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Dixons Carphone: One business, one team, one aim

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On Thursday, 7th August 2014, Carphone Warehouse and Dixons Retail came together to create Dixons Carphone. Group HR director Lynne Weedall explains all about 'connected retailing' and people integration to Mary Appleton.

Making the impossible possible

Ex-Dixons CEO Sebastian James has been appointed chief executive and his main objective is to build a successful business with a strong reason to exist, says Weedall.

“We have defined our core purpose as ‘making the impossible possible’. When you buy a product it’s about connecting you to the art of the possible. Your phone isn’t a phone any more – it measures your fitness, activates heating, operates music. We need to manage that customer relationship.”

So what distinguishes the two businesses and what elements does Weedall hope to retain? While Carphone is entrepreneurial and takes more risks, she says it is less process-led, which can occasionally result in a lack of discipline. Dixons, meanwhile, has more process, rigour and discipline, which means it’s more focused on its objectives. For Weedall, there’s a “fantastic opportunity” to combine both mindsets but this presents challenges. “Both companies are minded to roll forward with what they know, so you have to stand back and make decisions about what to retain.”

For example, performance management at Carphone Warehouse has always been run on a balanced scorecard from boardroom to shopfloor – including bonuses. Historically, Dixons did not align activities in the same way, so a decision was taken to introduce a more balanced approach.

Weedall also proposes to replicate Dixons’ outlook on recognition throughout the group. “People could send comments and gifts to each other through a platform called ‘You’re Electric’. It was well used so I’d like to roll that out.”

Identifying core leadership capabilities from leaders across both businesses is key. “Dixons’ leaders regularly undertake coaching, which is a great skill,” Weedall explains. “Combining those skills with Carphone leaders’ ability to define commercial mastery and bring value to the business is hugely powerful.”

 Naturally, questions such as ‘is this a merger?’, ‘is this a takeover?’ and ‘does one company have more power?’ have come up, but Weedall is keen to emphasise the focus is on creating ‘one team’ with an external, not internal, focus. “We are working really hard to negate any intrigue, there’s no space for negativity. We’re quite ruthless about that,” she says.

As Dixons Carphone launched, Weedall was adamant that as much energy should be put into the culture as the financials. “Profit is a condition, not a reason to exist,” she says. “Focus on profit alone is not sustainable or enough of a motivator.”

In August 2014, every employee was sent a survey asking them what it was like to work there, to give the leadership insight into how the businesses compared, highlight differences, and identify ‘watch outs’.

“We were surprised to find out how similar the two businesses were,” reveals Weedall. “By the time you’re in stores, cultural differences are minimal – it’s people trying to do a good job for the customer.”

Open communication and feedback

The group’s first manager conference in November was a great opportunity to check the organisation’s temperature. Alongside a group-wide engagement survey, Dixons Carphone has introduced more informal channels for employees to give feedback.

“We’ve done a lot of listening. We’ve set up active consultation forums around the functional integration, and in head office we have boards where people post ideas and comments. [CEO] Seb does a regular blog to keep people informed.”

So how does Weedall plan to ensure this momentum is maintained from head office to stores? “I want to transform messaging from a ‘few to the many’ approach to ‘many to the many’,” she says. “There are pockets of the business that are brilliant, but we’re not as good as we could be in getting people engaged.”

Examples of good communication include a weekly ‘Chalk Talk’, where all employees talk about major issues, and all regional managers have WhatsApp to communicate with store colleagues. Carphone has a ‘Geek Squad’ community, where members can post questions, videos, and share ideas.

“I want to find ways to build on initiatives like these to increase the organisation’s surface area and I’m excited about that,” she adds.

A new retailer for new digital age

From a customer perspective the merger provides an opportunity to bring an end-to-end solution, while from an employee viewpoint, there’s a chance to rethink the employment proposition. “Working here is not just about selling boxes, it’s about experiences,” says Weedall.

And as a company at the forefront of one of the biggest megatrends impacting work – technology – a key question for Weedall is: ‘how do we use technology to enable our colleagues?’

