Strategic vision

The business

Founded in the 1950s, Mackays Stores is a privately-owned retail chain selling family clothing and homeware products across the UK. The retailer’s head office is based in Paisley, Scotland, and the company employs 2,600 staff in its 250 stores nationwide. The chain’s workforce is diverse, employing designers, buyers, and shopfloor staff, together with store and area managers. Mackays‘ intention to open 50 new stores, together with restructuring, led the company to put some of its area managers through an NVQ level 5 in strategic management. Conducted in-house, the training programme has given area managers more authority within the company. Staff turn-over stands at 30 per cent.

The challenge

The idea behind the NVQ Level 5 in strategic management was to enrich and broaden the expertise of five managers who were in charge of 15 to 18 stores throughout the UK. This involved empowering them with greater knowledge so they could take on more responsibility, make higher-level decisions, and work alongside senior management.

The company selected three area managers, plus two store managers who were based in northern England and Scotland. Mackays then approached the Interactive Business Partnership (IBP) training body, which produced a personal development framework to encourage achievement and individual responsibility.

“The main aim of the NVQ was for the area mangers to be able to manage their regions more profitably, while helping with company projects on a national level,” explains training manager, Jane Scandrett.

“Historically, the managers saw themselves as a small cog in the management structure. The challenge for them was to boost their stores’ performance, and gain better business acumen to drive the whole company forwards.”  

By giving the candidates extra responsibility, Mackays aimed to delegate the workload away from its senior directors, achieving a more ‘on-the-ground’ management strategy. To achieve this, each candidate conducted a three-month environmental audit, which involved identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within their own regions.

The training covered presentation skills, business planning, project management and ‘power meeting’ skills. Delivered by Scandrett, the training modules took up eight hours a week over an 18-month period, starting in March 2002. Each candidate was then assessed by examiners from IBP and awarded NVQ Level 5 in strategic management.

The outcome

Since achieving their NVQs, the graduates have benefited either by being promoted or taking on much greater responsibility within the company.

“The training has changed the managers’ way of thinking. They now have a much greater understanding of senior level management,” claims John Stuart, head of HR.

“They also have a better idea how to train their own members of staff and are now able to gear their own stores to work as an integral part of Mackays.”

One of the greatest achievers is Annie Davies, who has now moved to a business development role for M&Co, a subsidiary clothing chain with 11 outlets. Davies is responsible for budgets within the M&Co chain, as well as developing its markets and a close working synergy with Mackays.

“In my previous position, I was standing still rather than going forwards,” says Davies. “The training has given me greater job satisfactionand I have the freedom to introduce projects that are vital in adapting the business to suit the customer. The new job is a step nearer director level.”

Following in the footsteps of Davies, the four other candidates have also made the HR department’s hard work pay off. The previous manager of the Buckie store in Scotland has since been promoted to area manager for the Highlands, and the former manager of the Lincoln outlet in England is now in charge of HR development. Of the two remaining graduates, they are now part of a retail project delivery team, analysing new business initiatives.

The HR department uses key business indicators (KBI) to monitor staff performance and to grade the managers.

All five managers have now moved into the top quartile of performers in the monthly KBI rankings in 16 business areas. Such was the success of the programme, the company has now developed a training model for NVQ level 4 in management. “By empowering our area managers, we have transferred some of the responsibility from senior management so they can concentrate on core business strategy,” says Stuart.

“As a result of working with IBP, we were awarded the 2003 Scottish National Training Award and have reached the 2004 final for the NTA,” he adds.

HR learning points

  • While the NVQ courses have benefited Mackays‘ area managers, Jane Scandrett offers the following tips to HR staff who may be considering running a similar programme:

  • Make sure the training meets the needs of the person and their business and not just HR’s strategy of providing off-the-shelf training

  • Try to ensure the training is tailored to the right level of people and is enjoyable

  • Make every effort to guarantee the training has a positive outcome, and carry out regular evaluations to monitor its effectiveness 

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