15 September, 2022 | Jessie Parker

How to drive effective and inclusive one-to-one conversations in the retail sector

We sat down with Jeroboams CEO, Matt Tipping to understand more about how they're driving effective and inclusive one-to-one conversations. 

Tell our readers a little more about Jeroboams, and how you differ from other retailers?

"We are a fine wine merchant in London, founded in 1985. Our first shop was a cheese and wine shop in Holland Park, which is still there, and is a very well-known destination for lots of shoppers in that area. We now have eight shops across London.  

Our business is split between three routes to the market, with equal revenue coming across all three routes. First is the shops, and then we have a private sales team who sell to collectors that are buying fine wine for storage, or simply for drinking and feature for their homes. And finally, we have a team that sells to restaurants, travel retail, and to other wine merchants based elsewhere in the UK. 

Expectations of staff and service are all the basics of any other retailer, but for us, the experience is everything for those customers. There's a huge amount of focus when it comes to attitude, friendliness of the team, their approachability and willingness to help.  

Curiosity is one of our values, that is definitely something that we think our team absolutely needs. They need to be curious, in an obvious sense with regards to why a customer wants a particular wine, what they need it for, asking the right questions to get the right results. But also, curious in terms of thinking through what they're doing and why they're doing it is really important.  

Virtually all our staff are looking for a career in wine, and so from our side of things, training those teams, and really investing in their futures is critical, because they need to have that wine knowledge and, the business knowledge to be able to progress their careers." 

What have been some of your biggest people challenges over the last 2 1/2 years?

"During the pandemic, we were classed as an essential retailer and whether you agree with the government's stance on everything, they certainly saw that depriving people of alcohol whilst asking them to lockdown would have been a very silly combination.  

So, during that time, our shops stayed open, and that presented us some challenges because we had an office team who were being told to work from home, and a retail team who were being asked to go into work – and not only that, but our retail team were also face-to-face with the public.  

There was a huge amount of thought that had to go into making sure that we were really recognising the efforts of the retail team and that our decisions were consistent with supporting them in their roles.  

As soon as the rules changed, we asked our office team to come in one day a week. So, we separated the teams out on different days of the week, so that we didn't have a full office, but we did that because we felt that we should be really showing the retail teams that we were willing to come in and work when necessary.  

It was a win-win, because that team who had been pretty isolated suddenly had one day a week where they could go in and converse with people in an office environment – safely of course, but at least they were getting that interaction.  

To combat other challenges for the retail teams very early on, we did things like paying for taxis, so they didn't have to get public transport, always allowing them to travel off peak, and in practical terms, we gave them an allowance to buy food that was delivered to them over the periods where there were large queues to get into shops."

What are some of the biggest challenges your managers are facing right now?

"I would say changes in skills for managers have been significant. 

In those early days, managers within an office environment were seeing their team members, probably four days a week, able to have those natural conversations and then suddenly they were managing a team remotely, not only supporting that team but also making sure they're being effective. 

The communication piece has really changed for managers, and the approach we're asking our managers to take is to have open conversations - which is a very easy thing to say, but there's a real skill to it.  

Things like active listening and changing around the dynamics of meetings by putting the onus on the team member to come and set the agenda and lead a conversation, and have the competence to do that, they're all new skills.  

We do hybrid working and will continue to do so, but you can't go into that and expect it just to be the same amount of work, the company is in effect, taking on more responsibility in that relationship in order to allow our team members to work in an environment that gets the best out of them."

What's your experience of retaining and motivating a retail workforce?

"For us, the motivation of our team is many folds. It's an overall package, and I think every company will have their own combination of things that they feel is important.

The importance is to have put thought into what it is you're doing, why you're doing it, and understanding why you're discounting some things and embracing others. For us, coming from a business that six or seven years ago we didn't have the culture we've got now. Teams working in silos, no communication and lots of rivalry internally, so we decided that the future of our company was not that, and everything had to lead from a culture that had progressed from that.  

