Distributing good ideas

Boshier training and development manager for Argos Distribution, explains how a
new approach to induction and basic skills training has improved staff

Induction and basic skills training
Designed by: Training For Advancement, Omega House, Foundry Street,
Stoke-on-Trent ST1 5SU
Phone: 01782 283377
E-mail: a.nash@tfa.co.uk
Weblink: www.tfa.co.uk

Argos is the UK’s largest non-food retail chain, with sales of more than
£3bn and with 525 stores across the UK and the Republic of Ireland, with 35
more planned next year.

The six Argos regional distribution centres (RDCs) across the UK are
critical to business success. Each RDC employs around 400 staff, and the number
of staff can double during peak times.

Projected business growth meant the company’s RDCs would eventually struggle
to meet demand. To supplement their work, Argos began the phased opening of a
central distribution centre (CDC) in Barton-Under-Needwood, Staffordshire, in
May 2003.

The CDC represents a big investment in automated state-of-the-art technology
and processes, in complete contrast to the existing RDCs, which are
traditional, heavily unionised distribution environments. The CDC provided an
opportunity to take best practice approaches and create a blueprint for
elsewhere, in terms of procedures, people and ways of working within the
business, with the ultimate goal of improved staff retention.

To assist with this ambitious goal, Argos invited Training For Advancement –
to design learning ‘tools’ to ensure all people joining the CDC team would:

– be made aware of the vision and values of the CDC

– be engaged in the part they could play in the success of the CDC

– have access to practical and effective on-the-job learning activities and
workshops, which developed understanding and capability in each and every part
of their new role.

The approach

After an initial period of research, it was agreed that the development of a
suite of learning tools designed to flex between the needs of the business and
the needs of the individual was the best approach.

The learning tools developed were:

– A ‘welcome day’ that incorporates high-energy activities and exercises
designed to create a feeling of belonging and excitement from the very first
day of employment on site

– A series of role-based learning activities designed to enhance skills and
knowledge combined with a practical focus on the tasks which need to be carried

– ‘Coaching cards’ to support the role-based activities, which can be used
by trainers, supervisors and any more experienced team members. These ensure consistent
coaching support for the activities as they suggest practical ways to validate
that key learning objectives have been achieved, making the role of the ‘coach’
a very easy and enjoyable one

– Four, three-hour high-energy workshops consolidate and expand on key areas
introduced within the rest of the programme, such as health and safety

– Two, one-day management workshops were designed for the team at the CDC
who are responsible for the successful implementation of the programme. The
workshops fully brief the managers on the structure and format of the materials
including the purpose, process and the role they can play in ensuring success.

The results

The programme was launched to coincide with the arrival of the first team
members in May 2003 and has already been highly acclaimed within the business.

Jayne Nutting, Regional HR Manager responsible for implementing the project
says: "We got exactly what we asked for and more besides. We have things
included that we could never have come up with ourselves. It isn’t an
off-the-shelf solution, and I liked how we saw the product develop as the
project progressed."

A survey conducted by the HR team among new team members showed:

– 88 per cent feel that as a result of the induction programme they were
fully satisfied and understood what was expected of them in their job

– 100 per cent feel the aims and culture of Barton CDC and where it fits
within Argos were fully explained

– 97 feel part of the team and are clear on what they have to do for the team
to be successful.

In addition, there has been a significant impact on the retention of
employees. Nutting confirmed that her expectation as a project manager of a new
start-up was to "lose 25-30 per cent of new team members in the first
three months of their employment". In the three months after introducing
the new induction programme, staff turnover was just 6.6 per cent.

Sally Edwards, a training adviser at Barton identifies additional benefits
such as team members having so much enthusiasm and team spirit when they
arrive, they are almost having to be reigned in.

"The programme is embedding the culture we want to create," she
says. "Everyone is aware of the bigger picture and where they fit into it.
The training is a joy to deliver; I almost don’t want to hand it on."

As a direct result of the success of the programme, Training For Advancement
has been asked to recommend how the principles of the Barton induction and
initial skills training programme can be used to refresh the approaches within
the remaining RDCs.

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