the making of a great work culture

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What does it take to create a culture of great work? As The Sunday Times  number one ‘best big company’ to work for in the UK, Pets at Home knows the answer. Hitting the list at #2 last year, and taking the top spot this year, the company has mastered the formula for great work. Rankings are based on employee ratings of their leadership team, the balance between work and home duties, opportunities for personal growth, satisfaction with pay and benefits as well as employee’s view of their company’s generosity and how they give back.

Ryan Cheyne, People Director for Pets at Home, spoke at this year’s O.C. Tanner Europe Summit on the journey his company took to the top. Said Cheyne, “When we set out eight years ago, we didn’t think about winning. We did it to learn and get better. The first year we applied, we didn’t even make the list but we did get loads of information. It took us three years to feature on the list from that point onwards. We went from nothing to one to watch to winning the top spot.”

Cheyne pointed out the simple equation for Pets at Home success: 6,000 engaged colleagues leading to loyal customers leading to sales profits and growth. Cheyne’s three fundamentals to engagement: 1) Recruit the right people 2) Train them 3) Reward and recognize their efforts.

“All easy to say, but each one requires effort, focus and attention. And because so many companies out there don’t do these things, it does give you a competitive advantage.” Cheyne elaborated on each area:

Recruit the right people. When it comes to recruiting for positions at Pets at Home, “Nobody represents our brand better than us. Wherever possible, we do it ourselves. We create the X factor, where people are queuing up because of the opportunity you are offering. And then they leave in tears. Not because we treated them badly, but because we have a great opportunity they have missed out on. We do group recruitments at all levels, we audition, we interview and we have talent champions. We make sure it’s right for them and right for us.”

Provide employee training. “After colleagues get hired, we bust a gut to train them. Step one is a 16-week compulsory training through our academy. You cannot sell a pet until you’ve completed the training, been signed off, and evaluated. Step two takes the rest of the year to complete as they specialize in different animals. When you’ve done that at the end of the year, you get a pay raise because you’re worth that and much more to us. And then we have step 3, which goes into off job courses about nutrition and the health of employees themselves.”

Reward and recognize results. Cheyne listed out the many different ways colleagues are appreciated for their great work. Some of their informal offerings include, “Thank you notes, certificates, badges, stickers, retail rising star awards, store manager of the year, and of course we have recognition boards in each store where they pin up and celebrate great stuff.” A formal recognition program to celebrate career milestones adds to the arsenal of opportunities for managers to say thanks for a job well done.

What are the results of all these efforts? In 2008, 74 percent of colleagues surveyed ‘believe that their managers thanked them when they’ve done a job well.’ By 2013, this increased to 91 percent. Turnover has gone from 68 percent to 16.5 percent. “As our engagement goes up, so does our customer loyalty. It’s there. These are facts. We are creating really strong and lasting relationships. We love our colleagues and they love our customers. It’s that simple.”

When Cheyne was asked about the obstacles Pets at Home had to overcome along your engagement journey, he replied, “It was having patience. It takes a long time because you have to build up trust. When we first started, both our own engagement survey and in Sunday Times, you know, we weren’t very good. And so, you need to see that, then start to pull some of these levers and turn things around.”

What’s your great work story? Join the resistance to mediocrity and tell us how you’ve built a culture of great work.

By angie haugen
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