HR in practice: Currying favour

Electrical retailer Currys has just undergone a rebranding and a major restructure. Training and development – plus a series of Mind Gym workouts – were the key to steering staff through the changes. Jo Faragher reports.

The business

DSG International (DSGi) owns a host of well-known electrical brands, including Currys, PC World, Dixons and The Link, and last month the group moved its Dixons brand online, renaming its 190 Dixons stores The group trades in 1,400 stores and online stores in 14 countries, and employs 40,000 people.

The challenge

In April 2005, DSGi announced a two-year change programme that would see staff headcount in its Currys distribution centres drop from 2,500 to 1,900. Currys planned to close a number of existing distribution centres, meaning 1,400 job losses, while also opening a series of new centres, where it would need to recruit more staff.

Since the change was over a long period of time and affected a broad spectrum of people, it was crucial to communicate it in the right way, or staff might have a knee-jerk reaction and leave, according to Currys’ HR director, Claire Walton.

“For some people, the change would be gradual, but for others it would happen towards the end of the two years,” she says.
“Most companies keep this sort of news to themselves for as long as possible because they believe employees can’t handle it. One of our company values is respect, so we told them up front.”

Management’s biggest concern was losing people in a way it couldn’t control – if staff reacted badly to the news and simply walked out, many of the high-street stores would come to a standstill. The company also needed to ensure that it retained certain skills and knowledge that could then be transferred to the new sites.

The solution

DSGi invited 80 of Currys’ top managers away for two days. “We delivered the news in the first 15 minutes and spent the rest of the two days trying to understand what their concerns were and how we could deal with them,” says Walton.

To boost buy-in for the change programme, DSGi offered the managers a choice of personal and professional development courses so that, if they did lose their job, they would feel better qualified to apply for another. For more junior staff, Currys promised that if it could not find a role for them, they were entitled to 500 worth of training, their redundancy pay, a performance-related bonus and outplacement support.

“When people go through change at work, the biggest reason they resist is because they feel they have no control,” adds Walton. “We wanted to make people feel more in control of their lives.”

One of the ways Currys did this was by inviting training and development company the Mind Gym into its centres to run a series of ‘workouts’ – 90-minute mini-workshops focusing on different aspects of personal development, with titles such as ‘Getting Things Done’, ‘Cresting the Curve’ (Dealing with Change) or ‘Me, Me, Me’ (getting what you want).

Some of the staff were cynical at first. “These were real, down-to-earth, blue-collar workers who simply didn’t ‘do’ personal development. So we had to ensure first that it was non-compulsory and, second, that it wasn’t imposed from above, that it wasn’t corporate,” says Walton.

The Mind Gym piloted the workshops in Currys’ two worst-performing sites and, thanks to their success there, it then rolled them out to the other centres in January this year.

It appointed ‘ambassadors’ at each site to promote the workouts, and developed tabloid-style internal marketing posters (pictured, left) depicting real employees talking about their experiences. It also used text messaging to communicate information about the workouts to drivers, and even ran a workout during one of the night shifts.

The outcome

Curry’s efforts to boost morale and develop its staff during the changes have paid off. The year to April 2006 was the best ever in terms of the distribution team’s performance and, at the half-year mark, 70% of the staff were on track to earn their performance bonus. Many of DSGi’s brands reported peak Christmas performances, all achieved while reducing the cost of delivery.

The Mind Gym programme in particular proved popular with employees. In feedback surveys, 93% of the 400 attendees said they would apply what they had learned, while every single attendee said they would recommend them to someone else.

Finally, Walton has gained kudos with senior management for steering staff smoothly through the change. “The board has stopped worrying about the risks of the restructure – now it is more worried about IT,” she says.

The final stages of the restructure will take place between now and April 2007, and the staff who are staying feel more positive about the outcome, concludes Walton.

Employee perspective

Allyson Walters, operations support manager at Currys, was reluctant to join the Mind Gym workouts at first because she felt that someone else was making the decision for her.

“Change does that,” she explains. “Scepticism feels like an active form of self-defence when you think that someone else is making all the decisions. But the Mind Gym workouts were provocative in a way that was fun and empowering. They helped me focus on my needs and feelings, and invited me to take responsibility for my experience.”

During the workouts, Walters was guided through a process of self-reflection, where she constructed a ‘diagram’ of herself “as a whole person, and not just an employee”.

“I could clearly see the areas that made me vulnerable during periods of change and realised that I needed to rebalance these factors,” she adds. “We were encouraged to acknowledge our strengths and recognise that these are core attributes that we can and should grow through the period of change.”

Walters believes the workouts gave her a renewed energy and a life and career plan she was determined to follow. “It feels like I’m surfing the waves rather than being battered by them. I’m confident that I can make change a positive experience for me now and in the future,” she says.

If I could do it again…

“I would do very little differently,” says Claire Walton, HR director at Currys. “However, I wish that we had asked site managers to plan their Mind Gym workouts within the first month of the launch and have those plans sent into our project co-ordinator, so that we could have seen what the demand was and where we needed to influence more. This would also have allowed us greater opportunity to ensure that all the workouts were booked. We have done this since, but lost three months’ opportunity to have greater influence.”

Guide to dealing with change in 10 steps

  1. Awareness: people must be aware of the reasons for change and the programme.
  2. Energy: there should be a clear stimulus, or sufficient energy, to prompt the change as individuals start the programme.
  3. Journey: businesses need energy to prompt change, but they need to retain enough energy to complete the journey. Participants must also recognise the end point of the journey, to know what they are working towards.
  4. Plan: both individuals and organisations need to acknowledge and recognise that while there may be specific plans for change, issues will arise that they need to address.
  5. Constantly evolving: a change management programme will never be a fully contained process. It is a constantly emerging process.
  6. Education: change is a normal state of affairs and individuals must accept this to maximise the effectiveness of their training.
  7. Reassurance: programme leaders should comfort staff as much as they can about the individual implications of change and how each person can move forwards.
  8. Involvement: any change management programme should recognise that participants will have needs of their own and so it is important, as well as more effective in the long run, to involve them in the process of change.
  9. Time: there should be sufficient time and space for participants to talk about how they feel about change, and what it means for them on a personal level.
  10. Types of change: businesses must appreciate that procedural change and psychological change are different in that they have different application times. There will be a lag when it comes to psychological change as it can take time for people to assimilate new techniques.

Source: David Cleeton-Watkins, senior consultant, Roffey Park

  • Claire Walton, HR director at Currys, and Octavius Black, director of the Mind Gym, will be recounting their experiences at the Human Resources Forum, which takes place on board the cruise ship Oriana, 10-13 May. For details of the Human Resources Forum, go to

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