Sainsbury’s scraps HR director role in favour of customer services and colleague director

Sainsbury’s will scrap its HR director role in favour of a new customer services and colleague director when the current incumbent leaves the company later this month.


The creation of the new role follows the announcement earlier this month that the supermarket giant’s HR director Imelda Walsh will be stepping down after nearly nine years in the role.


Gwyn Burr, the current customer director at Sainsbury’s, will now be promoted to the newly created top HR role.


Burr, who has 27 years’ retail experience, will start the new customer services and colleague director role on 19 July.


She told Personnel Today she was “very excited” about the shake-up and the opportunity to bring customer services and HR more closely together. She also revealed she has been talking to Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King about the new role since January.


The new role will mean Burr will assume responsibility for HR, customer services, sponsorship, corporate responsibility, and both corporate and internal communications.


“I know the business and the brand incredibly well so I will be able to bring those things together around the colleague proposition,” Burr said. “It’s a real opportunity for HR to become much more focused on strategic delivery. I am very interested in delivering our big strategic goals and making sure they are delivered to our people.”


Burr said she hoped the move would help to improve customer services at Sainsbury’s, but stressed that she did not see any need to refocus the HR function.


“I don’t see myself coming in and unpicking the last five years and heading off in a different direction; the HR function is very much focused on the right things,” she said.


Her focus for the HR function going forward will be on “continuing to unlock the potential of 155,000 people”, and helping staff to focus on the supermarket’s business strategy.


“Colleague development will be a focus because I firmly believe that in a tough economic climate we want to make sure all colleagues are as engaged in the business as they can be,” she said. “So that means making sure colleague communication and development programmes help them to be as aligned to the big strategic goals as they can be, and they understand what role they play in delivering our values and our standards and that they can develop themselves to their full potential.


“That’s very exciting and is an ongoing challenge. That’s absolutely where my focus will be.”


Burr added the HR function “will be able to go much further” in this area, but said it was too early to outline specific plans.


Following the announcement of her new role, she has been on a tour of the country this week meeting all store managers to build a “huge hopper of feedback” on what they want the HR function to focus on and how it can support their needs.


Burr joined Sainsbury’s in 2005 as customer director to help re-launch the brand. Before this she ran her own consultancy, The Resultant Team, for four years, and prior to that worked as a marketing director for Asda for 16 years.

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