Research has repeatedly shown that training plays a vital part in improving both staff retention and engagement. PBM speaks with two h&b member merchants — Lords and Bradfords — who are using training strategically to consolidate their teams, grow business, and to attract and retain talent.
Ensuring a pipeline of talent is available — from apprentices to knowledge experts, team supervisors and even the next director — ensures that individuals feel valued and can see real career progression. In addition, it will make making sure that companies stay one step ahead of their competition, retaining the best staff along the way.
This can be where the sticking point comes — independent merchants run on a tight staff level, and taking staff out from the counter for training can be seen as simply a disruption. Yet as Allan Durning, Membership Director of h&b, says: “Training and development need to be seen as a key tool in the whole business’s successful and profitable operation, and not just something that HR does.”
To this end, every organisation needs to analyse its own training and learning needs and take a health check on the skills, talent and capabilities of their people to find out where there are gaps in the existing skills, knowledge and attitudes of employees.
With an impressive history that stretches back 250 years to 1770, Bradfords Building Supplies places enormous emphasis on the expertise and ability of its staff, seeing this as a key differentiator for the business and crucial to driving sales, customer loyalty and margins.
Indeed, as the company’s Head of Talent and Development, Bradfords’ Lynda Moore has a job title which very clearly demonstrates its training strategy — identifying, training, and developing the current and future stars that will take the business forward.
She says: “Like every merchant, we find it a challenge to recruit really good quality people, and the costs involved in doing that are high, so we are making real efforts to grow and develop our own talent as well as bringing in the best from outside.”
Lynda highlights two programmes which the company is rightly proud of. The first is a successful apprenticeship scheme run in partnership with Yeovil College. She explains: “Apprentices bring with them eagerness and enthusiasm, and this can have a positive effect on the rest of the workforce. They are from a generation that do not take getting and keeping a job for granted.”
The majority of Bradfords apprentices are Level 2 Retail and are with the group for 15-18 months “working in the business but with an L Plate on.” Stints in customer service, finance and on the trade counter give them a really broad understanding of the whole business, as Lynda explains: “Lots of our apprentices are young people and their managers need to learn how to manage that dynamic, how they think, how they operate, so that has been a great learning process for us all!
“The whole company has really bought into this programme. The apprentices have been like a breath of fresh air and everyone has taken great pride in doing their bit in their development.”
The company won the Somerset Apprentice Award in 2018 and it guarantees a role in the business for everyone that successfully completes their course. Six now have permanent positions with a number already earmarked as future branch managers.
“The merchanting trade isn’t always great at recruiting raw young talent,” says Lynda. “This scheme shows younger men and women that you can have a bright future in merchanting at a family owned company with a great culture.”
The second strand of Bradfords’s training strategy is its Fast Track Programme to grow and develop talent already within the business. Line managers identify twelve people with the potential to go further and the company builds a year-long bespoke training programme designed to teach people how to manage themselves and others.
“The participants learn a lot about themselves in that year,” says Lynda “And they present to the senior board at the end of the process to show what they have learned. They are given a high profile within the business to reflect our expectations and senior buy-in. So far, every single participant has grown within Bradfords, so we have definitely seen a return on our investment.”
Like Bradfords, Lords has also taken a multi-layer approach to its training strategy in order to maximise the impact at all levels of the organisation. In addition to a Senior Leadership Team Programme, ‘Excel’ is a twelve month programme for branch managers and other senior managers based around developing leadership skills by teaching managers about how to manage, communicate with and understand their teams.
Similarly, ‘Emerge’ is a programme for managers who have the potential to go further in the Lords Business whilst ‘Transition’ is designed for managers in support roles.
“The whole programme is predicated on our strategy to develop better leaders and to achieve better retention of the great talent in the business,” says Lords MD Richard Perkins. Excel is at the heart of the whole programme and is run by an external training company, Acuity, that the firm selected specifically because it is steeped in merchanting experience and understands the demands of running a merchant branch.
Richard explained: “Historically our branch managers have been sales focused, usually a big personality in the branch and that is great. But the Excel programme helps them to gain a more rounded commercial focus since branch managers today have to wear so many different hats and manage a diverse team.
“In fact, I’d say that the key role for a branch manager nowadays isn’t to sell but to lead, coach and support.”
The company will also be launching the Lords Academy in 2020, offering e-training for everyone in the business on topics as diverse as personal development, product knowledge, and compliance. This is based on a specially tailored version of the BMF’s programme so it suits Lords’ ethos and culture perfectly.
Richard is clear that Lords considers the ROI of its training in far more than pounds, shillings and pence. He said: “We look at measures such as staff churn, customer approval, and staff satisfaction rather than straight financials when we evaluate the success of the programme. It’s important to bring in great talent, but it’s also vital to let our internal people see that Lords offers the potential to progress and grow. We want a happy, engaged Lords family and training is a really vital part of that.
Bradfords is equally delighted with the outcomes of its training schemes and has plans to launch a senior management development programme in the near future on the back of Fast Track’s success. Lynda says: “This programme isn’t just for large merchant organisations; it is easily scalable for any kind of business and if Bradfords is leading the way, we are happy to share our results with fellow merchants.”
For more information visit www.handbgroup.com