Employee engagement and what it takes to be the best – Interview with Ryan Cheyne of Pets at Home

Happiness is a Wet Nose

Today’s interview is with Ryan Cheyne, People Director at Pets at Home, who agreed to talk to me about employee engagement and what it took to come 1st in the Sunday Times Top Big Companies to Work in 2013, after we meet at the European Customer Experience World conference earlier this year.

This interview follows on from my recent interview: Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary – Interview with Steve Curtin – and is number sixty-six in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things and helping businesses innovate, become more social and deliver better service.

Here’s the highlights from the interview I did with Ryan:

  • Ryan’s focus is on making Pets at Home a truly amazing place to work.
  • They came 1st in the Sunday Times Top Big Companies to Work in 2013 after coming 2nd the year before.
  • The Sunday Times list is a benchmark for Pets at Home, an indicator of how they are doing on their journey of becoming a truly amazing place to work.
  • They two things that seem to distinguish good companies from great companies, particularly in the Sunday Times classification, are ‘well-being’ and ‘giving something back’.
  • To move from 2nd to 1st, they focused on these two thing plus a degree of local rivalry as the former No. 1 and now 2nd placed firm was Iceland who are also based in the North West of England.
  • Employee engagement is at risk of being an HR term that will go out of fashion
  • Employee engagement for Pets at Home is about having a business that is full of people that are really ‘up for it’, passionate about what they do, understand how what they do fits in with the big scheme of things and are real advocates for the business.
  • Employee engagement is a long game.
  • It has taken Pets at Home 8 years to get to where they are now.
  • They started their journey with a very clear goal of creating an amazing place to work.
  • What is central to delivering that are the following three things: One, recruit the right people; Two, train them and give them the right tools and skills they need to do their jobs well; and Three, reward and recognise them. And, finally, then you have to stay committed to it.
  • They had no data to support or underpin what they were trying to do. It just felt like the ‘right thing to do’. It was a ‘leap of faith’. However, 8 years on they have endless amounts of data that supports the business benefits of their chosen strategy.
  • These are not tricky or complicated things to do but, when you are dealing with people, they take time to filter through and to start to work.
  • Whilst 92% of their employees are pet owners it’s not a prerequisite to work for Pets at Home. However, one of the key characteristics they look for when hiring people is that they ‘get’ pets as they understand that not everyone has the right personal circumstances to be able to have a pet.
  • But, they also know that not all those that ‘get’ pets are good with people and are willing to do the hard work that is involved with being in a retail environment. Therefore, that’s the balance that they strive to identify in the people that they hire.
  • Their model, a la the Service Profit Chain, is that if you recruit the right people and create a great place to work they will deliver great service to their customers and that will put money in the till. It is their belief that that model works in any industry.
  • They know that where their stores are most engaged, their customer feedback scores tend to be higher and their customers tend to spend more per transaction.
  • When Ryan joined 8 years ago their turnover was over 70% and they were spending over £300,000 per year on recruiting new retail management. Today, their number of stores has doubled and they only spend £30,000 per year on recruitment costs because their turnover has plummeted.
  • Whilst many people might deride this as being ‘soft’, Ryan believes (and their data and performance backs this up) that delivering the soft stuff is hard but delivers hard results.
  • They are not finished yet and still make mistakes.
  • Building the right culture helps break down organisational silo barriers. They are building a solutions culture and not a blame culture.
  • But, they are a highly accountable business and if their people don’t deliver they will help and support them. However, if that isn’t working then they will not hang around and will move people on. They know that not doing so can have a negative effect on other people.
  • One of the most powerful, long-lasting and impactful ways to recognise people, they have found, are hand-written notes.
  • They started the Sunday Times Best Companies exercise to learn as an organisation and for it to help them create an amazing place to work.
  • Now they have become No. 1 they have decided to not enter again but are now looking to challenge themselves even more and to continue to learn by benchmarking themselves against other amazing places to work like South-West Airlines, Apple, Google, Zappos etc
  • This is all about realising their vision of becoming the best pet store in the world and and an amazing place to work.
  • This frightens them, but in a good way, and, ultimately, they want people to talk about Pets at Home in the same way that they talk about South-West Airlines, Apple, Google, Zappos etc.
  • One thing they are very proud that they have recently launched is their Pets at Home Very Important Pets (VIP) club initiative, which although was only launched in November 2012 is now just about to reach their 1 millionth member. It’s a loyalty scheme with a difference where customers get to collect points. But, they don’t get to keep the points but they get to choose which animal charity their points go to help.

About Ryan (taken from his LinkedIn profile)

Ryan Cheyne Pets At Home

With 10 years operational retail experience and +15 years HR experience, Ryan considers himself to be a retailer who has specialised in HR across Management, Leadership and Training and Development.

He is a fully qualified Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and has a Post Graduate Diploma in Personnel Management.

His current goals are completely focussed on building Pets at Home as a truly amazing place to work. They are building on the core values that are at the heart of the business to build the engagement levels of colleagues across the business.

Finally, they were delighted to be named as the No 1 Best Big Company to Work for by the Sunday Times in March 2013.

You can connect with Ryan on Twitter @ryskicheyne and on LinkedIn here, find out more about Pets at Home via their website, Twitter @PetsatHome and do check out their Pets at Home Very Important Pets (VIP) club initiative, which is customer loyalty scheme with a difference and is doing great work.

Photo Credit: hjhipster via Compfight cc

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