Developing a coaching network at Piccadilly Supermarkets, Bulgaria

The business challenge

In 1994 the Boliari Limited, the holding company for Piccadilly Supermarkets was incorporated. The first supermarket was established the following year in Varna, a resort town on the Black Sea coast. Subsequent growth has been rapid. By mid 2006 Piccadilly operated six supermarkets in Varna and two in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, together with six separate smaller format ‘Mambo’ convenient stores. Plans are in hand for expansion across Bulgaria with another two stores due to open shortly in different towns in the country.

Currently some 1,500 staff are employed by Piccadilly all but 100 work in the supermarkets. A very flat management structure is in place, with three levels: store managers, supervisors and operatives (cashiers, warehouse workers /common workers/storage workers/ and sales assistants). The largest supermarket employs some 180 people and most employ on average 120.

The company has ambitious growth plans and intends to be the leading supermarket in Bulgaria. Its size and growth makes it a significant force in the local economy. Its emphasis is on quality and Piccadilly seeks to offer a wide range of goods in an attractive shopping environment (to provide shopping experience). The company motto is “load high spirits” and the aim is to sustain the high level of service achieved throughout the chain.

The average age of the staff is under 30 and the company targets the recruitment of young people and students - over 50 per cent of the current workforce are engaged in some form of University or College studies. Bulgarian higher education allows students to study for a limited number of hours in the day and to live at home. Inevitably this approach to recruitment produces some challenges - for some of the staff it is their first real job and some of them face difficulties adapting to a pattern of regular work. For some they have the option of seeking parental support for their studies, so attrition rates can be high, especially in the early stages. Moreover the company has a policy of growing its management from within so the management staff have not always gained the breadth of experience that comes with a mature workforce. Set against this the staff are intelligent and many are willing to commit if the organisation treats them fairly and offers them promotion opportunities.

Creating human resource policies

Marionela Bojkova was appointed Head of Human Resources in August 2005. Her biggest challenge to date has been coping with the operational demands of recruitment and initial training while putting routine procedures in place for the long-term. Initially, for example, selection proceeded in a haphazard fashion and candidates were sourced by word of mouth or personal contact. Similarly promotion was based on immediate availability or personal observations rather than considered choice and internal competition. She has now introduced a system of written requests to fill vacancies and systematic selection of candidates through a series of interviews and tests giving the process transparency and guaranteeing a better choice of candidates.

Importantly she has introduced a process for the regular assessment of operative staff by their line managers. Supervisors, who would typically manage up to 15 staff, are required to submit an assessment using a spreadsheet on a weekly basis. Cashiers, for example, are assessed using four criteria: speed and dexterity; quality of service; reliability and discipline; and appearance and hygiene. The ratings are now used to monitor staff performance and are used as a basis of bonus formation and incentive program involvement.

At first the introduction of such systems were resented by some supervisors and managers as an imposition from human resources. However there is now a general acceptance that effective personnel procedures are necessary if the company is to continue to recruit and retain the staff it needs to fuel its growth.

In-store coaching

One key element of Marionela Bojkova’s policies has been the development of a cohort of in­store coaches - experienced, excellent work performers, ready to pass their knowledge to the large number of newly selected company employees.

Coaches were nominated by the store manager in agreement with the managers responsible for purchasing goods. They were then trained by the central human resource team in two critical aspects of induction. First, they received training in how to pass to the new people the hard skills and product knowledge: the company standards and the basic procedures - for example, how to cut cheese or operate a till. Secondly, they were trained in the softer skills of selling and the psychology of customer relationships. This training took the form of one day courses spread over intervals.

The trained coaches were then responsible for managing the induction and on-the-job training of new joiners at store level. Using material designed by the Human Resource department and by Company Standards department, procedures for on-the-job training were put in place. For one-week the new joiners worked along side the coach, at this stage merely shadowing the job. In the next week the new joiner worked by himself or herself but was observed by the coach. At the end of this second week there would be an evaluation or assessment meeting with a representative of the human resources department present, together with the coach and the trainee. At this meeting any problems were discussed and the coach would offer recommendations for improvement. The trainee then worked closely with the coach for a further week and this would be followed by a final week of almost independent work and assessment. This whole process, known as the coaching project, was seen as the only effective way of ensuring that the large number of new staff could meet organisational requirements. In Marionela Bojkova’s view:

“This coaching project was necessary because our goal was not only to train quickly and efficiently this large number of new people, but also make them part of Piccadilly culture.

We wanted to transfer the specific atmosphere Piccadilly has in our new supermarkets. This project worked because it gave a chance to many employees at all levels to be personally involved in the company growth and success. The joined utmost efforts of our best people, both management and staff made it work.”

Moving forward

In a supermarket employing 150 people there can be as many as 25 trained coaches. Following internal discussions, in recognition of their importance to the company, it was decided that the coaches should receive extra bonus to their salary on a regular basis.

However, as the company moves into its next stage of growth, Marionela Bojkova would like to see the network of coaches play an even more important role. The company has just opened its own training centre in Varna where her human resource team together with the best coaches will undertake more of the initial training before the joiner starts at the store. Every new trainee will be issued a certificate of capability (for example as a cashier on successful completion of training). This would enhance the individual's employment prospects in the longer term and signal the company’s support of individual development.

The HR department is also planning the coaches network to support and deliver other development initiatives at store level, aiming at motivation and involvement of employees and improved work performance. In the longer term Marionela Bojkova would like to see a more professional approach to management - she would like to introduce management by objectives and see a greater flexibility and wider deployment of management styles (away from command and control). In the short term “there is so much to be done”. She places value on the coaching network as an instrument of effective development because, in her words “When you inspire the best people of a company to work for the best of the company the success is inevitable.”

Marionela BojkovaComment