Saturday 21 April 2018

Problem solver: What's the benefit of checklists to raise standards?

Feargal Quinn. Photo: Tom Burke
Feargal Quinn. Photo: Tom Burke

Feargal Quinn

Q: I'VE been advised to put checklists in place to help raise standards. Do you have experience in this area?

A: I do and I am a big fan of these, and of getting staff involved. I recall meeting the Superquinn meat specialist in a branch and while looking at the pre-packed meat area, a customer had asked us if we had pork chops in a twin pack.

We had three in a pack but not two. The two chops were organised for the customer and then I asked our specialist "what do you do all week"? He started to describe his week and how he would travel from branch to branch checking standards and sometimes would struggle to get to all of the branches as he had lots of other tasks. Of course the system was slightly flawed, in that it was reliant on an external person checking the standards of the shop team.

Our specialist took the challenge and was back to me a week later with a checklist which he was rolling out to all of the shops with a range of standards listed on it. Included was a question "are there pork chops in ones, twos and threes?" They were all simple things, but really important items for customers.

We debated who should complete this checklist. While we initially thought it should be the store manager or the meat charge hand, we felt that the best person was one of the younger staff. The result was outstanding. All of our staff became far more focused on standards. Our food specialists were able to refine their new roles and focus on product innovation and driving the business forward.

Q: how should I deal with managers who drop standards?

A: No matter how good any manager is, there will always be the odd drop in standards. What matters is how you deal with it. George Jenkins founded Publixs in Florida and is regarded as a pioneer in retail circles. I recall a story about George visiting one of his shops which was in bad shape. Faced with a decision of whether to become annoyed with the manager or take some other course of action, he decided to get a trolley and go shopping. George proceeded to shop from every tired display and to buy every bruised piece of fruit and left the store with his groceries without saying a word.

The manager felt the pain of every poor standard in the shop as George traversed the aisles and without any prompting contacted George the next day to apologise for the state of the shop and commit to never allowing this to happen again. It is always tempting to give someone a dressing down for poor performance and on the rare occasion that might indeed be necessary. However, in my experience it's better to get your managers on side and empower them to see solutions and make decisions. I was impressed with George's handling of the situation and it stuck in my mind when trying to motivate my team.

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