‘Voice’ issues in a retail fashion organisation

‘Voice’ issues in a retail fashion organisation

Company A is a fast-expanding fashion retail firm. It currently has 80 branches across the UK and plans to open another 20 or so stores over the next 3 years. The corporate strategy is to offer ‘niche’ products to ‘young aspiring professionals’ – the retail outlets are in prime locations in affluent parts of the country; the garments mimicking ‘top end’ designer brands. According to the senior managerial team a high degree of customer service is central to the brand proposition; this is necessary if the products are to attract a price premium. As such the organisation offers a range of bespoke services including the provision of personal shoppers. Customers can seek advice on a range of sartorial matters, for example, what to wear at an interview; the correct attire for weddings. The organisation has successfully expanded in recent years and much emphasis has been placed on training. All shop floor staff are automatically enrolled on an NVQ Level 3 course in fashion retail with an option to upgrade to Level 4. Nonetheless, other aspects of HRM are relatively underdeveloped – including the provision of employee voice. The company does not recognise any union for the purpose of collective bargaining. Similarly, there is a broad absence of ‘employee involvement’ techniques; nothing in the way, for example, of problem solving groups or staff briefings To the extent that EI is used, the techniques are an ad hoc collection of interventions sponsored by different members of the senior managerial team. A recent development is a monthly newsletter which is sent directly to each worker’s home address. There is also an intranet site where employees (‘colleagues’) can post comments and suggestions. The actual degree of readership and usage is not measured in any way. The organisation recently launched an annual staff survey, ‘Your Voice at Work’. The first set of results indicated widespread dissatisfaction amongst the work force on certain issues. For example, the majority of operational respondents ‘disagreed’ with the statement that ‘I am happy with my terms and conditions of employment’. Similarly, most disagreed with the assertion that ‘I believe my opinions are valued by management’. These findings are a cause of considerable concern to the board of directors. There is a belief that such dissatisfaction could compromise the quality of service delivery, undermining plans for expansion. There is a realisation that the company needs to invests in a more holistic and strategic approach to ‘voice’.

The task

As an HR consultant with expertise in this field, you are required to review the current situation at Company A and outline options that will resolve employee discontent around issues of involvement and participation. It is the responsibility of the senior managerial team to take the final decision so you do not need to recommend a particular course of action – but you do need to say what the likely consequences are of the options you put forward. So, your task is not to find a ‘best practice’ solution to this problem but to outline possible options and critically evaluate the implications of these suggestions. Options might include, for instance, seeking a ‘partnership’ agreement with a trade union; the creation of an in-house NER; the utilisation of problem-solving groups; and the ‘triggering’ of the ICE Directive. All will have problems e.g. in terms of cost, the management of employee expectations and the need to bring in managerial expertise.

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