A.S. Watson

Arne Barends

The right moment for an employee survey

A.S. Watson succeeded in increasing overall employee satisfaction by 10% in one year. How? HR Director Benelux Jan Carel Uylenburg and Marco Gramser, HR Manager, explain.

Why did you conduct your first employee survey in 2007?

Jan Carel Uylenberg: “The family business, which included Trekpleister, Kruidvat and ICI Paris XL, became a publicly listed company in 2002: A.S. Watson. As a result of this change, Kruidvat and other chains could expand significantly. The branches had to incorporate an increasing number of products ‘foreign’ to their business: electronics, airbeds, toys. This gradually pushed up inventory in the shops, which increased the workload. Marco Gramser: “In order to deliver the same experience in all our branches, we also started a project that strongly emphasised structure and consistency. Many branch managers initially regarded that as an infringement on their freedom. We also heard that communication from head office could be improved, as could logistics. In short, all sorts of things were going on; the right moment to conduct an employee survey.”

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And… were you surprised by the results?

Gramser: “No, as expected our scores were satisfactory and we saw that we had to tackle workload and internal communication. We appointed a specialist and looked more critically at the way in which we communicate: how do you say things and to whom? We changed how we communicate with the shops. They had previously received an enormous amount of information, which was not necessarily relevant for their daily work. We now make a clearer distinction between ‘nice to know’ and ‘need to know’. For example, shops receive a separate bulletin containing information that is essential for that week, like special offers. We provide background information elsewhere, such as in our staff magazine WATSgoingON. We also gave feedback on our improvement efforts. We launched a ‘smile’ newsletter which contained the results of the employee survey in the first edition, and thereafter a regular update to keep employees informed. In addition, we organised platform meetings in which we sat down with employees to discuss what needed to be changed and how.”

By conducting a second employee survey, which Effectory International also carried out, we wanted to see if we were on the right track. We were very pleased with the outcome.

Besides internal communication, did you also tackle workload?

Uylenberg: “Absolutely. Kruidvat and Trekpleister now sell fewer ‘business foreign’ products. This has decreased inventory in the shops. The employee survey also showed that contact with managers was often good, but the management style, which provided little opportunity to take initiative, was not always aprreciated. It is a very results-oriented approach, which is good, but it could also be more human. As a result, all our managers attended a training. The message: people-oriented and results-oriented can go together. You often achieve better results if you actively involve employees in the ins and outs of the business.”

The acid test was in 2008, wasn’t it?

Gramser: “Indeed! By conducting a second employee survey, which Effectory International also carried out, we wanted to see if we were on the right track. We were very pleased with the outcome: in one year, the overall satisfaction had increased by 0.6 points and our score had improved in virtually every area. It was exciting. When you’ve worked hard for the past year, you hope that your employees notice the effects.”

Have you now achieved all your goals?

Gramser: “We’re very pleased and will certainly continue on the same path. But of course you can always do better. We’re still working on the management style. We want to work towards a coaching role. Employees should be given more opportunity to take ownership of their work. They should be encouraged to find solutions to problems themselves.” Uylenberg: “In terms of workload, we’ve made good progress but we can also do more in this area. A system in the shops that places new orders on the basis of sales will help considerably to reduce inventory even further. That will certainly make a difference to the workload. On the other hand, the speed of the work is inherent in retail; there’s always something happening in our shops, the pace is high. Our employees often deliberately choose to work in a shop because the variety appeals to them. That also became apparent from the employee survey.”

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