Empowerment speaks volumes

Hammicks Bookshops is entering a new chapter in its growth and it is up to
training and development manager Tim Martland to ensure that staff are equipped
with the tools to cope. Simon Kent reports

Hammicks Bookshops is a company on a mission. Over the next few years it
plans to double its number of high street stores. It will expand some existing
branches and introduce several ‘Lifestyle Bookshops’ where high quality cafes
will be located inside stores. Alongside this, the company will push to become
the number one children’s bookseller in the UK – a move that Tim Martland
believes will not only ensures increased turnover in the short term but,
through generating customer loyalty at an early age, could pay dividends well
into the future.

Martland himself is on a mission too. Appointed training and development
manager in January 1999, during a restructuring of the HR function, he has
promoted a coherent strategy for the way the company employs and manages its
people.

In consultation with other managers he has revised and updated the company
operations manual, introduced new recruitment and induction initiatives and
established an appraisal system which facilitates succession planning – a
critical process if the planned expansion is to be a success. Alongside these
changes, the company achieved Investor In People status in November last year.
Meanwhile, Martland retains another important objective to be met through
training: to minimise corporate risk.

"There are many laws concerning issues which affect our shops – from
data protection through to health and safety," says Martland. "We
have to run courses on such issues to make sure people know what they are doing
and to prevent problems from arising." At the same time, effective
training minimises risk for Hammicks in another way – by ensuring that the
company will realise the full potential of its increased investment in retail
outlets.

Devolution

For the past seven years Hammicks has pursued a policy of devolved
responsibility for store management and employee training. With 27 shops
located in market towns rather than city centres and around 400 staff,
geography as well as the nature of retail work has mitigated against extensive
mass training activities. Yet according to Martland – himself a store manager for
four years – the times when store managers were brought together for training
initiatives always resulted in positive outcomes: "I found it reassuring
that everyone was experiencing the same problems and provided an opportunity to
swap ideas," he says.

While such events are still only occasional in the training calendar,
sharing knowledge permeates Martland’s approach to training and can be linked
directly to Hammicks’ position in the market place. The company aims to attract
customers by offering the best aspects of chainstore bookshops in terms of
buying and high street presence, alongside the personal service offered by
independent bookshops.

Hammicks staff deliver a high level of customer service influenced by the
shop’s location, backed up by an extensive knowledge of stock and supported by
effective ordering and delivery services.

"You’ve got to be lucky to find someone who wants to manage this kind
of business," says Martland, "You need someone who has the right book
knowledge but can handle stock and finance processes as well. We have some
rules and restrictions on budget but essentially managing a shop is equivalent
to managing your own business – we ask our managers to consider what stock they
would spend the money on if it were their own money."

Recruiting through channels including trade papers and a recruitment agency,
the company can access candidates with high levels of book knowledge. Each new
employee is given a new starter file, giving basic information such as
employment records, a job description and an introduction to the company. The
file also includes an induction checklist covering training areas relevant to
the employee such as health and safety, customer service and so on. Each
section of this checklist is cross referenced to the operations manual and
backed up with a questions and answers section to consolidate employee
learning. Employees must complete this induction checklist within their first
three months of employment, learning about each section directly from the shop
manager or from an experienced employee delegated by the manager.

Responsibility

"Even at a basic level this is not an average retail job," says
Martland. "There is a lot of responsibility given to our staff and
therefore a lot of information to take in." Complete stock knowledge,
crucial to the desired level of customer service, understandably takes time to
build, and since stores can sell books in ones and twos the stock for one shop
can involve around 100,000 separate lines – a figure in excess of most
supermarkets. If a book isn’t in stock at the time, the stores have access to
250,000 separate titles through a 48-hour delivery service.

At the back of the employee’s starter file is a form detailing the
performance of the employee’s section or area of responsibility. This is the
basis of an annual appraisal, during which the employees discuss their work
with their manager in the context of future and current opportunities.

Appraisal process

"The appraisal process runs through the company with a top down
approach," notes Martland. "It begins with the managing director
appraising his directors. This way we can capture information as it
arises." Each manager therefore appraises their workers in full knowledge
of organisational direction and any important strategic issues. "The
objective is to tie every appraisal into the business plan," says
Martland, "That plan comes from the directors in the first place, so we
need to carry out each appraisal in that context."

The appraisal programme has brought the possibility of effective succession
planning to Hammicks for the first time.

"As we expand we need to have people ready to open new shops,"
says Martland. "We’d prefer the new shop managers to come from our
existing staff, because opening a new location is quite a test. We can then
recruit new managers from outside the organisation into our existing
shops."

Internal training provision is not limited to in-store, on-the-job
initiatives. Stock management and finance courses aimed at store managers are
provided by specialists from within the company. This is a trend that will
continue into next year’s training provision when two store managers will run a
course on the management of children’s books – a key subject for the company. "The
managers who have already run courses have proved to be natural trainers,"
says Martland. "This year the two managers running the children’s book
course attended that internal course to see how training worked. This means
they can follow a similar pattern when designing their own course."

One external training course was provided to address presentation skills for
managers just ahead of their annual conference. Such independent support meant
the required skills could be honed and deployed immediately. "Whenever we
create a course we have to make sure it is relevant to the business," says
Martland. "It can be hard to see how training impacts on the shopfloor so
the more you can ensure that at design level, the better."

Martland’s successful interview for the post of training and development
manager was based in part on his interpretation of findings from a previous
unsuccessful assessment for IIP. Using the standard as an inspiration for
people development within the company rather than simply trying to achieve IIP
status for its own sake, Martland sought to promote employee involvement within
the company, to enthuse and motivate employees towards the aims of the
organisation as a whole. "You don’t come into this business for the money,
but because you love books," he says. "If people are to be motivated
you have to show them how they can contribute to the organisation. Effective
training is a good way to make that connection."

The achievement of IIP in November was particularly rewarding for Martland
since the assessment process had shifted emphasis away from the presentation of
a portfolio of evidence to a more practical survey of employee attitudes:
"A portfolio of work doesn’t necessarily mean anything is happening on the
shopfloor," he notes. "The whole point is that what you do has an
impact."

While the expansion programme could mean Hammicks’ workforce doubling,
Martland does not foresee any great changes occurring to training provision.
New starters will still receive the majority of their induction training on the
shopfloor, while shop managers will be encouraged, both through formal and
informal contact, to share experience and techniques. "We will have to
increase the number of courses, but not the type of courses," says
Martland, "The training budget will rise in line with company expansion.

"We will never underestimate the value of internal training," he
says. "The vast majority of our training will continue to be delivered
within the shops and it will be down to our managers to provide the base for that.
To some extent, external training provision is the icing on the cake."

CV
Timothy Martland

Company Training and Development
Manager, Hammicks Bookshops 1999 – present

Manager, Hammicks Bookshop, Horsham
1996 – 1999

Manager, Hammicks Bookshop, Farnham
1995 – 1996

Book Department Manager, WH
Smith 1986 – 1994

Comments are closed.