Star quality

How are you fostering star quality staff? Chris Gamm says there are five important places to start…

One wet January morning, I was sheltering under the canopy of the Holland & ­Barrett on Egham High Street, looking at directions on my phone. After a moment, I walked on, but was stopped by an assistant running out to tell me that, despite appearances, the shop was open. I thanked him, said I was fine, and didn’t think anything further about it.

I was on my way to a workshop on building company culture, led by former Asda HR director David Smith, who was on the management team that took the grocer within a year from near bankruptcy to being voted one of The Sunday Times’s best places to work. His inspiring story boiled down to five simple principles.

1/ Hire ‘wow’ people:

Prioritise attitude over skill and things will start happening for your business. Asda wanted to be known as the friendliest supermarket, so Smith observed applicants’ behaviour at recruitment workshops and employed all the chatty extroverts. He wanted staff who would be at home chatting on the checkouts and felt customers would either embrace it or ignore it, depending on their preferences.

2/ Keep employees in the loop:

The more employees know about what’s going on, the more they’ll care. Find the format that’s right for your business. Smith used huddle meetings and avoided reports wherever possible.
When reports were absolutely necessary, he used pictures instead of words. He gave the example of aisle-end implementation going from 35% to 95% by switching from a description to a picture of what it should look like.

3/ Listen to your staff:

Respond to your employees’ ideas. Smith’s 400 store managers spent an hour a month with an employee from each department, listening to their experiences. The managers’ responses quickly moved from “I run a £50m business – what a waste of time” to “It’s the best hour of my month” because they found out what was actually happening in their store, what was going well and what was important to their people.

4/ Overdose on recognition schemes:

Don’t underestimate how important you are as a business leader and the power of rewarding someone who has gone above and beyond the call of duty.

5/ Remove underperformers and push talent:

Do you have the right staff? Use this chart to see how much they contribute to your business

Plot your staff on the grid on the graph and see if you have the right people in your business. Would they let a customer walk out empty handed if they couldn’t find what they were looking for? Would they chase a customer down the street for a sale like my friend at Holland & Barrett?

In a recent column in Retail Newsagent (February 7, 2014), Bintesh Amin, who runs two convenience stores in Kent, wrote that Musgrave advised him to think constructively about his shops and be specific about his business plans and targets. In turn, he challenged his store managers to do the same.

“Previously, when my managers wrote reports for me, they were very basic,” he said. “But because of what I’ve been taught, I ask them for more detailed explanations and sales and profit figures.

“The information they give me now is so detailed that I can come out of meetings with them without having to ask any questions and I can use these reports when training my staff.”

Creating this kind of culture in a business, where your staff are as well prepared and knowledgeable about their sections as you are, shows how putting Smith’s advice into practice can make a big difference to your bottom line


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