To address the well-publicised challenges faced by the retail sector, Debenhams, the UK’s second biggest department store chain, has just announced a new focus on ‘social shopping’ – i.e. offering customers an engaging social experience when shopping in their stores.
This strategy, designed to deliver superior value to customers, will also provide better more interesting jobs for employees and, the leadership hopes, a better return for shareholders. Debenhams' future strategy echoes the thinking behind a new executive program at MIT Sloan School of Management: The Good Jobs Strategy: Delivering Superior Value to Customers, Shareholders, and Employees.
The concept underpinning this program is that service companies operating in a competitive environment need to create and implement an operations strategy that builds customer loyalty, inspires employees to find dignity in their work and opportunities for improvement, and that this will drive high performance and ultimately stronger revenues.
This is the reverse to the strategy adopted by so many hard-pressed service companies in recent years, in industries like retail, hospitality, and even health care, where the main focus has been on driving down wages and operation costs, creating a vicious cycle of disinvestment in search of higher profits.
Describing their new program MIT Sloan ask: “What if the focus shifted from lower labour costs to smarter investments: creating products and services that people want to buy, jobs that people want to keep, and driving high performance? What if businesses shifted from the norm of mediocrity in customer service, productivity, jobs and wages to a new standard of excellence?”
As the global economy begins to grow relentless cost-cutting strategies, which may have been unavoidable during a recession, should be put aside. For companies to prosper they need to grow and those that continue to operate in a cost-cutting cul-de-sac, which inhibits innovation and growth, will be left behind.
Professor Zeynep Ton, who leads The Good Jobs Strategy program argues that bad jobs – such as many low-paying positions in retail – contribute to a bad economy. Retail jobs, according to Ton, are not just bad because they offer low wages and chaotic schedules, but because they make the workers feel meaningless. In her research, she found the consequence of this was too often poor customer experience.
Retailers, she says, do a reasonably good job down the supply-chain but tend to drop the ball in the final stretch – the critical time when the customer should be ‘delighted’ poor employee performance damages the company’s performance. On the other hand, happy, engaged, employees paid well and given control and responsibility over their work will offer a superior customer experience which in turn can result in higher profits and a superior return for investors.
The MIT Sloan program, which is aimed at senior executives in businesses that have a frontline workforce that interacts with customers, leverages a systems perspective to frame discussions around key elements of the Good Jobs Strategy, including:
- Making operational choices that increase productivity and contribution of workforce
- Investing in workers to create a capable and motivated workforce
- Creating a high return on employee investment
- A value system that emphasizes customers, employees, and continuous improvement
Recent case studies from retail and health care industries are used to explore successful improvement strategies that directly involve frontline employees.
The Good Jobs Strategy: Delivering Superior Value to Customers, Shareholders is next delivered on July 18-19, 2017