Why the key to high street success is a business built on its people

While many of us had an optimistic start to the year, setting goals and resolutions for 2019, some were having a rockier start. Within the first days of January retailers across the country took stock of their performance over the festive season, and the familiar debate about whether the high street is dead reared its head again.

It’s interesting to read the articles, which often talk about retailers trying to compete with their online competitors by slashing prices, but they rarely mention the role of those on the shop floor in helping to secure the future of traditional retail. Yet, the doom and gloom facing some high street shops can, in part, be avoided by an empowered workforce.

The power of an engaged workforce

In today’s increasingly competitive retail environment, even those brands with the best product will struggle without an engaged workforce that feels supported. Employees do more than just their day job when they feel empowered. Responsiveness, efficiency and performance all improve when people are encouraged to make decisions.

One of the biggest mistakes retail bosses make during difficult times is to distance themselves from those on the shop floor, and make decisions that don’t take into account what is happening there. In challenging and uncertain times, it’s easy for leaders to think that they have to figure everything out themselves rather than by collaborating with those at the coal face. But decisions made by groups far outperform those made by individuals. And while empowering employees may not be the fastest way to short term profits, it is key to sustainable success. With that in mind, what can retail leaders do to support and empower their workforce?

Communicate your collective purpose

Far from just being a one-time thing that people hear when they first join an organisation, the company’s purpose is something that should be regularly communicated to help ensure that it is lived and breathed throughout the ranks. Purpose gives meaning to peoples’ work and helps them feel more committed to the overall goal of their organisation. When employees are bought into their company’s mission, they are also more likely to share this with consumers – boosting customer satisfaction in the process.

Share decision making

Contrary to popular belief, shared decision making doesn’t mean that lots of people have to get involved in every decision. It’s more about empowering the relevant specialists to make choices which contribute towards key goals, without everything needing to be checked and signed off by a leader. Not only will this boost engagement and retention, but it can also prevent ideas from being stifled or delayed. A good example of an organisation which shares decision making across the board is The Army, which has developed a doctrine to help people make quick and effective decisions. Retailers should think about what their version of such a decision-making guide might look like.

Take a coaching approach

Instead of telling employees what to do, taking a coaching approach and helping them to identify solutions through questioning is more effective. Encouraging people to come up with their own answer to an issue helps them take ownership over their role and decision. It will also contribute towards the creation of a workforce with strong critical thinking skills, something that in turn fosters innovation as challenging assumptions becomes the norm.

Timpson is one example of a business that takes this approach to management, with employees trusted to provide an excellent customer experience. Those on the shop floor, for example, have access to up to £500 to solve a customer issue before they need authorisation from a manager. This means that complaints are resolved quickly and employees feel empowered to do so.

Of course, empowering employees alone won’t be the high street’s panacea if there isn’t a simultaneous laser focus on remaining relevant. But, if you have a product or service that customers want, and an empowered workforce that’s dedicated to delivering a fantastic customer experience, that’s a recipe for success.

Adrian Moorhouse, Managing Director, Lane4




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