Interview on Human Resource Practices led by students (no native English speakers) in
Interviewee: Human Resource Manager of a retail company
What is your part in the organization?
I am the deputy human resource manager of the service office (head office) in Switzerland,
since 3 weeks back. Before that I was the human resource manager in the Zurich store for four
and a half years.
Is the human resource strategy documented?
Most important is the “human resource management idea”, the main paper. There is a
business plan that is documented for 3 years on a national level, which each store adapted
from the main strategy to local stores.
How is it structured?
On top there is the national and international strategy, the business plan, which the local stores
have the ability to change to local needs. This action plan is valid for 1 year. Each store
operates in a different environmental, because they have to act local, the business plan has to
be adapted. But as you know every store is almost the same so they have to follow the
What efforts are you putting down to ensure that you recruit the right person to the
right place at the first time?
The aim every recruit should have is to make sure that the right person is hired for the right
job. A lot of effort is put into the interview and it is well prepared. We try to get to know the
person and to understand what values the person has. A picture is important, especially for
managers that are about to lead people. To be a retail lover is important when you want to feel
well in the company environment. Second we look at the skills and the background. We apply
Value Based Recruitment
Are there any particular skills that your company is looking for in every employee?
Cultural fit is the most important and retail business, then the skills. Everybody can learn the
Would you prefer hiring someone with the right attitudes, values and cultural fits and
low skills rather than someone with high skills and lower personal fits?
We first look at the person than at the skills, this is the opposite way than other firms normally
do. It is easier to learn the skills than the cultural fit.
What kind of organization structure do you have?
We have a classical structure in the stores; A store manager and than 8 department heads;
human resource department head, operations manager, finance/administration manager,
logistic manager, communication/marketing manager, costumer service manager, sales
manager and food service manager. Each department then has different numbers of team
leaders that lead the co-workers, so it is quite a small hierarchy.
On a national level we have a matrix organization, because in the service office we have
people that are responsible for each department, and they have a matrix partner in another
store, there are meetings where all the department managers meet to help, support and give
input, not in a discipline way, but in a functional way. So the store manager leads the
department heads but with help from the functional matrix partner.
Team-based organizations are largely successful in having all of the people in the firm
feel accountable and responsible for the operation and success of the enterprise. Is your
company using teams? If, what kind of teams does your company have?
On a national level we have teams where you meet your peer. Committees on national level as
well as in the store that decides different things, for example financial committees, marketing
committees, project teams.
Employment security is fundamental to the implementation of most other high
performance management practices. What do you think about that? How does it affect
your hiring policy?
Employment security is very important and the company really wants to offer its employers
security. We never fire anybody due to business developments, we have to afford that, only if
it does not work out with a person we have to find another solution for the person in question.
Giving this security is very important for us, to make our employees feel safe, and it is also an
advantage against our competitors. We try not to fire people in the first place and therefore it
is very important for us to hire the right person in the first place.
We have read that people at your company have quite low salaries, but people are very
satisfied with their work situations. Why do you think it is that way?
We actually made some research about this and the company is above average regarding
salary in the retail business. What I think is the most important fact that makes our employees
satisfied is the company culture and leading philosophy. It is very important for us to find
managers that share this culture in leading.
Do you use a benefit system for good performances?
No, we do not have that.
Do you have any training programs for employees?
Yes we have training programs, each year we have big booklet with trainings for internal
employees. We also have national- and international trainings, as well as training in the stores.
Each employee that has a managing position has a development plan.
How many training days do you have average per employee per year and how much
money do you spend for that?
This is a hard question to answer, at the moment we have 1710 co-workers in Switzerland.
Every co-worker has an average of 4.3 training days. The amount we spend on training is not
Training is an investment in the organizations staff, but it is hard to measure some sort
of return-on-investment. Can you see any connection between money spent on training
We have two different monitoring instruments. Every year there is a co-worker survey where
we have seen the confidence of the co-workers increasing regarding their competence. We
also have a customer survey twice a year where we have seen that the costumers had noticed
that the competence of the staff had increased. Every year we have a process to evaluate the
level of professionalism in each employee, an also there we se an allover improvement. So the
training in developing competence is profitable. Of course it would be interesting to see the
direct return in money, and how much turnover it gives us in sales, but that is almost
impossible to calculate. Co-worker satisfaction is a very important output of the investment in
training and it is also very hard to measure.
Do you put any afford to make all organizational members feel important and
committed and to reduce the status differences?
Minimizing status differences is a big culture thing.
All the floor workers have the same outfit. Do also the managers have the same?
In the stores everybody uses the same uniform, no exceptions, also the store manager. So, no
visual status is given. Here in the main office we only have one big office room. There are no
special manager offices. No one gets any visual benefits.
Everybody is also called by the first name.
About how many employees does one manager lead? How is that number compared to
The average number of employees is 7.6 per manager, but it varies a lot from department to
department. There are department where a manager is leading only 2 people, but for example
in the cash line there are 30 employees per manager. There are departments where I know that
we aren’t good. There are too many co-workers per manager. There we need to do something,
because leadership is a very big and important issue. Leading people means that you need to
have time with your co-workers. So, if you have 30 co-workers or more, it isn’t possible
anymore. There we need to go deeper and find another structure. For example, in one store,
we have departments, where we have a second team leader or we have divided the team.
There is a survey, which tells about the competitors’ situation, but I haven’t read it yet. So,
I’m not able to compare that to our competitors.
Such things as financial performance, strategy and operational measures convey to the
organization’s people that they are trusted. Do you share that kind of information?
Yes, we do. We are really transparent. Transparency is an important company value. In each
store we have put turnover to the wall, where every employee can see them. So, every
employee knows how well we are doing. Every employee can also see our business plan. That
is in English, so, not everybody is able to read it. But, at least it is accessible.
Also operation measures are accessible.
How do you motivate your people? Do you have any specific ways to motivate your
What is very important is that we always want to be fair and transparent with the co-workers
and we want to empower our co-workers. We believe that every co-worker as the ability to
develop. You have to trust and empower your co-workers. This is the most important thing.
Now that we have a good picture of your human resource management, we would like to
know how it as been developed. Where there any particular changes in your policy
during the past few years? If yes, why and what were the results in financial terms?
The human resources ideas of the company are the same since 20 years. The only thing that
has changed is that we operate with a better awareness of company values since we realized it
is an important advantage towards our competitors. Our main values are “team, cost
consciousness, respect and simplicity”.