Best practice: collaboration

Personnel Today’s monthly
series reveals how managers tackle business problems and enhance performance.
In this issue, Peter Raine, from Superdrug Stores explains how a successful
collaboration between an academic institution and a business organisation can
improve business performance

Superdrug Stores, part
of Kingfisher plc, is a leading health and beauty retailer with more than 700
stores, 13,000 employees and 4.5 million customer visits every week.

The University Centre for Business Transformation
(UCBT) is an applied research centre within Anglia University’s Business
School. It provides consultancy support to large corporate organisations, SMEs
and family-run businesses, as well as conducting academic and applied research
in areas of direct business interest.

Over the past five years, Superdrug
Stores has been working with UBCT to find a way of measuring company culture.
Superdrug chose to work with an academic institution for a number of reasons.

The company trusted the expertise, methodology
and independent approach offered by UBCT, and found it considerably more cost
effective than employing a consultancy. It was keen to invest in facts, not
opinions, and the focus on measurability offered by the university met that

Following an in-depth questionnaire
sent to all Superdrug employees, the store and the business centre created
fixed standards against which company culture could be measured. Employees of
Superdrug were encouraged to rate certain factors within their working
environment, to help build a complete picture of company life. Although this
data was undeniably interesting, its practical applications were limited. The
company has 700 stores, divided into 28 areas and three regions, and the
original culture study only gave them an insight into company life area by
area. This helped to paint a picture of regional averages, but it was only when
the business centre was able to drill down to information at individual stores,
that Superdrug really began to reap the rewards of its research programme.

Crucially, the new research
unearthed a measurable link between company culture and its impact on business,
customer satisfaction and profitability.

How we implemented the

Superdrug approached the business
centre with the hypothesis that good company culture could be linked to store
data such as sales, profit, wages, absenteeism, shrinkage (stock loss) and even
geographical area. The university’s job was to prove or disprove this
hypothesis. Superdrug was able to benefit from the university’s expertise in
this particular field, drawing on resources – both human and technical – to
work the data into a useable format for all employees.

The hypothesis stood up to the
rigorous testing by the business centre, and for the fist time the company had
clear data showing which aspects of company culture had the deepest impact on
business performance.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the
presence of a good manager was found to have the greatest impact on all aspects
of business performance. In practical terms, this means that stores run by a
good manager had a more customer-focused culture, had more motivated team
members who provided better customer service (as judged by customers), suffered
less shrinkage, enjoyed below average absenteeism, and attracted better sales
figures. While instinct might lead you to the same conclusion, the benefit for
Superdrug is the ability to prove it and quantify the impact.

Positive outcomes for the

This type of measurable data is
crucial for Superdrug because, like all companies, resources need to be
allocated where they can reap the most return on investment. The results of the
UBCT research have highlighted to Superdrug where their budgets should best be
spent – namely, on the recruitment, development and retention of good managers.

Similarly, absenteeism might
previously have only been tackled by introducing new rules, or an improved
disciplinary process, but the data from UCBT shows that good managers also
create the culture where motivated team members want to come to work.

It has been three months since
Superdrug began implementing changes as a result of the new data. Already it is
reaping the rewards. Absenteeism has been tackled in those stores with
unacceptable levels, by the introduction of a one-day training course for
managers, dealing specifically with motivational issues. Already levels of
absence have dropped off, with a marked improvement in staff dedication and

The longer-term strategy for
Superdrug is the continued targeting of resources using the information from
the study. For example, one focus is assessing the potential value of future
employees, working out where the company can get the best value for every pound
it invests in its people. This sounds like a trade off, but of course it has to
be. No company has infinite resources. It is about spending money where you
know it will have the biggest impact and produce the best results for business.

But it’s not just about money. Good
company culture, as directed in the main by managers, means that customers get
better service and employees enjoy greater job satisfaction. In this way, the
collaboration with Anglia has turned the intangible notion of culture – a
"soft" measure – into something that can predict and improve "hard"
measures, including sales, absenteeism, shrinkage and ultimately profit.

contacts: Chris Swaffin-Smith,
The University Centre for Business Transformation, Anglia University 01245

Top tips  Successful collaboration

 Make sure the information you are collecting is actionable by
those closest to the customer. Collecting data is a costly exercise if you
can’t use the results to your advantage.

– Conducting research requires
planning and the involvement at design level of people who will be using the
information. This groundwork helps the institution you collaborate with to
provide information that will be used to change your business.

– Academic institutions are not
always very good about advertising this type of service. Look for ones with
specific business or enterprise innovation departments.

– Don’t be blinkered by the
information you have already got. First, this information might change, so you
need to be open to reassessment all the time. Second, look at information
outside your company – your internal data might paint a rosy picture, but does
it match up to your competitors?

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