Culture change initiative boosts M&S sales

An initiative to increase involvement and engagement among customer service
staff at a Marks & Spencer store in Gateshead has contributed to a 6 per
cent increase in sales.

Nigel Mills, area head of HR for M&S in the North East, told Personnel
Today that the programme to create a new work culture within the Metro Centre
started in August last year, to coincide with the re-opening of the store after

Mills said that although a huge amount of planning had gone into the
physical refurbishment of the store, similar forethought had not gone into
trying to create a new beginning for staff.

He said that a culture existed where the priority for staff was getting food
onto the shelves, rather than to the customer.

To try and create a work environment where customer-facing employees were
given more autonomy, responsibility and encouragement to be creative, Mills
brought in ABA Consultants to work with both managers and staff.

They created four 10-strong teams of customer service staff with the aim of
giving them the freedom to decide how they wanted to run their sections with
minimal management input.

ABA was careful to ensure that the 40 staff included those who were
extremely negative about the proposed changes, to prevent them sniping from
outside the selected group and undermining the initiative. ABA also held
sessions to secure management buy-in.

"We had to ensure that managers were prepared to give away some
power," said Mills. "They had to stand back and be prepared to let
staff make mistakes."

The customer assistant teams were each given a team sponsor from management
who they could run ideas past, and who would offer coaching support.

Staff responded by coming up with a wide range of ideas to improve the
customer experience, including customer newspapers and bigger portions in the
cafe area.

Others included storytellers and drawing areas to occupy children while
their parents shop, a dedicated food-tasting area, and staff-run lunchtime
seminars on improving customer service.

The ‘One Food Team’ initiative culminated with an ‘Astounding Stories
Conference’ at Newcastle United Football Club, where the assistants involved in
the project addressed 90 of the top M&S managers in the region.

Mills has no doubt that the project contributed to a 6 per cent rise in the
store’s takings over the past year, as well as significant improvements in how
staff rated their ability to satisfy customer needs.

By Ben Willmott

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