Every Carphone Warehouse store employee has a tablet, which allows them to take customers through the product journey, and Weedall wants to introduce this in Dixons stores. She would like to extend this through the employee experience – making training, communications and engagement channels available online. “We’re looking at how colleagues can upload training material and videos or share tips across the organisation. If we can find a way of unlocking knowledge and capability through technology, that would be fantastic.”

One way is through the group performance management system, which is being re-designed. For Weedall, there’s an opportunity to consider not just what someone’s line manager says about them, but extend feedback to a wider group.

The HR team

Further to the operational activity Weedall’s HR team is tasked with – including facilitating the integration, creation of one group head office, rolling out 300 new stores, combining functions, harmonising rewards and ensuring all policies are aligned – a key objective is to establish one integrated HR department.

This process began with defining one overall HR leadership and single points of accountability. This means one UK HR director, a Nordics HR director and Weedall at the helm.

“We are rapidly bringing together some of our Centres of Excellence like reward, comms and resourcing, but taking time over areas like training,” she continues. “We need to work out which elements need to be bespoke to specific brands.”

Integration of the HR function has been more complex than anticipated, so is taking place in stages. While there’s clarity over leadership, areas such as business partners cannot be integrated yet, mainly due to the enormous workload, so Weedall wants to keep them static until these elements are worked through.

Future world of work

As the company moves to a new head office in west London, Weedall says this has provided an opportunity to look at how jobs are designed, adding there needs to be a fundamental rethink about the way work gets done and the best conditions for it.

“Why is it we work Monday to Friday, 9 to 5? That’s bonkers given the nature of the business  we run and th people we serve,” sh exclaims. “We need to think about what hours people work , how they work and whether they need to be here at all.”

As part of this, the group has re-defined its employer brand to ensure it is fit for purpose. A ‘social hub’ forms a key part of the recruitment strategy, and links to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Using this to engage in “constant dialogue’ with people is essential, says Weedall.

While she acknowledges there are differences between certain demographics in workplace expectations, she is wary of trying to change the employment proposition to satisfy different generations, arguing that setting the right context for people is more important.

“There is a bit about generation but it’s about the environment and the context you set people. Charles [Dunstone, founder of Carphone Warehouse, now group chairman] is a Generation X entrepreneur and acts like a Generation Y, which is the mindset that characterised Carphone Warehouse. We want to replicate it across the business.”

Seeking future talent

On assessing new talent, Weedall highlights the importance of ‘softer skills’ such as building relationships, curiosity and entrepreneurial spirit, which she wants to promote in the business. An ‘intrapreneur’ programme has been launched, which aims to nurture the characteristics of entrepreneurs in the organisation, with participants mentored by Dunstone.

The decision not to have a graduate programme is deliberate, which for Weedall makes sense given the VUCA environment the organisation operates in. “Having a rigid programme wouldn’t work for us – by the time we had designed and rolled it out, it would be outdated,” she says. “This sector is being turned on its head by new inventions – we’ll be selling things next year that haven’t been dreamt up yet.” Weedall believes most people want the same thing – a reason to get out of bed, autonomy, a sense of belonging, and to know what they do makes a difference and contributes beyond just selling something.

A rollercoaster journey

As for the merger, Weedall is pleased with progress and says the company is well on the way to achieving its mission to be ‘one team’. From an HR perspective, she says the function is at its best when leading from the front on strategy. Her priority this year is to ensure processes are aligned and pain-free.

“We [HR] are doing OK on the vision, we are seen as a good enabler to the business but people might say the machine doesn’t work as well as it could, so that’s what I want to focus on,” she says.

Meanwhile, Weedall says the key to success in any change project is an ability to stand back, look at what matters and where you are trying to go. “I like the phrase ‘get off the dancefloor and get on to the balcony,’” she says. “It’s hard when you are busy and the temptation is to do more, but that’s the time to step back and remember where you are going. That’s important when you’re doing acquisition change, which involves so much emotion.

“It’s a rollercoaster journey. There are exciting days, particularly when I’m seeing people on the front line, but it can be emotional, tough and tiring. But on balance, it’s great fun.”

Mary Appleton

By Mary Appleton

Changeboard

Mary is Changeboard's editor in chief.

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