The use of OpenBlend, specifically the open conversations, regular meetings, documenting of those meetings, the setting of actions and showing your team are valued, that is really important. What I see now is, rather than me having to say, “have you spoken to that person”, groups of people are coming to me saying we've had a chat, and we've got this idea, or we'd like to do this and that takes so much time, but it 100% stems from having those open conversations and regular meetings. I don't think there's a greater motivator than being given the room and clarity in order to go out and have ideas and see them through to fruition and feel the pride of doing that.

It was mentioned in your retail report, this concept of psychological safety, which makes a lot of sense. What we've done over the years is make our team feel secure and supported, and therefore safe. By doing that, these other things have come. One of the things that we're now seeing coming through is this idea of 'radical candor', where you can speak openly and plainly within a meeting, really get to the nuts and bolts of things without somebody causing or taking offence. That motivates the team, because they can see the meetings are effective.  

Of course, the other benefits come as well, we have volunteer days, staff discount, lunches cooked by the team, and additional training to help with developing careers. Our team is looking for more than just being paid, and then going home again. 

The company has to genuinely care, that's what it comes down to, and you have to demonstrate that."  

What in our retail research report most resonated with you & why? 

"There was also a mention in the report about the impact of having one-to-one sessions, but not recording outcomes. Looking back on where we were as a company all those years ago, I can see why that would have an impact.  

The other part that comes with that, is a manager really giving you their time. If you cancel a meeting at short notice, or if you’re distracted, as well as not recording the actions, that can be a negative one-to-one rather than a positive. So that really resonated with me, you can get caught up in the technical aspects of trying to have an open conversation, but actually, the basic courtesies of showing somebody that they're important enough to give your time is probably enough to get you started. It get's more evolved as you move forward, but that is enough to get you on that journey. 

Of course in retail unexpected things happen so meetings might have to be moved, and that's ok, but realistically, it should happen 1 in 10. That’s got to be the foundation."

When it comes to driving performance through OpenBlend, what business benefits and impact do you think effective and inclusive one-to-ones have?

"Using OpenBlend gives you access to anonymised data, so being able to understand trends of what's going really helps you keep in touch. I check in from time to time on that, and it just helps me know what questions I should be asking of the team.  

In addition to that, open conversations are the foundation for our culture, and everything else stems from it. You may find that somebody might be saying, “well our teams don't talk to each other”, so they'll try and address their meetings specifically, but, there's a foundation layer below that, that you've got to get right, which is the people understanding that talking works. For me really, the over overarching bit is about culture, what you're saying to your team and what you're expecting of them." 

Can you share any practical tips for retail business leaders when it comes to driving inclusivity amongst your workforce? 

"From my point of view, it's all about establishing this trust. Understanding from both sides that there's goodwill, no trickery involved, no alternative agenda.  

As a leader of an organisation, the only way to achieve that is to do what you say you're going to do, be consistent, and live those values yourself. You can't shortcut that process, we’re still very much on our journey. It’s a long-term process, and your people have to see that process through."

I think the foundation of one-to-one conversations is that they will fail if the people involved don't trust each other. Now if they don’t trust each other, you’ve got to start somewhere, so give your time, be present, listen carefully, make sure you’re asking the right questions – that's your starting point.  

"It is really enjoyable and rewarding, you’re constantly learning things. We talked earlier about manager challenges, and what's one of the shortcuts to try and get things more manageable? It’s to just sit down and ask somebody what's on their mind, rather than worrying about it just go and ask and have the right conversations."

As a CEO of a retail business, what learnings or insights can you share with others retailers when it comes to attracting new talent? 

"Amongst the other things we’ve talked about today, I would also mention that we've changed our job adverts in the last year from being a list of things that somebody must have for them to be of interest to us, to something tells you something about what type of company we are. By that, I mean the use of language to explain that we’re enthusiastic, vibrant, enjoyable, because the current market has changed, it's definitely an employee's not an employer's market and so you definitely need to adapt that.  

The final bit for us, which we really started this conversation about was giving our new team members a chance to have a career of wine, and so by explaining how we invest in training, and how they can visit wine regions, if they've got interest in managing, I think that's really important."  

Check out our full case study with Jeroboams here

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