HR shake-up is critical part of retailer revamp

The department store group Littlewoods is completely overhauling its HR and training strategy as a key part of its plans to rejuvenate the business.

Littlewoods, which has 119 stores across the UK, is attempting to freshen up its brand by overhauling its stores and refocusing the clothing lines on women aged over 40.

Former Next executive Mark Newton-Jones, who was hired by owners the Barclay Brothers to turn the ailing business around, poached a variety of top retail executives from competitors – including Andrew Ayers as head of HR and training.

Ayers joined Littlewoods six months ago from clothing-giant Arcadia, and was given a seat on the board. He said Newton-Jones’s “vision and inspiration have rubbed off”.

“We needed leadership,” Ayers told Personnel Today. “Mark has a clear vision of the market and wants to serve the shopper the high street has left behind.”

Since joining, Ayers has introduced a residential management programme, an induction scheme and modular training for sales staff. He is also about to launch a competency framework.

Tackling the lack of training in the organisation was his first priority. A nine-month programme, ‘Hooked on service’, will see staff attend one modular training programme a month.

“We focus on one aspect of their job, such as fitting-room etiquette, or tills, and keep the course short, sharp, practical, non-fancy, and fun,” he said.

A change in senior management training now means all bosses have to go on a two-day residential course.

“People are hungry for development,” Ayers said. “They were keen to see a training offering. It’s nice that people want you to develop them.”
In addition, a new competency framework for the 3,500 sales advisers across all 119 sites is to be launched next month and will be up and running by May.

The Littlewoods group plans to open new stores, and to manage this, the HR function needs to sort out career progression systems and collect succession planning information, Ayers said.

“We plan to grow the business, so will need more managers,” he said. “Our managers want to take on more [career-wise], so we need to provide this.”


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