My Advice to Sports Direct

Mike Ashley and Sports Direct have been in the news again today. I’ve already written on this subject for the HR Magazine.

This morning, Ashley said that he wants to work closely with HR and the recruitment agencies that supply their Shirebrook warehouse to address some of those highly publicised issues.

It is often said that you get the employee relations that you deserve. I have always believed this to be true.  How you treat people directly impacts on how they behave at work and how engaged they are. If you treat people like you don’t trust them, then they will know it and will probably behave in a way that supports that viewpoint. And then someone will create a draconian policy. It’s a downward spiral.

The other thing that matters when it comes to employee relations is simply how people feel about where they work. It is all about the ‘felt fair’.  Do I feel, that overall, my employer is treating me fairly?  This, in essence, is that thing we call the psychological contract.

These are the two beliefs that always guide my principals when it comes to the people stuff that I do. So just in case Mike Ashley needs a little more HR advice, here is what I would tell him to do:

  • Pay the Living Wage. Yes, it will add to your costs. But you will get a more stable and committed workforce in return. You will have better retention, spend less time on recruitment and have higher levels of engagement and motivation. I know, because I’ve implemented and seen it first-hand. You don’t have to pay the national minimum wage – it is your choice.
  • Keep temporary staff and the zero hours contracts for the peaks in demand. For Christmas and the short term needs. If you are worried about exiting poor performers, don’t be. Employment law will still allow you to do this. But a more stable workforce with increased job security will work for you and for the people that work for you. It will improve your productivity, retention and engagement. Do I need to go on?
  • Train your managers in leading people, in having good conversations with their teams, in how to manage without forms and big sticks. How to coach and give feedback and manage performance. This stuff isn’t hard, it just needs some investment.  You have the money.
  • Wellbeing. It matters on multiple levels. It sends a message to your people, can help your absence rates, can increase your engagement levels. You get the picture. Create a culture in which the wellbeing of your people is a key consideration and make sure your managers know it and live it.
  • Oversee every people practice that your employment agencies are operating. Are they fair? Are they treating people the same as your permanent workforce or are they creating a two-tier workforce? It isn’t good enough to say that it is up to the agencies how they manage their temps. They are on your site, working ultimately for you. So manage it.
  • Review all of your people policies. Strip them down. Stop using them as something to hide behind, as a way of managing people. Keep them for guidance only. Ensure that they support your vision, support good people stuff.
  • Employee voice. You have a union. You have a committee. Use it. Listen to your people. They will have ideas. They will share and contribute if you let them and create a culture in which they feel their voice is valued. Just one more way of increasing engagement.
  • Get round the table and sort out your union relationship as a priority. Playing out this adversarial stuff in the media is not helping the people on the shop floor and they are the people that matter most.
  • Kill your six strikes policy. Now.

Good people stuff, good employee relations.  They are within your gift.

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