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Benchmarking against the best of the best

Wickland Westcott recently hosted a leadership event with guest speaker Christine Hardy, Leadership Development Manager at Iceland Foods. In 2009 Iceland decided to benchmark itself as a company against the best of the best by engaging with the Sunday Times Best Company survey. Only a short time later, in 2012, Iceland was ranked 1st in their category and 2nd in 2013. Christine shared her thoughts on how Iceland achieved this.

From the start of the session, Christine was keen to emphasise that Iceland had not done anything extra in order to specifically win the Best Company award. Iceland entered the competition in order to benchmark itself, and used the results to identify things they could do to improve business performance as a whole. The award was therefore recognition of the long standing focus the business places on engaging the people who work for them, treating everyone with respect and creating a supportive team environment.

Iceland employs more than 23,000 employees across over 750 stores. Their twice-yearly internal employee survey’s outstanding results speak for themselves. Results from 2013 include:

  • 93% are proud to work for Iceland
  • 93% enjoy the work that they do
  • 89% of employees think that their pay is fair for the work that they do
  • 95% consider that their manager treats them fairly and with respect
  • 90% feel a strong sense of belonging to the company
  • 94% would recommend Iceland as a good place to work

Not only were these results based on a 97% response rate, but Iceland achieves 90% engagement from their employees, which exceeds an estimated Retail benchmark of 73%.

A prominent feature of Iceland’s culture is that employees feel there is a strong sense of family; Iceland’s employer brand is “Feels like family”. Christine talked through some of the factors which she feels contribute to Iceland’s engaging culture:

  • Iceland has a visible, inspirational leader, Malcolm Walker, who respects and understands employees and sets the tone for accessible, innovative leadership.
  • Iceland store managers are there to lead their teams to deliver results through the people, not to ‘manage’ them.
  • Employees are treated fairly, e.g. Malcolm Walker removed the junior pay rate, so that store employees are paid equally.
  • Iceland are very clear about what they want from people and take a lot of care in recruitment: it’s not about number of qualifications, it’s about whether staff can talk to customers and look after them properly. The business therefore invests in carefully selecting people at all levels who share the pacey, yet simple culture within Iceland.
  • Managers listen to employees, encouraging them to share what they think Iceland is doing well, what is ‘so-so’ and what isn’t working.
  • Employees are encouraged and supported to progress up the organisation and are provided with opportunities for development.
  • Front line colleagues are placed at the very centre of business. 

Iceland are rightly proud of their Sunday Times rankings which affirm the results of their own employee surveys. However they are more proud of the fact that they did not do anything differently to win the award. At the heart of the organisation’s success is the focus that Iceland places on looking after customers properly and the recognition that this starts with valuing and engaging with employees. Careful staff selection, investing in leadership development and ensuring senior leaders provide a role-model in tune with the organisation’s values have therefore proved pivotal in doing this.

Wickland Westcott would like to thank Christine Hardy and Iceland for supporting this event and the delegates for their participation. If you would like to discuss how Wickland Westcott could help you identify, select and develop people for your organisation please contact Rachel Ward

Wickland Westcott’s Talent Management Group is a networking and thought leadership forum. For more information on joining the group, or the ideas described above, please contact John Milsom.

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