Building Teams in Tough Times the Kingfisher Way

"Unless people know how to come together as a team, they can't really contribute." Speaking at the Retail Week Conference earlier this month, Ian Cheshire, chief executive of DIY retail group Kingfisher, outlined his strategy for building successful teams in tough times.

Here's Cheshire's explanation of the company's approach to building teams.

Talk about teams tends to focus on senior development. But Cheshire maintains the same approach can be used to build teams all the way up and down the organisation.

Kingfisher breaks its approach down into five distinct areas:

  • Having the right goals
  • Having the right people on board
  • Having real development
  • Establishing the rules of the game
  • Establishing some rewards

1. The Right Goals Get it right first time "Framing goals correctly is the most important job you as a team leader can do. There is a phrase one of our development guys uses: 'an ounce of framing is worth a pound of reframing'."
  • It's a lot easier to get it right first time, take the decisions and let the energy flow to where it needs to go, rather than try to correct something and change it back.
Aim high
  • Clear, ambitious aims put the pressure on the team in a good way. Instead of settling for a place, aim for a medal.
"We've adopted the concept of the podium programme, where you've basically got to be aiming for a medal. No one's interested in a place or getting to a final."
Establish clear objectives - red or green, there is no amber
  • The consequence of clear goals is that you have people who really understand they are really aiming for something really ambitious.
"If you take a football or rugby analogy, it's the approach of the teams at the top or the bottom where they've got super clear objectives. Either they have to win, or they have to survive. The teams in the middle mainly don't have that same level of energy and that same level of passion because they haven't got that degree of stretch."
  • Establish a really clear bar in expectations and let the team know they are going to be measured on it.
  • The team is either on track or it's not. Amber is getting away from medals not places. That clarity of expectation in levels of stretch are the first things a manager should be thinking about when they start thinking about forming a team - what's the team got to do and how far have they got to go?
"In retailing there are a lot of KPIs, a lot of complexities, but if you strip away these down to a basic level of ambition, it is much more powerful and anyone who shows me s a three page statement of objectives, hasn't got an objective."
Be Consistent
  • The great temptation especially in tough times is to start tweaking and settle for almost-achieved objectives.
  • Ruthlessly keep pushing at the targets and do not deviate.
  • If you are not consistent, people really see that quite quickly and the tension in the process starts draining away. You don't get that energy, you don't get that push.
"To be consistent, goals must be measurable. You can't have debate on this, it's got to be observable to a large number of people so they become real and true."
Progress by baby-steps
  • It's really important teams have an idea of their progression all through the process.
  • Kingfisher teams have a quarter by quarter set of milestones so they know they are on track.
  • Athletes talk about the road to a major competition being measured in what they need to achieve each week leading up to the big day.
"You don't just jump in there with a Hail Mary at the end and sort of somehow get there. You consistently progress to the goal step-by-step and inch your way to it. People like [World Cup winning England rugby coach] Clive Woodward talk about inches and little bits of advantage which are built up over time."
  • Setting the right goals is very much a part of forming a successful team. If you set the ambition, the team knows what it has to do.
2. Get the Right People
"You can look at the problem and scratch your head and maybe get the right answer but until you get the right people on board, nothing really changes. You can't change anything unless you've got the right talent."
Talented recruiters attract talented recruits
"In retail in particular, I think talent comes to talent. If you are competent as a manager, you will attract first rate people. I've always been fascinated 7.56 by looking at the teams recruited by some of our managers in the early days and just seeing that on the whole second rate people recruit third rate people."
Get a good mix
  • The more ways a problem is looked at, the more likely it can be solved.
  • Stars are an essential part of the team, but a team full of stars isn't a team at all.
"The building block of any team is talent, but it's about mix as well. In retail, I really think you need a variety of approaches. Ultimately we all have opinions and a good team has a wider set of opinions from which to draw a better sense of the situation than one person is capable of perceiving."
Encourage commitment and ownership
  • The team's goals should be set by the people in the team who will then be responsible for them.
  • Traditional managers might think they have lost control and the inmates have taken over the asylum.
  • When people make set their own goals their commitment to reaching them is far stronger.
"The worry is that they won't set the goal high enough. If they aren't setting high enough goals they are probably not the right people."
  • The result of strong feelings of ownership and that commitment is the group of individuals working as an effective team.
"Ultimately if you commit to a team goal, you become part of a powerful solution instead of just spinning your wheels on your own."
The art of coaching
  • The old management technique of just sitting behind a desk and telling the team what to do won't get results.
"I'm an international retailer, I've got 8,000 people spread over 11 countries - how on earth am I going to sit and look over their shoulder and tell them what to do? I can't. I can create the conditions for success and I can allow them to succeed."
  • Good coaches need to be pretty much without ego and be happy about being in the shadows, not being the person that takes all the glory.
"If you are a me me me person, coaching is probably not your thing. You need to give people the room to succeed rather than saying: 'I can tell you what to do because I'm brighter than you'."
  • understand the whole person. Put the person at the centre and then surround them with the tools and resources they need.
In tough times--
"At the moment there are quite a few senior people who thought they were golden handcuffed to the hilt and have suddenly found they are not because the share price has collapsed"
  • There are more opportunities now for people to move.
  • Many senior employees have seen their career plans change, so at the top end there are some interesting opportunities opening up. This means talented team members could be tempted to move up.
  • Conversely, at the lower end, other team members could be very nervous about losing their jobs.
  • They are keeping their heads down and working very hard.
