Jason Sharpe

December 21, 2017

During retail’s annual peak, sharing and caring by sending out Head Office staff into stores can make a world of difference. At ASDA, Ralph and I (now working together again at Vallum) looked forward to leaving the confines of the ‘ivory tower’ to work a week in one of the stores alongside the sales staff. As well as providing extra pairs of hands at a critical time, it also created a unique feedback loop that benefited customers, colleagues and Head Office staff alike – and a ‘one team’ culture that couldn’t be beaten…

All hands on deck

Supermarkets simply can’t have enough staff over the festive season, with tills two or three times as full. In theory, everything in Head Office should be completed well before the Christmas shoppers hit, so it made sense to send everyone out to lend a hand.

‘Eat what you cook’

Sales strategies, point of sale designs, productivity – every area of Head Office benefited from leaving the spreadsheets in favour of interacting with colleagues and customers. Want to know whether a promotion is working? See for yourself in store. Is a staffing strategy effective? Be part of it on the ground, and see where the successes and strains are.

The ‘voice’ of the customer

Loud and clear, customers would tell us what they thought. Simply by being visible, senior execs became approachable. That direct feedback could then be taken back to Head Office and used to inform strategy in a way that customer monitoring and insight statistics couldn’t before. At the end of the day, customers come first in retail: what’s the point otherwise? It was a huge positive to see the Customer Services Director serving customers, for instance, and opened up a great exchange of perspectives that reaffirmed the customer’s place at the heart of all ASDA did.

No ‘us and them’

The Leeds Head Office staff were asked to ‘go home’ to work their Christmas, which meant that they could see friends and family as well as creating a good geographical spread across stores. ASDAs the length and breadth of the country could expect to see Head Office staff mucking in – working the same long shifts and doing any store tasks, including moving stock, loading and unloading deliveries, stacking shelves and serving customers. That kind of festive camaraderie created links between Head Office and store staff that would last the rest of the year, providing instant feedback for Head Office and easy routes to the top for stores when problems arose.

No-holds-barred feedback

Working alongside store colleagues also created an easy flow of honest feedback. Hearing what needed to be changed on a local as well as national level gave Head Office a great handle on what’s going on, put names to faces on both sides, and provided instant on the ground feedback. We’d then gather in the new year to find solutions to the problems we found, creating a culture of ‘you said, we did’.

More than just for Christmas?

Christmas brings people together. At ASDA, ‘Team Christmas’ closed a number of gaps – between different levels of hierarchy, departments, and between stores and Head Office. It levelled the playing field and ensured that everyone felt part of the same team.

The pressures on retail may have changed – as have the experiences of colleagues and customers, I’m sure. But you experiencing it is still just as meaningful. With so much to gain from just one working week, should it be even more embedded into organisational culture? Is once a year enough?

Happy Christmas from all of us at Vallum. With Associates from the utilities sector and beyond (including ASDA / Walmart*), we’ll give your challenges a fresh perspective in 2018. Email jsharpe@vallum.co.uk or visit www.vallum.co.uk to find out more

Jason Sharpe