Sunday 24 September 2017

Problem Solver: From WhatsApp to daily huddle - communication is vital

Feargal Quinn
Feargal Quinn

Feargal Quinn

Q: I HAVE approximately 300 people working in various branches of our business throughout the country. We are struggling with communication and I wondered if you had any advice?

A: Congratulations on the size and spread of your business. Once you start to put multiple branches into place, it is not unusual that communicating with the team becomes a problem.

Where communications weaken, usually it is followed by a corresponding lowering of staff and management motivation, so it is really important. I am taking it for granted that you are using all of the usual tools, such as the weekly newsletter from the senior management team to your managers that can also be placed on the staff noticeboard, verbal communication from your senior management team to your managers on a weekly basis and regular contact from you directly to your managers.

I also see businesses now making greater use of technology. I have seen several companies using WhatsApp as a quick means of circulating messages to either management or staff. I am certainly a big advocate of the daily huddle at shop level where the manager brings their key staff together for two minutes at the start of the day to take some feedback and set out the priorities. This is a great communication channel.

Most businesses will also have a white board which staff are encouraged to read when they start their shift. The messages reflect the priorities called out at the daily huddle and it is especially useful for staff arriving in on later shifts who missed the huddle.

You can't beat being out and about yourself at the coal face chatting with managers and staff and ensuring all key messages are reinforced by you. Communication is not a one-way process, so it is important that staff also feel they have a way to communicate with senior management. Running staff listening groups and encouraging an open door feedback system will all help.

When Archie Norman took over running Asda, he put in a system for staff to "tell Archie" where they felt there were areas that were not working. The response levels were phenomenal with hundreds of staff contacting him. You could consider something like this also.

Q: How did you keep your management team focused and energised when you were in Superquinn?

A: One of the key things I did was to spend significant amounts of time each week out around the branches: "management by walking about'.

Our managers knew that typically they would have a visit from me every two weeks and there was an opportunity for them to discuss any new ideas as well as to showcase their branch. That was always a great motivator to keep people on their toes, as the managers and staff were always anxious to showcase the latest new idea.

Each Wednesday I would also have coffee with customers from a different branch as part of a "customer panel" feedback mechanism. I found this very useful as a forum for generating new ideas and to keep in touch with each branch. Managers also received a bonus linked to pre-agreed key performance indicators and we ran regular competitions to keep the management team focused on critical areas.

In summary, I always tried to see the managers and entrepreneurs and their energy very often came from themselves through a system of continuous improvement and innovation whereby each manager viewed the shop as their own and felt empowered to breathe energy into it.

Next week: Feargal reveals the retailers he really rates in 2017

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