- Tell us a little bit about you and your business
Harris Farm Markets is a family owned fresh food business with 25 retail markets and complementary wholesale and independent distribution businesses. My role here is as Director of People and Culture. It is a broad role, and in addition to a fairly typical HR portfolio, I also work closely with the CEOs and Leadership team to drive ongoing performance within the company.
- Why did you approach Human Tribe initially?
Five years ago, Harris Farm Markets viewed itself as a chain of 25 fruit and vegetable stores and they had traditionally been led by a very strong family member, but as the company grew it got harder and harder for the family to maintain management control over the organisation. As a result, poor behaviours started to emerge in terms of a hierarchical structure. We had a management style that was based on direction and authority rather than on teaching skills. We found that we had an organisation of managers that would tell people what to do rather than how and why they were doing it. This management style meant that we weren’t getting skills growth, people were doing what were told but they didn’t understand why they are doing it as there was no sharing of skills or coaching. We had big issues with performance management; people wouldn’t perform unless they had a manager barking directions at them.I approached Human Tribe because we wanted to change that culture and create a leaning environment where managers saw that the most important thing they could do was train people underneath them. We understood that the first step towards this was to teach our managers how to be coaches which was a behaviour they had never seen in the workplace before. We needed a large-scale program that focused on making it ok to spend time with people and to explain how and why to do things.
- What was the problem you were encountering and how did it make you feel?
The problem we had arising from the management style was high staff turnover; it wasn’t a nice place to work and people didn’t enjoy working here because they were just given orders all the time. We didn’t have any skills growth – people in store were not only limited with skills but they were also limited to what area of the store they could work in which caused rostering issues. The customer experience was diminished as when customers come into store where staff aren’t happy or have limited knowledge and skills then there is no customer interaction, no laughing, no smiling, no customer delight. The key issue was that it cost a lot of money because we had to have store managers constantly on the floor directing staff instead of doing what they should have been doing which was completing against other organisations. Instead, they were spending all of their time on performance management and staffing issues which the management team found very frustrating.
- Why did you choose to partner with Human Tribe?
I knew that Human Tribe would listen to the issue that we had and come up with a solution that suited us rather than offering something off the shelf. I was impressed with the pedigree that Human Tribe had had in working with retailers to deliver frontline training or to deliver coaching training to frontline teams. It was not only a unique skillset that we needed but it is a unique group of people who needed training. The fact that they are used to being active and standing on their feet all the time so they really hate classroom based training, the fact that a lot of them come from non-English speaking backgrounds, the fact that a lot of them didn’t finish school; we knew that the standard off shelf programs wouldn’t be suitable for retail workers.
- How did Human Tribe address your problem and how did that make you feel?
Human Tribe identified that there was a solution to the problem but that we did have to invest properly in it. They addressed the problem on a couple of levels. We mapped out a program that included coaching training but also included a review of our customer standards, a review of how well the people in store were doing their jobs, how well they were able give feedback and also a review of all of our systems related to performance management. Based on all of this, we were able to come up with a comprehensive 12-24 month program that covered everything from learning how to give and receive feedback, practicing giving it on the job, coming back into the classroom and brushing up on skills and then working on policies and procedures that supported our new way of working. The program has been successfully running for 3.5 years we still regularly run the programs (at least 4 times a year?)
- What could have happened if you didn’t address this problem?
If we didn’t address this problem our existing issues would have continued. We would have continued to have high turnover and low morale, it would have started to affect our brand, we wouldn’t have been able to deliver on some of our strategic imperatives, we wouldn’t have bee able to roll out new training quickly or empower teams to have new skills. We would have continued to have the problems we had with poor rostering, high wages and high costs of doing business; it would have been fairly difficult for us to continue to succeed in the current retail environment.
- What was the outcome of you partnering with Human Tribe?
Four years ago, the role of the HR team was to deal with all the grievances that came out of store but now they rarely have to deal with one of these problems because the store management team has dealt with performance issues before they really become issues. Our store manages now have more confidence in giving people feedback meaning we have gotten rid of some of the really negative behaviours.Our store managers now also have the confidence to train and multi-skill their staff which means as a company, we have a pool of skilled and experienced staff that can manage stores in the absence of managers but also means if we open a new store, we have trained and capable staff ready to go.As a result of partnering with Human Tribe we can now also roll out new innovations with ease as store managers have the skill to take it back into store and train their staff efficiently.
- What would you tell other organisations that are thinking about partnering with Human Tribe?
Even if you are not sure what the solution is, just pick up the phone and describe your problem, the odds are that the people at Human Tribe have seen it before and they will have some really practical and pragmatic ideas on how to address your issue. My learning from working with Human Tribe is that if you invest in changing behaviours and culture that is how you create sustainable change for the organisation going forward. We have absolutely flipped the organisations culture on its head in the last four years by focusing on the cultural issue related to the way that we managed and led people at Harris Farm.