Client Profile

Industry Sector: Retail
Location: UK

The Challenge

In 2013 Waterstones began a company-wide consultation with around 560 management-level staff as it prepared for a restructure set to emphasise traditional shop floor bookselling. Branch Managers, Assistant Managers, General Managers and Deputy Managers entered into a consultation prior to restructuring the business around a new Bookshop Manager role which would, in the words of James Daunt, Managing Director, “call on different skills.”

Daunt continued to say that: “It is particularly important that we do this because more than ever before our managers will be central to our ability to deliver effective bookshops: the decisions that define the character of our bookshops will fall to them in the new role. The future of Waterstones ultimately rests on the skill and effort of the bookselling teams in our shops and the leadership given to them.”

He also added: “The context, however, is the current unforgiving bookselling environment. We may be running better bookshops, and running these in a very different manner to before, but we have yet to recognise this in our management structure. If we are to secure the future of Waterstones, we must take the difficult step to do so.”

With a strong track record in the retail sector and extensive experience of delivering similar processes for other clients undertaking restructuring activities, a&dc were chosen by Waterstones to partner in the implementation of a highly objective assessment process designed to provide managers with the opportunity to demonstrate their capability against the new requirements of the Bookshop Manager position.

The Solution

It was clear from the outset that the process had to meet a number of aims, namely:

  • Objectivity – The assessment had to provide each candidate with a fair and equal opportunity to demonstrate their abilities relative to the new Bookshop Manager position whilst ensuring robust measurement of the agreed criteria.
  • Sensitivity – The process would undoubtedly have an impact on those involved and the business as a whole. Effective communication of the approach was therefore paramount.
  • Efficiency – With circa 500 managers in scope, the process had to be implemented quickly in order to minimise the operational impact.

a&dc consultants spoke to subject matter experts to gain a thorough understanding of the new role, the Waterstones environment and the requirements and expectations of Bookshop Managers in the future.

We then designed a series of bespoke exercises set in the organisational context, replicating a Waterstones shop environment and providing candidates with a realistic preview of the responsibilities and challenges of the new role. Various methods, including a webinar, were used to communicate the process to candidates prior to the assessment centres taking place.

Centres were then delivered on a regional basis across a two week period with two centres running in each location per day. Selected Waterstones assessors were fully trained in the behavioural assessment process and, by working alongside a&dc consultants, we ensured a combination of high quality assessment combined with relevant business context. At the end of each day, a final scoring matrix with key strengths and development needs was created for each candidate.

The Results

In a two-week period we assessed 341 candidates across 6 regional locations using over 50 a&dc consultants, 30 Waterstones assessors and over 100 roleplayers and support staff. We worked in partnership with Waterstones to identify the appropriate benchmarks and outcome determinants throughout the project. Despite the sensitivity of the situation, the outcome was positive with no challenges to the process and a clear indication was provided to the business as to which individuals had met the benchmark standards of the new Bookshop Manager position.

a&dc conducted an analysis of the assessment centre outputs and this data allowed Waterstones to see that the right people had been selected and placed into the right levels within the new structure. This provided them with the greatest certainty that the aims of the project had been achieved. The analysis also revealed some differences in performance between the regions and this allowed future developmental support to be more targeted and therefore more effective. This evaluation revealed that 43% of the Bookshop Manager population demonstrated a key strength in ‘putting the customer at the heart of what they do’ – which was, and still is a key focus for Waterstones. Further, 32% of the appointed Bookshop Managers already showed an awareness of their local community and their core customers, working to ensure that the bookshop was aligned with the local demographic. This enabled Waterstones to draw on these individual’s strengths in this area to support those Bookshop Managers who needed to develop this skill. It is , along with an industry trend back towards paper books and allowing the bookshops the power to choose what they stocked, that James Daunt credits Waterstones’ return to profitability.

What the client says

“I thoroughly enjoyed working with you guys and valued the high quality of your work.” L&D Manager, Waterstones