Andrew Thornton on ‘Empowerment is infectious’

HiBL - Hi-Res with Strapline

Last month I shared the outcome of our Empowerment work at Thornton’s Budgens; and I shared the results in terms of sales (where we are up and when all our non-discounter competitors are down), the average length of service and the very positive results of our team survey.

This week I’d like to share how infectious Empowerment is and how the team have been involved in each stage of the process.

Almost two years ago, we started off working with the leadership team to get us all in-flow (being defined as spending most of our time doing what you love and are good at) and building much greater honesty and trust between each other. We saw the benefits of this immediately, as did the team. So at our company council, one of the team suggested that we appoint internal coaches to help spread this across the broader team. Team members applied, where assessed and interviewed; and then received coaching on how to be coaches from one of my Heart in Business Limited colleagues. Armed with this, they then started to coach their colleagues with great impact. (See the story of Seelan and the tomatoes I shared last month)

The key to this is that the team saw what we were doing and wanted some of it themselves; and that they wanted to take responsibility for that implementation. At the planning stage, there were concerns about how they would fit the coaching into their already hectic work schedule. However, once we started, these concerns fell away.  Over the following nine or so months, they as a team, coached about half of their colleagues in the store, contributing to an amazing growth in energy levels in the store. While I can see the impact on everyone, there are a few particular individuals who I literally watch grow in front of my eyes week after week.

To check in with progress with the team, we ran a series of workshops with them over the summer.  While they were pleased with the progress we were making, there were still issues they felt had not being addressed; issues that had been around for years and that the management team was too stretched to deal with. So the idea of Ambassadors was born – a group of people who could help support the managers – an empowered group who are seeing they can make a difference and to whom we are providing the tools to do so. The team felt that these Ambassadors should be nominated (by at least two people) and then those who were interested had a meeting (we chose not to call it an interview this time) for them to share how they would approach the role. While we had envisaged around 10 people being appointed, all but one we met wanted to do the role, so in the end, we appointed twelve.  Why would we refuse to offer the role to someone who was capable and wanted to do it?

So far each of them has had a one-to-one session with my Heart in Business Limited colleague Eudora and already I am starting to see the energy shift. What I am seeing is the making of a much flatter structure where the role of store manager is much more of a conductor than a chief operator. While this is something I have envisaged for some time, when we started this process two years ago I decided to trust this would happen when the time was right, and that if I forced it (against the will of some), it would end up in failure.

It was Thornton’s Budgens’ 10th birthday a couple of weeks ago so I am been working on building a heartful business for a decade – mostly through trial and error. What we have created now is a process that I know works and that I am happy to share with others to help you avoiding making the same mistakes. So a couple of lessons from this stage – first, I am glad I trusted my intuition not to force the flatter structure. And secondly that it would have made more sense to appoint the Ambassadors before the coaches, and draw the latter from the Ambassador pool. Fine tuning, you could say, and all part of the process of making it easier for others to follow this path.