directly from Central Market President Stephen Butt and Director of Human Resources Tammy Hampton.