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Annie Hayes



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Case Study: Assessment tools help Costa get the right blend



Costa, the UK’s leading coffee store brand, has reduced the turnover of its shop-floor staff by almost 20% after introducing a personality questionnaire to help the company recruit the right people. The questionnaire has proved so successful that Costa has now introduced a separate selection tool for its store managers. Delivered online, it measures personal qualities and development potential for retail managers.

Costa is opening over 50 stores a year. Its success is based on serving great coffee, in true Italian style, while focusing on quality at every stage from bean to cup. With such rapid expansion, the company needs to be sure it brings in the right people.

Part of the Whitbread Group, in 2002 the parent company changed the structure of its restaurant businesses to give each brand its own autonomy.

Gwyn Kennett, Resourcing Manager for Costa, said: “The brands had always run themselves separately but we shared services. When the resourcing changed, we were able to look at all aspects of the business and to choose what was right for us going forward.”

Assessing team members
Costa recruits around 1,800 team members a year – the customer-facing staff who serve coffee and food in Costa stores.

“We were using an assessment tool which PSL designed for all of Whitbread’s restaurant businesses,” said Gwyn Kennett. “However Costa has a different personality to the other brands, so we took the opportunity to revalidate the test to make sure we were getting the right people, with the right behaviour and principles that our business has always championed.”

PSL worked with Costa on the revalidation, using surveys of its team members and employee value assessments from its store managers.

“We identified the key values that drive our business performance and PSL custom-built a robust new Team Member Personality Questionnaire around these values,” said Kennett.

Part of the customisation involved making the tool quick and easy for store managers to score.

“We didn’t want any ambiguity about whether a candidate was or wasn’t suitable,” said Kennett. “The instant scoring now shows very clearly either a ‘yes’ proceed to interview or ‘no’ the candidate is not for us.”

Candidates for team member positions normally undertake the test in stores, after completing an application form. Those who successfully complete the test have an interview and in-store trial before being offered a position.

Assessing store managers
In 2004, Costa decided to introduce assessment for its store managers.

“Our store manager recruitment was based solely on structured competency-based interviews, not on assessments,” said Kennett. “We looked at the available assessments on the market and found that the only off-the-shelf test specifically designed for retail store managers was PSL’s Branch Manager Questionnaire. We trialed the seven-factor personality questionnaire with our store managers and area managers and found that it was very useful and accurate.”

Costa recruits around 100 store managers a year. Internal and external applicants are e-mailed a link to the Costa-branded questionnaire which they complete online. Costa’s area managers review the results, prior to interviewing the candidates.

“The questionnaire measures personal qualities such as a candidate’s achievement orientation,” said Gwyn Kennett. “It gives you a ‘heads up’ on the candidate before the interview so you can focus questions on the areas you want to probe.”

He added: “The questionnaire indicates your preferred way of operating. We use it as a tool for assessing developmental areas as well as for recruitment.”

Stable future
In what is traditionally a high staff turnover sector, Costa has brought greater stability to its business and this is helping the company to focus on the challenges of opening new stores, in the UK and throughout the world.

“Our whole business, and our future growth, depends on the service we provide at store level,” said Kennett. “To provide consistently great service, you need a stable team. We’ve reduced the annual staff turnover of our team members by 20 per cent. Assessments have played a big part in this by helping us to recruit and develop the right people who are passionate about the brand and the service they provide.”

2 Responses

  1. Using traditional recruitment methods alongside psychometrics
    It is good to see that personality questionniares are being used properly, and adding value to business performance. This value can only be gained through thorough research either designing a bespoke questionnaire for the role (as in the Costa Coffee case), or using a substantive questionniare (such as FACET5, for example) then profiling candidates on the factors which have been demonstrated critical for job success – creating a “fit” as Peter points out.

    In our experience, the latter method is generally favoured by clients as they do not want to pay to ‘reinvent the wheel’, but wish to recruit on a valid process. Clients also like the way in which results are presented in clear and usable form as part of an interviewing guide – which encourages recruiters to use traditional recruitment methods alongside the psychometric.

  2. Customised personality profiling
    I think it is well established that using personality profiling can help to ensure selection of appropriate people and hence reduce employee turnover. Unfortunately, it tends to be expensive (although staff turnover reduction will probably more than pay for it).
    However, there are properly validated personality profiling methods available which allow you to create a personality template against which candidates can be automatically compared (on a PC) – showing the goodness of “fit”.
    These, as with any psychomtric measure, should not be used alone but can be a valuable aid to selection and career development. They may not be as good as a completely customised personality profiling tool but are almost certainly a lot cheaper to operate. You need to make sure that whatever you use is properly validated (you can check the British Psychological Society reviews of psychometric measures).

    I can tell you more about one of these profiling methods – email me if you are interested.



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Annie Hayes


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