Case Studies

16/11/2009 - Sainsbury's

Sainsbury's.jpgDelivering Internal Coaching Capabilities

Driven by the limitlessness of human endeavour, minor miracles happen all day, every day. Most of these miracles are unremarkable and never reach the public domain. Yet these everyday achievements can build social capital, add to the sense of individuals’ self-worth and change people’s fortunes. Bolton is like anywhere else for its propensity as a place where miracles can happen, perhaps more so.

J Sainsbury plc was founded in 1869 and today operates a total of 934 stores comprising 557 supermarkets and 377 convenience stores. It jointly owns Sainsbury’s Bank with Lloyds Banking Group and has two property joint ventures with Land Securities Group PLC and The British Land Company PLC. The Sainsbury’s brand is built upon a heritage of providing customers with healthy, safe, fresh and tasty food.

Buisness Challenge
Michael Broadhurst, manager of the 51,000-square foot Sainsbury’s store, which opened in May is an acknowledged miracle worker, a mantle he may be wary of accepting, but only too happy to attribute to the coaching approach.

The story actually starts in Sainsbury’s Stockport store. A reinvigoration in the form of new shop fittings and merchandise, and a promotion for Michael meant that head of HR at Sainsbury’s Liz Crehan’s offer for development was timely, if not altogether immediately attractive. The deal was for a place on The School of Coaching’s public programme, which helps people to develop their management and leadership abilities while helping others learn and perform to their best.

‘I came to be nominated for the programme almost by default,’ explains Michael. ‘The opportunity had been passed down through diary clashes from people in the business more senior to me. Although it was timely, it was a heavy investment as I was new to the store and the job. This was why I had declined a lot of training seminars Sainsbury’s was offering at the time. But Liz pushed me to do a longer-term development programme.’

For the superstore manager with a role that, on the face of it, demanded a very transactional style of management, the prospect of the first session raised doubts in Michael’s mind. ‘At first, I was a little bit in awe of the rest of the people on the programme. I don’t know if it was by chance, but I was put in a group with a number of former chief executives of health trusts – all people used to operating at very high levels. I turned up and thought, "This is all going to be a little highbrow for me". ‘I worried that there wasn’t going to be enough of a link between what we were doing at Sainsbury’s. But I sit here now as a beneficiary of their experience and their company, and these people really inspired me to carry on and stick with it, especially when at times it looked like it was going to be a lot of hard work.

How The School of Coaching Helped
Back in the northwest, Michael began to put his experiences into action. A month into his new job, he and the rest of the management team at the store began to focus seriously on the upcoming Christmas season – a time that can make or break a store’s figures for the year and potentially a fledgling manager’s career.

‘We looked at the previous year’s Christmas report and identified some opportunities to improve. One of the major problems we’d encountered was with space management in the warehouse. Feedback also told us that stock control and product lines out on the shopfloor could be better. I downloaded this feedback to management colleagues, and asked them to reflect on it and pool some new ideas from their teams in time for a meeting convened to plan space management in a couple of weeks time.’

A few days later a colleague approached Michael asking to contribute to the warehouse challenge. In itself, this request represented a real culture change because his wasn’t a management role and as such, he hadn’t been asked before to contribute and it wasn’t necessarily the kind of input Michael was after – or so he thought. ‘He said: "I’ve got this idea. I just want to run it by you to see what you think. I’d really like to paint the warehouse floor,"’ reflected Michael. ‘At that point, I kind of thought I really don’t have time for this. And then I thought, let’s take some time to think about it, so we went to talk about it over coffee.’

At first sight, the idea seemed counterintuitive. A time when the store was trying to build stock for Christmas was not a time to get into Changing Rooms. Yet the colleague worked in the warehouse, had been there in the years before and had the solution to better stock control and higher sales figures all worked out on a scrap of paper.

His conviction was that painting the floor would be a project that would take great discipline; first, to clear the floor of stock to a rigid and tight schedule, which meant more effective stock handling; second – a more subtle point – to create a sense of a job well done, as it was part of the warehouse team’s routine to sweep the floor at set points of the day as the stock was rotated; a difficult goal to achieve in the current scheme of work.

Michael remained unsure but the colleague was adamant. It took a leap of faith to be persuaded eventually that the plan really was about managing the store at Christmas, and that to do otherwise would be to miss the boat. So Michael and the team went with the suggestion, completing the work over consecutive weekends.
‘It was quite a simple idea. To paint the floor, you’ve got to manage that much slicker. We’re talking thousands and thousands of cases of product coming in, in a fairly tidal kind of environment. So we did this and we finished it, and it looked absolutely fantastic. We probably had the easiest Christmas, having taken the most money for that particular store in recent years.

The Result
It was just a marvellous feeling to be able to go back to the team with the sales figures and say this is a product of the coaching session we had when I asked what a successful Christmas would look like, when people started colouring in the picture and making the plans really vivid. Out of that initial question came discussions about pinch points and the critical control points for the product flow. And now there was a consensus that the warehouse was a well-oiled machine and that the rest of the business could follow. ‘We just got this massive input from asking the right questions at the right times. And there was a real respect from the team for taking a real consultative, inquiry-like approach about a successful Christmas would look like to you.

‘Had I not taken this approach, I would have been impatient to dive in. If I had, I would have been steering that conversation to my agenda and at no point would anybody ever have said: "let’s paint the floor of the warehouse", because it would have seemed like an add-on to an already manic process that could only be managed like a police officer standing at a crossroads.’

Coming out of the Christmas period, sales volumes were still higher than they had ever been and the store handled 80% of a normal week’s stock, impressive for that time of year. ‘And it seemed so easy to do that,’ says Michael. It wasn’t long before the Stockport store gained regional recognition for having a well-controlled product flow and back operation. This also showed on the longer-term business indices with a more accurate inventory and reduced stock loss. The store also climbed to be among the highest 15% performers, recording a clean sweep of top scores on Sainsbury’s performance measurement indices. And this despite the proximity of a larger archrival ASDA store just thirty-metres away.

‘Because we were managing less, we had more time to look at these issues. We had introduced a completely different, more sustainable way of working and also achieved a clean sweep of green measures – opportunities to improve being red, with green being something we should keep doing and resourcing, and which in practice for many stores is an aspiration.’

One year on, Christmas Eve, Michael was offered the managership of a new, larger store at Bolton, where he now works with a team of 441 staff. The challenges of this bigger store might be very different, but he is keen to replicate the Stockport team’s success in the new store. ‘For me, I’m still being coached and still coaching,’ says Michael. ‘I don’t think I’ll be losing that habit too readily. A lot of people seem to agree with me that coaching is the way forward, but it isn’t easy when businesses can be too greedy and "when, when, when". But I try and balance up the two. And when asked to give quality feedback on how we’re getting the good results, I can explain that it’s a different way of operating, and a different type of development than the kind of tough, cut-and-thrust directional stuff.

‘For me, the great thing about coaching is that you don’t know the outcome.

‘It’s not as instant as some of the other approaches. Doubters will say we need something that works now, and I maintain that there are other tools in the box, but you can’t beat it as the preferred way of running the business: it doesn’t have to be softly-softly, and can be a hard-hitting message for immediate improvement in a way that engages people’s minds as opposed to a directional style of management. It’s something I believe in, and I’ve seen it happen, and ridden a wave since I’ve been on the programme.

QUOTE-LEFT.png My career has really accelerated and in a really short space of time. I can make a direct link to the management style I’ve adapted in the steep upwards curve of my career. It’s very much leant to a coaching style, and it certainly has benefited my team and my family as much as me.QUOTE-right.png

Michael Broadhurst, Manager, Sainsburys


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