Super brand is a UK based retail organisation with just over 1,000 stores including large and medium sized supermarkets and 450 smaller ‘convenience’ local stores. Despite intense market competition and a challenging economic environment the group has seen a small but positive growth in sales and size during the financial year. This has included the opening of 5 new supermarkets and 40 convenience stores. The organisation has kept pace with its competitors with the development of its high end ‘Exclusive’ and lower cost ‘Value’ own brand product ranges as well as its own online and banking services.
The organisation is focused on food retailing but also offers a small selection of household merchandise, clothing and entertainment products such as CD’s and DVD’s. The business mission to be ‘First Choice for Food Value’ is underpinned by organisational values of delivering outstanding customer service and product quality through engaged employees. The mission and values are clearly communicated to new employees in the standard company induction programme and form the foundation for the organisations training and development programmes, including its internal management development programme, which is well advertised to existing staff members throughout the retail stores.
In January a new HR manager joined The Stockington branch of Superbrand. The branch has a sales turnover of £1m per week and employs around 500 staff including a team of 31 managers. Staff are employed on a range of full time, part time and temporary contracts to try to meet fluctuating customer numbers across the week and during seasonal peaks. The store is divided into 6 departments, Grocery, Check out, Homeware and Entertainment, Warehouse and Administration. Each is run by a department manager and assistant manager who report into the stores senior management team of 3 deputy managers and the store manager. The larger departments (Checkout and Grocery) also have a small number of team leaders.
In their first meeting together the store manager informed the HR manager that the Stockington branch had been having some difficulties in the last 9 – 12 months. The opening of a new supermarket at the other side of town and the continued growth in on line sales had placed real pressure on store sales figures. At the same time he had noticed some employee problems emerging in different areas of the store. He asked the new HR manager to take some time to observe and research what she thought was going on and to present a report of her findings and recommendations to him and the senior team to help them to understand and improve the situation. During her first six weeks she spent time talking to and observing the different departments and made some key discoveries to inform her report.
The Checkout department has the largest team of employees in the store although over 90% of the staff are on part time contracts. Despite this the department manager has regular problems staffing busy customer periods fully with staff reluctant to change their shifts around to meet the needs of the business. Checking the performance metrics the HR manager found absence rates on the department of 5%, well above the store average of 3.2%. In addition, results from the most recent employee attitude survey revealed this department had the least satisfied members of staff including recording the lowest score against the statement ‘my ideas are listened to and valued’.
These results are disappointing as the organisation has spent a lot of time and money developing its recruitment processes to ensure staff are happy in their work by appointing employees with the right personalities to fit the job descriptions. They have introduced personality tests based on the ‘Big Five’ into the online application process. This aims to find applicants who will enjoy providing outstanding customer service by identifying those with scores which are high on openness and extroversion. The HR manager also observed ‘regular team briefings’ being conducted at the beginning of each shift. The briefings started with the department manager giving clear instructions to the assistant managers about what she needed them to achieve each day and to pass down information about the stores sales, its impact on the staff pay bonus, new offers and till discrepancies. This was then cascaded down through the assistant managers and team leaders to the Checkout assistants. These approaches don’t seem to be working.
The HR manager was pleased to see that all the appraisals for the department were completed. Talking to individual cashiers she found out this was achieved by carrying appraisals out in small groups around the customer service desk. All staff were set the same SMART objectives around the organisation’s strict performance targets for scanning speeds and till discrepancies but there was little evidence of training needs or future career objectives recorded on the forms. However, the HR manager observed a training session for new staff and found that new Checkout assistants received a very thorough training programme on joining the organisation. Each part of the job was broken down, clearly explained step by step and practised on the training tills to ensure the assistant could perform each task accurately, quickly and consistently. In fact, Checkout assistants spent extra time practising this during their induction while other staff members went on a store tour with the deputy manager and took part in a question and answer session about the business with the store manager.
Although the Grocery department has a much smaller team of employees, the HR manager noticed that the manager seemed to have far fewer problems staffing the department fully. He appeared to be able to easily persuade his team to move their shifts around to cover holidays and of course he also had less absence to deal with than on the Checkout department. The Grocery department covers 5 areas, frozen foods, chilled foods, bakery, fruit and vegetables and dried goods and the HR manager was surprised to find the Grocery staff were being scheduled to work on different areas each week. Initially she was worried that this might cause problems with their product knowledge. In fact, she observed some excellent customer interaction and product advice being provided while she was on the department and was pleased to hear that the Grocery Team had won a company award for quality customer service the previous year.
However, the department was having problems with the amount of ‘out of date’ stock that the store had to throw away, referred to as ‘wastage’. The store manager was frustrated with this result as the company had recently invested in new technology to help address this problem and the stock manager went on a training course to learn how to use it. The HR manager noticed the manager running a number of meetings he called ‘buzz groups’ where he drew together different members of his team and asked them for their ideas about how they could reduce this figure. After holding these sessions, he introduced a new process. For half an hour every day the whole team would divide the Grocery section up between them and all check for stock reaching its sell by date. The prices on these products were then reduced to sell them in time. This was a change to the old system of having one person on the team looking after ‘wastage’. The team seemed to enjoy the sessions of frantic activity and started to refer to this time as ‘Bin Buster’ sessions. The wastage rates appear to be coming down since the new system had been put in place.
Back in the HR office, the HR manager noticed that a few of the Grocery departments appraisals hadn’t been completed yet, however when she checked she could see that the manager was making slow progress through them and that those that had been completed had different challenging targets for each member of staff and clear accounts of discussions about their career aspirations. She was impressed to see that two of the assistants on the department had recently been successful at an assessment centre to get onto the organisations internal management development programme. She also noticed that the staff attitude survey indicted this department had some very satisfied employees who would ‘recommend working for the company to friends and family’.
The night shift team has the smallest number of employees in the store and are responsible for replenishing the shelves from the late night delivery before the store opens at 7am. Made up of five full time members of staff who have been with the store for many years and supported by a team of part time employees, including a large number of students, the HR manager was concerned to see high staff turnover in this team and difficulties recruiting replacements despite the late night shift payments. The early morning managers complained to the HR manager that they frequently come in to find the delivery hasn’t been completed and that trolleys of stock and waste packaging have been left in the customer aisles. Recently a trolley of frozen food was left out too long by the Night shift team and had to be thrown away. This had a disappointing effect on the stores wastage results given all the efforts the Grocery team had been placing on reducing this figure.
Stopping over night to observe the team in action the HR manager notices that the Night Shift Manager adopts a very friendly and laid back approach to managing his team. He rolls up his sleeves and helps the team out – he certainly isn’t afraid of a bit of hard work. She doesn’t see him monitoring the speed at which individuals unpack boxes onto the shelves however, an important organisational measure referred to as ‘case rate’. At tea break she notices the full time and part time members of staff sit at separate tables. The full timers laugh when she asks them about their appraisal targets and complain they are run off their feet trying to get the job done because the part timers are so hopeless. She can see their point as she has to speak to a number of part time staff during the night who appear to be standing around doing nothing but finds when she gets the manager to give them some clear direction about what he wants them to do next they work quickly and efficiently.
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