Tesco eyes customers to take over the tills


The Times Newspaper 14 October 2004

By Clare Dight

Not content with advertising vacancies on its in-store television channel, the giant retail chain is using its staff to headhunt new recruits. Clare Dight goes shopping.

"WOULD you like a job with your cashback?" is a question you might be asked if you shop at Tesco in the run-up to Christmas. Tesco has asked staff to be on the look-out for potential employees as part of its seasonal recruitment drive.

So what makes a major corporation trust its till workers to do its recruitment?

This trust is the product of endless in-store research. To listen to the company's personnel director, David Fairhurst, you might think that Tesco's staff spend as much time filling in questionnaires as put-ting goods through the tills. About 90 per cent of the company's 237,000
UK staff fill out a quarterly viewpoint survey.

Staff also take part in dedicated discussion groups, idea-gathering sessions and regularly give their views on products, prices and in-store promotions. The results of the company's annual people review are mulled over by HR directors, bounced around by yet more staff focus groups and then put into action.

"Two years ago we distilled four what we call 'people promises', from staff feedback: being treated with trust and respect; a manager who helps me; being given the opportunity to get on; and an interesting job. All the work we do in HR has to line up with these four promises," Fairhurst says.

The word trust implies both belief and responsibility and a two-way process on the parts of employer and employee. Fairhurst insists that Tesco is taking great pains to do its part and points out that the 90 per cent return on the viewpoint survey suggests that it is working.

"You've got to remember that our staff are also our customers, so it's a valuable source of customer data as well." Seen in these terms, Tesco's management approach is simple common sense. Most market researchers would give their right arm for such a huge sample of opinions.

The policy has certainly reaped rewards. Staff morale is up year on year, according to Fairhurst, and company profits are on target to reach 2 billion this year. The
UK's largest private-sector employer now takes 1 of every 8 we spend on the high street.

So far so rosy, but what about the old-fashioned rewards that build bank accounts for employees?

Tesco was recently criticised for its decision to reward staff with meal vouchers worth less than 1 on the day it announced record profits. But Fairhurst remains upbeat. "There is no doubt that our benefits are designed to give our employees a share in the success of the business.

"We have an award-winning pension scheme and a benefits package that is second to none," he says.