  • One of the side effects is some of the poorer performers who would normally move on naturally will be reluctant to do so.
  • Managers are having to work a little bit harder to manage the quality of some of the lower end because that fear of tougher times.
3. Real Development, Not Conceptual Team-Building
"There used to be a fashion for teams getting strapped together on the side of Mount Snowden or sort of abseiled into a quarry or something. Much as I find that sort of thing admirable, it really doesn't address the really important things."
  • The quickest way to develop real teams is to give them real work that they have to do together.
  • Be clear about it being both real work and a development exercise so that they take a bit more time to work together and learn.
  • By working through a real problem, staff can create a real team instead of a fake set of relationships.
Constant feedback
  • Tell people how they are doing all of the time by continually measuring them.
"The B&Q practice works on a monthly cycle which has clear objectives that are individual and they allow people to see whether they are getting better."
  • If development isn't measured regularly the team will achieve their objectives more slowl because it will be unable to assess where it has got to in the process, what it need to achieve in the next stage and when.
In tough times--
  • It's a mistake to cut down on team development and regular assessment.
"The traditional thing to say is it's got really tight and it's all very difficult so let's shortcut on development. If you invest in the high quality teams now, you will benefit so much more. Even perhaps than in an upturn, when anyone can look good. So, don't cut the time and commitment you've placed on development"
4. Establish the Rules of the Game
  • Teams that are built by building relationships.
  • That relationship is likely to have a dialogue that allows them to really understand what's going on in the process.
  • Finally, the team needs to take responsibility. That turns the dialogue into action.
  • Relationships are the absolute start. If team members don't trust each other can't have a real rapport.
"The great danger is, more in Anglo-Saxon cultures, you have to work together because you have a functional relationship, actually in most of the continent, it all starts the other way round with who are you then lets see if we can work together. That's a healthier human model for how people should work because if you have a good relationship with them you can tell them virtually anything because you don't have to worry about the intent. You know the intent is positive and you know you can say it."
  • If you have a bad relationship with someone it will take you two hours to phrase an email.
Real dialogue
  • A good dialogue means understanding what someone else is saying.
"A lot of companies, retailers in particular are not very good at listening. They say: 'yeah, let me tell you what we should do', as apposed to waiting to hear and actively listening to what the other person's real meaning is."
  • If team members actively listen to each other, they get a lot more out because the team has a diversity of opinion.
  • Different points of view provide more resources in the room that can be used to identify a solution.
  • A real dialogue requires mutual honesty.
"We use a couple of phrases one of which is the 'toilet scenario'. Imagine you are in a cubicle and two of your colleagues come in and start talking about you as if you are not there. They are going to talk about you really honestly. It's that level of compassionate ruthlessness that you have to have. It can be brutual but if you know you are all in for each other, you can be really honest to a level you can't do in a political or conventional business relationship world."
  • Talking shops rarely achieve anything.
"A team really gets powerful when it starts taking responsibility for each other. When that happens you are responsible for each other's relationships, each other's success and each other's reputations, then a team becomes so much more than the sum of its parts and that's a willingness to really attack this as a group and stand or fall by each other, that's absolutely fundamental to a successful team."
In tough times...
  • In very difficult times, people might resort to bad behaviour and go back to politicking.
  • They might not say what they really think.
  • They might not spend the time on relationships, so team leaders have to hold people to the principles of honest communication and if they see something that doesn't work, they have to call them out and say so.
"Work hard, go through some pain and look after each other because ultimately, teams get power when they care about not letting someone else down. It's not about fighting for the flag, it's about looking after your mates."
5. Rewards in Tough Times
  • It is important that teams get rewarded. It's critical that people are recognised and that their progression is recognised.
Cash and bonuses
"Cash may be a dirty word but it's fundamental. Weve recently introduced a system where all store managers in UK and France are gitting approcimately six months worth of shares given to them that they bneed to hold for tree years by which time, hopelfully we've doubled it so it's essentially a year's salary, but they have some performance requirements to do it. They've got a stake in the game over and above their normal salary to get it though."
  • Bonuses are not a bad thing, provided managers know why they are paying them and that they are sustainable.
  • It's more about letting people know they are continually being assessed and that they can be rewarded.
Pride in the team
  • A sense of pride in achieving a goal can be overlooked as a reward in itself. Effective teams have an esprit de corps which is re-enforced by pride in collective achievements.
"Some more than others, who might be a bit more team oriented feel the sheer pleasure of being in a winning team. At some level, I think that's possible to achieve all the way through the business."
  • Managers should not feel guilty for taking pride in their teams achievements.
"As a manager, if you can make other people successful that is a fantastic thing to be involved in because ultimately its much more powerful than anything you can do on your own. We can collectively influence a lot more people than we can actually touch who are directly below us."
In tough times...
  • In tough times, people tend to run away from the concept of reward.
    "You absolutely have to keep rewarding teams. You have to keep giving them the thumbs up. It's part of measurement it's part of reinforcing that part of the assessment that says 'yes, you got there'."
The end is not the finish
  • Finally, a really good team goes even further.
  • It's not good enough to have won the medal, successful teams always think there is something more to be done.and can't be satisfied to sit on their laurels.
"When you get that in a team, that's when you get a motor for growth and a fundamental transformation of your business. In tough times really take care of your people more than anything else and be committed to them through these tough times because they'll give you so much more than you could have ever got off them in the easy times"