Waitrose: Shaping better technological progression through employee involvement
By Elizabeth Akass, Editor, Engage Business Media
Waitrose explains why technological advancements have been implemented in handsets for staff on the shop floor, the method of effectively including employees in the process, and why their involvement has led to a better device.
The John Lewis Partnership is known for putting its employees at the centre of all aspects of the business, and is one of the largest employee-owned businesses in Europe. There are around 85,000 employees across over 400 stores between Waitrose and John Lewis, who are all shareholders and benefit directly from the business’ successes in the form of an annual bonus.
Stuart Eames, Retail Innovation Lead at Waitrose, explains that giving employees a financial stake in the business means staff care more about playing an active role and contributing to the business’ success. The fact that staff are shareholders is also why they are called ‘partners’ as opposed to ‘employees’. Eames says: “Employee engagement should come pretty naturally to people in our business. We have an active stake, we want the business to do well, and we desperately want and should be submitting ideas.”
Nevertheless, he says that effectively engaging employees in change at a business follows five clear steps: the first being ‘start with the problem’. Eames expands on this: “A lot of businesses will start with the solution rather than the problem. Identify what the problems are that you’re trying to solve, corroborate that those problems exist, and collaborate on deciding the most suitable next step.”
The second is ‘tell the story’. “Becoming storytellers is the new thing that everyone’s focused on.” Eames says that it is important to know your audience and to tailor the message appropriately. “If you are able to take an existing problem and then put it into a story and language that really engages the people working in those particular areas, it makes it a much easier sell.”
The third is ‘work the engagement angle’. “This is easily the most important part of your story. When you have a great project that you’re launching, the more you can communicate, the more you can get above, the more you can engage with employees, then the more they can be involved in, and excited by, things that are happening, too. Tell stories, tell people the great success, the bad success, and the things you should watch out for. Those are all really important.”
The fourth is ‘listen as you roll’. “Many projects get landed, and land at speed, and then the problems are mopped up as they’re finished. The more feedback and the more ideas you can get to be able to make it better for the next person to receive is easily one of the most important elements of any successful project.” Eames also says that problems being listened to and acted upon throughout the process of change is also a significant contributor to improved employee engagement.
The fifth and final step is ‘life doesn’t stop’. “Whenever you finish a project and breathe a sigh of relief that you’ve finished and can move on, remember that in a few years’ time you’ll be revisiting that project to progress it to the next stage or develop it further.” He highlights the importance of putting in the extra work now to set yourself up for success in the future so projects don’t stagnate and important details aren’t lost over time. “It’s really important to set yourself up with someone managing that project with an ongoing development fund and a stream of ideas to be able to keep doing something better and better in that space for continual improvement”.
So how was this method implemented in the recent technological advancements made at Waitrose? Eames explains that Waitrose was using several dated devices in-store that only performed one function each, and there weren’t enough to meet demand. “Those devices were getting old and becoming less reliable, and because there wasn’t enough of them to go around there were examples when people couldn’t do their job because they were waiting for the availability of a device.”
“So, we took all of the applications in all of those single-use devices – with the functions of quick check, re-scan capability, telephone, stock management, and our click and collect functionality – and we re-platformed them onto an existing android platform, Google+, and it allowed them to go onto a single device that was multi-functional.” Eames explains that Waitrose then distributed enough devices, named the ‘MFD handsets’, for the average number of employees in each Waitrose store – ranging between eight in the smallest stores and 56 in the largest stores.
The result was a “fully connected workforce” where every employee had access to all of the functions of the old devices at once, which becomes particularly essential during the busiest periods such as Black Friday or Christmas. Eames says: “We also benefit from stock management where people are allowed to do stock management routines there and then, as opposed to always needing to wait.”
All of the issues with the previous single-use devices were solved with the new multi-functional device. “We saw partner efficiency go up and maintenance and support costs come down, so all in all it’s been a really successful roll-out. What we see more and more is just how game changing for partner efficiency and functionality it has been, too.” He adds that there has been more excitement from staff around this roll-out than around any other project across Waitrose.
This excitement from staff is, at least in part, because partners on the shop floor were very much included in the development of the device. Eames states that one of the benefits of a technology-run roll-out is the ability to place a feedback mechanism on the device. “We put a google-initiated feedback form on the MFD handsets that allowed partners to give their input as they were experiencing the device for the first time, and as they were using it throughout the day. This gave us this fantastic rich content of ideas for improvement, and insight on what changes to prioritise. The more advice we got the better as we continued to roll out that project.” He says partner feedback will continue to be taken on board as the device is developed further.
He also mentions the fact that inviting partner feedback is not new to Waitrose. “Employee engagement is continuous, so we always ask our partners pulse surveys to see how they feel, and how engaged they are. We have a partner ideas website which allows us to receive an idea from anybody in our business at any point, which allows us to see where the problem areas are, and we can invite feedback and ideas for solutions on specific topics as well. If you are a business that is considering the power and the benefits associated with employee ideas, don’t just look in one place. You’ll be in surprised how many great ideas you get from all over your business.”
This partner feedback will continue to be a valuable asset to further technological advancements made by Waitrose in the future. “There will be more changes to the MFD handset moving forward – we’re going to make it more functional; we’ve only just scratched the surface so far.”