Mothercare’s investment in developing its area managers is paying off, discovers Liz Morrell

Inspiring and motivating staff is vital to a retailer’s success. Although the store manager is key as a leader it is the area manager who helps ensure that delivery of customer service is consistent across stores.

When Mothercare decided to look again at how to ensure its business was still growing and competitive it found that providing leadership development for its area managers could deliver some real benefits to the retailer’s performance.

The retailer brought in ReConsulting - a company that specialises in leadership expertise behaviour and implementation - to help train its area managers last May.

In the first phase of the project, Mothercare’s senior retail team was tasked with creating a new framework that would allow area managers to work and interact with staff on a new level - done by changing the mindset of staff as to what needed to be achieved.

This was followed by a three-day event for Mothercare’s 21 area managers, where their leadership skills were developed. To further promote development, a third coaching phase - by senior staff both at Mothercare and ReConsulting - helped to embed the changes. During the process the area managers raised several concerns where they wanted help - which are applicable to most retailers in the present environment - including how to stretch targets, how to deal with the underperformance of staff and stores, and how to increase accountability.

Now, area managers set their store teams BHAGs - Big Hairy Audacious Goals - and with the renewed enthusiasm within the retailer has come improved customer service and customer loyalty. Mothercare believes sales and average transaction values are up as a result. However, the message has also been reinforced in a second set of one-to-one coaching with the area managers. And in the next stage of the project’s development ReConsulting has this month sought feedback from the store managers themselves, with the lessons learned forming part of a two-day follow-up programme, 12 months after the training began.

ReConsulting director Terry Finerty says that the challenge for any retailer is to get its staff to approach things differently from the norm and to make leadership training relevant to their role.

“If you are working with area managers with stretch initiatives they will need to change how they approach everyday work,” he says. “For example, how do I do a store visit differently if my aspiration is to drive up conversion rates?

“It’s about getting someone who previously believed that compliance to process and delivery of targets was their job to move to the idea that inspiring store managers to deliver well above budgeted target is now their job.”

Finerty concludes: “Leadership development is much more effective when is it is part of a process to meet business objectives rather than just a training course.”

Effective leadership training

  • Set training within the environment where possible
  • Relate it to business objectives
  • Change the mindset - from just delivery of targets to inspiring others
  • Go back and check changes are embedded