Waitrose, food stores of the John Lewis Partnership, recently started using collaboration software to power its innovation and suggestion scheme, Partner Ideas, which aims to encourage employees to suggest process improvements, capture these improvements and lead to lasting change. We caught up with Stuart Eames, Operational Improvement Manager at Waitrose, to find out more about why the scheme works and what lessons we can take from the implementation.
1) It makes complete logical sense when looking to make process improvements to focus on front-life partners who live and breathe that process. Why do so many companies attempt top-down process innovation and improvement? Is there a knowledge gap here?
At Waitrose we have a Partnership model, where everything we do can be influenced by Partners, very different to a traditional shareholder model.
We’ve worked closely with internal comms to make sure people know about Partner Ideas and also use a business card scheme with managers.
We are averaging more than 20 ideas each week and we have implemented around 20% of those.
If a Partner comes to a manager with an idea, but the manager is too busy at that time, they can give out a business card with the Partner Ideas details on it. Saying that there is a dedicated team at head office to listen to ideas is far more encouraging than a ‘sorry, I’m too busy right now’.
2) Is this ultimately about making peoples’ jobs more efficient? Many of the serious frustrations people have at work are due to inefficiencies and obstacles and it seems to me that a solid engagement strategy could focus exclusively on removing obstacles and improving processes
Absolutely – we focus on the changes that make our Partners’ jobs easier, removing blockages and inefficiencies. Partner Ideas is a central component of our employee engagement strategy, so I can’t under-estimate the importance we place on Partner engagement.
Our Partners have really embraced Partner Ideas from the off. There is a bonus scheme available to reward ideas that are taken forward, and our Partners just like to make a contribution and feel that that contribution are recognised. People have been very engaged with Partner Ideas – we are averaging more than 20 ideas each week and we have implemented around 20% of those.
3) The idea of requesting partner feedback for process improvement didn’t work the first time but did when you changed to another platform. Were there other changes you made to, for example, increase participation, or was it the platform that made the difference?
It wasn’t that The Good Suggestion Scheme didn’t work, it was more that we lacked the platform to make it the success that we have with Partner Ideas. There are two major differences now. In Wazoku’s idea management solution, Idea Spotlight, we now have a modern platform that allows us to manage ideas and encourages collaboration amongst our Partners, and secondly we also have a new team that is focused on process improvements across Waitrose.
This team acts as a vehicle to move ideas forward. Partners know that not only can they submit an idea, they also know that there is a bespoke team that could, provided the idea has benefit, make that idea a reality.
I’d say to anyone looking at process improvements in their organisation, never discount an idea. All the ideas in are good. They might not always provide the best solution to the specific problem in hand, but they have been submitted because someone has identified that problem.
I’d say to anyone looking at process improvements in their organisation, never discount an idea.
4) Where does the value tend to lie in process improvements? Are they innovative changes or simple ones that require front-line partners to spot? Can you give us a few examples of what you’ve changed?
One idea changed the way in which we format and manage till receipts, allowing us to save on consumables annually. But we really try and not focus too much on the financial savings. We feel that if you do you can stifle the creativity and imagination of our Partners and there are some things that are hard to put a financial value to.
For example, our BSM handsets are used for stock management, but it was realised by a Partner that it took 42 presses to get to a date code, as the calendar function had not been set-up efficiently. Adjusting that calendar function was a simple process, but one that made a massive time saving because we had so much daily activity within this process.
5) How many process improvements have focused specifically on improving the customer experience rather than general efficiencies? Should all improvements to processes in a company ultimately impact the end user, the customer?
Some ideas generated are of course focused specifically on improving the customer experience, but we believe that improving the partner experience is the best way of making things better for our millions of customers. So we focus on the changes that make our Partners’ jobs easier, removing blockages and inefficiencies.
We focus on the changes that make our Partners’ jobs easier, removing blockages and inefficiencies.
Our plans are to use the technology provided by the system to set challenges relating to a specific area of the business. We feel that the ability to ask them for ideas on a certain topic will be of huge value to us.